Top 10 Cutting-edge Car Questions of 2008

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Top 10 Cutting-edge Car Questions of 2008

­As you probably already know, we have a lot of questions here at HowStuffWorks. In fact, that curiosity keeps us busy throughout the entire year. We talk at great length about environmental issues, health concerns, new technology, history, science, animals, home improvement, money, adventure -- and of course, the automobile.

There's no doubt about it, people seem to have a lot of questions about the vehicles they drive each and every day. We do, too. And that's exactly why we do our best to give you as many informative and fun-to-read articles as we possibly can about that mystery machine that's parked in your driveway. Aside from letting you know exactly how the nuts-and-bolts stuff in your vehicle really works, we also try to answer some of the more intriguing questions that you may have. The kind of questions that you may ask your friends or family only to receive a blank stare, or possibly a shrug of the shoulders and a puzzled "I don't know" response. If you're a frequent HowStuffWorks reader, then you know just what we're talking about -- the kind of questions you often ponder when you really let your mind wander.

To wrap up 2008, we thought that it might be fun to compile a list of some of our favorite questions from our auto section. So, keep reading to find out what we consider to be the top 10 cutting-edge car questions of 2008. You may be surprised by what you find.

What will speed in the future look like?

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10: What will speed mean in the future?

­­It's no secret -- people love speed. If you don't agree, then just take one look at the packed stands at any racetrack around the country (or around the world, for that matter) and you'll find true-blue race fans that simply can't get enough. There's something almost intoxicating about speed that drives us to push harder and harder to go faster and faster. Whether it's shaving a fraction of a second off of an elapsed time at the local drag strip or attempting to break the land speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, pushing the upper limits of man and machine is what it's all about. Around the world you'll find kids laboring over homemade go-karts to make them go just a little faster; grown men and women buying expensive high-performance parts from the local speed shop to achieve the same results (just on a slightly larger scale); some people even trick-out their lawnmowers so that they'll move at speeds that far exceed highway speed limits. To put it in simple terms, speed is addictive.

But what we want to know is just how far can we go with this obsession? That's why we asked the question: What will speed mean in the future?

Speed may be alluring, but there are plenty of other auto-related questions that we had in 2008. Keep reading to find out what we ranked as number 9 on our list.

Sure, they're extremely efficient. But will ultra-light cars be safe, too?

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9: How light will cars be in the future?

We see countless ads on television trying to sell us the latest fat-burning diet or exercise program. We even have medication that claims to melt away the excess fat from our bodies. Do these get-slim tactics really work? Can you really lose weight by eating only submarine sandwiches everyday for the rest of your life? Who cares -- we're talking about cars here. But what about slimming down your daily ride? Now that's something that we can sink our teeth into.

When it comes to cars and trucks, it seems that most people believe that bigger is always better. Pay attention the next time you're in a crowded parking lot and you'll see what we mean. People simply tend to feel safer in larger cars and trucks. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be safe -- after all, that's a universal concern. But the problem with building cars and trucks that have generous proportions is that extra size always means extra weight -- and extra weight means extra fuel consumption. So how do you go about building a vehicle that is large enough to make its occupants feel safe (and truly be safe, too), yet lightweight enough to meet (or in some cases, exceed) the fuel economy numbers that we're striving to achieve?

These were some of the thoughts we had when we asked the question: How light will cars be in the future?

Since we're on the topic of building cars and trucks in new and interesting ways, let's continue down that road to the HowStuffWorks article that we ranked as number 8 on our list.

Do you really want your car assembled with glue?

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8: Is it possible to assemble a car with glue?

­­­Have you ever built a model car? For many people, this can be a relaxing and rewarding hobby. If you have the patience, there's something very satisfying about slowly filling a shelf with exact replicas of race cars and other street machines that you've hand-selected to be a part of your pristine collection. For others, the entire process can be a nightmare from start to finish. Nothing seems to fit where it should and you begin to believe that the instructions must be for another model altogether. The worst part is the glue. The bonds between many of the parts are tenuous to begin with and only further weaken as the model slowly progresses. And do we really even have to mention what glue can do to the tiny clear plastic windshields in these kits?

It may shock some readers to learn that there are several places on the average car or truck that are held together by adhesives. This little nugget of information may be a bit unsettling when you first discover it; however, once you know all of the facts, you'll realize just how effective (and safe) this method of attachment can be. So, different forms of automotive glue work well for specific areas of a vehicle, but what about assembling an entire car with this sticky stuff?

That's what we wanted to find out when we asked: Is it possible to assemble a car with glue?

Innovation is what keeps the automotive industry exciting. And that's exactly why the item that comes in at number 7 is on our list. Read the next page to find out why a simple tailpipe made the grade.

Can we really make a tailpipe that captures carbon dioxide?

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7: Can we make tailpipes that capture CO2?

­­How long has it been since a tailpipe design has been able to raise a few eyebrows in the auto industry? Has it been years? Decades? Perhaps never? While the average tailpipe on a car or truck is obviously nothing new, the added function of this particular exhaust system component sets it apart from the crowd.

It's probably a safe bet that you've heard that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are a growing threat to the Earth's atmosphere. Smog is an ever-present condition over many cities worldwide. It's bad for the environment and bad for the health of the people and animals that are exposed to it on a routine basis. Most everyone agrees that something has to be done. Researchers and scientists are constantly attempting to find new and effective methods to reduce the greenhouse gases that we continue to produce by way of automobiles, factories and other fossil fuel-powered machines. But is the answer as simple as trapping the offending gases? Has a team of researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology really found a way to prevent CO2 from ever entering the atmosphere?

We wondered the same thing when we asked: Can we make tailpipes that capture CO2?

Maybe you subscribe to the viewpoint that electric cars are the solution to pollution? If that's the case, then you'll be intrigued by the topic that we ranked as number 6 on our list.

An all-electric car that you don't plug in? So where does it get its power?

Dreamstime

6: Is there a way to create an all-electric car you don't have to plug in?

For nearly a decade, we've all heard how gas-electric hybrid cars are the greatest thing on the road. And maybe they are -- for now, anyway. While we can't (nor do we really want to) deny some of the outstanding benefits of these efficient little cars (they do provide a significant reduction in fossil-fuel consumption), they still require a trip to the gas station to get us where we're going. If you drive a hybrid vehicle, you may not find yourself standing in front of the fuel pump quite as frequently, but eventually you end up right there alongside the rest of us.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could own and drive a car that never had to be filled up at the pump? They already have vehicles like that, right? An all-electric car, you say? Well, when you drive an all-electric car, you're still faced with finding a place to plug-it-in to recharge the onboard battery system. As of now, in most places around the world, that's no simple task. But what if you didn't have to recharge the batteries? What if you didn't have to plug in your all-electric car? Wouldn't that be an interesting vehicle to own?

That's why we wanted to know: Is there a way to create an all-electric car you don't have to plug in?

Up next, an interesting topic that we felt deserved to be positioned at number 5 on our list. This one speaks to those of you who are simply tired of having to do everything yourself -- or maybe to those of you who are just simply tired. Either way, number 5 is on the next page.

Would you let you car take complete control of the wheel?

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5: How Driverless Cars Will Work

For some, driving can be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable parts of the day. Perhaps you think of your car as your own tiny isolation booth. Not only does it give you the type of environment that you need to think about the day that you've had (or have ahead of you), listen to the music that you select (at the volume that you desire) or hold private phone conversations, your car also gives you the freedom to navigate to wherever you choose, whenever you choose.

For others, driving is not so calming. Some find the whole ordeal to be an annoyance. For instance, a particularly bad day on the road might include a little bit of road rage, several missed turns, a flat tire or engine trouble and if they're really having a bad day, possibly a fender-bender in a parking lot. These are the people that we had in mind when we considered the possibility of handing over the controls to the machines. That may sound a little dramatic, but you may also be surprised to learn that many of the cars on the road today already have a little driverless technology built into them.

Find out what we learned when we investigated: How Driverless Cars Will Work.

OK, so maybe you're not quite ready to completely give up control of your own vehicle. You don't want to drive yourself, but you still need a way to get around town, right? The number 4 question on our list may be just what you're looking for.

Will a vehicle like this replace the current taxicab design?

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4: Will there be a new kind of taxicab in the future?

Major cities need taxis. That's rather obvious, right? If you live in a crowded urban environment, then you already know the value of those yellow cars that fill the streets. Sure, there are times when they may get on your nerves (especially when you can't seem to get one to stop to pick you up); however, they do serve a purpose. Unlike the public bus system or the subway, taxis have the mobility required to take you exactly where you want to go. And unless you're sharing a cab, you won't be crammed up against a complete stranger. Yes, taxis can be invaluable when you don't have your own vehicle yet you still need to get around town.

But what about some of the negative factors in the taxicab equation? What about the countless hours of idling that a taxicab endures each day? Remember, because of the environment that they operate in, they often sit in gridlock traffic spewing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for hour after hour each day. In fact, when you really think about it, taxicabs have a huge impact on the air quality in the towns that they operate in. So what's the solution?

That's why we posed the following question: Will there be a new kind of taxicab in the future?

You're getting closer to the number 1 question on our list, but before you get there, take a look at

number 3. This one combines driverless technology with a somewhat interesting location.

Will we ever be able to take a subterranean road trip?­

Peter Gridley/Taxi/Getty Images

3: Will we drive on underground automated highways?

We've already mentioned the possibility of driverless cars and even driverless taxicabs that will take you wherever you choose to go. While handing over controls of the vehicle may be an enticing offer for a lot of weary drivers, others may decide that they're not ready for this dramatic leap in technology. But we can't stop there. To take this thought one step further, we wondered what it would be like if the whole operation was under ground -- an Underground Automated Highway (UAH) system, to be exact.

Just imagine: A network of underground tunnels that stretches for hundreds if not thousands of miles. You'd drive to your local UAH tunnel entrance ramp, synch the vehicle's guidance system and let the automated highway system do the rest. At the end of your trip, you'd pilot your car the final few miles to your specific destination. Sounds simple, right? Well, its not. But it is a lot of fun to read about.

At least that's what we had in mind when we asked the question: Will we drive on underground automated highways?

But what if you're not really interested in public transportation? In fact, what if you're at the opposite end of the spectrum? Perhaps you're the type of person who wants to travel in style -- no matter what it costs. If that's you, then you'll definitely be interested in the question that comes in at number 2 on our list.

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Will luxury cars be dramatically different in 2030?

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2: What will "luxury car" mean in 2030?

Most people have a pretty good idea of what a luxury car should be. But remember, you're probably thinking of luxury based on the car models and features that you can find on the showroom floor today. For this article, we wanted to take the luxury car query to the next level.

Sure, we all know that flat-screen televisions, real wood trim, heated and cooled seats, multi-zone temperature controls and even refrigerators have become somewhat routine features in many luxury cars these days. In fact, you can even find most (if not all) of these features in several cars that aren't really considered to be "luxury cars" at all. But have you ever heard of a luxury car that features a waterfall separating the driver from the front-seat passenger? How about a car that has a Japanese sand garden beneath glass floorboards, intended to give the interior a windswept feel? Maybe your idea of luxury is an eight-wheel, all-electric car that has a combined total of 800 horsepower? Believe it or not, these are features and capabilities that that have already found their way into luxury concept cars at various auto shows around the world. Our point is simple: What we consider to be luxury right this moment will most likely change dramatically over the next two decades as designers and engineers continue to develop even more outlandish and lavish vehicles for the wealthy car buyer.

We didn't know what we were in for when we asked: What will "luxury car" mean in 2030?

So, what was the number 1 question on our minds in 2008? Read the next page to find out.

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Is it possible to build a death-proof car?

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1: Can a car really be death-proof?

That question really makes you wonder, doesn't it? It had the same effect on us, too. But if you're a regular reader of the auto section on HowStuffWorks, then you know the topic of safety makes its way into most of our articles throughout the year. This particular subject felt like a natural choice. The mere thought of a death-proof car is just so fascinating to us, that we had to make this our number one pick for 2008.

Yes, we're aware that there is a movie with a death-proof car featured prominently throughout; however, a 1970 Chevy Nova is hardly the type of death-proof car that we're interested in. Well, OK -- maybe we're just a little bit interested in Stuntman Mike's car, too. Anyway, what we were looking for when we wrote this article was more of a glimpse into the future of automotive safety. We wanted to get a feel for what we can expect in the not-so-distant future. In the process we discovered a rather bold claim that Volvo has made about a car that they say they'll be releasing by the year 2020. Is it death-proof? You'll have to read the article to find out. But either way, you'd have to agree that a company that can bring a truly death-proof car to the showroom floor would have quite an advantage over other auto manufacturers.

So, can it be done? Can a car really be death-proof?

Don't stop reading now. If you liked those 10 articles, then you'll probably want to read the 5 listed on the next page, too.