Q: Originally, the term "fuel cell" described exotic wafers that allow hydrogen and oxygen to combine across a membrane, producing electricity and water. Then car dudes began to use the same term for a fancy gas tank. Why did they do this? What makes the gas tank fuel cell different from a common gas tank? Now that there are actually fuel cell-powered electric cars being developed, how will the car dudes keep things straight when they use the term? I have a son who has a master's degree in fuel cell engineering. He doesn't like it much when folks ask him why he needed a master's to design gas tanks.

A: The difference between a standard gas tank and an auto fuel cell is in their construction. According to Pegasus Racing Supply: "Safety fuel cells work just like the gas tank on your street car, but they are designed to prevent spilled fuel in the event of a racing incident. (Not to be confused with hydrogen fuel cells, which are used in some electric vehicles to generate electricity.)"

Racing fuel cells generally consist of three parts: The outer can or enclosure, the bladder and a layer of foam baffling. The enclosure is made of steel or aluminum. Inside is the bladder that's strong enough to prevent tearing. The baffling is like a sponge as the last defense to prevent the fuel from exploding. The car dudes probably came up with the name, not realizing there might be something else with the same name.

Wax is worth it

Q: Here's a question that I imagine you have gotten before but I don't recall seeing. Many commercial car wash locations offer some sort of spray-on wax treatment. Are they effective and worth the extra cost?

A: They use a liquid wax that does protect the car somewhat. It isn't as durable as a good wax you apply under a shade tree while sipping a cold IPA. No wax, even the newer ceramic waxes, is forever, but car wash wax is better than nothing. The more the car is washed, the less wax it retains, so pay the additional cost occasionally — more often in the winter.

Bob Weber is a writer, mechanic and ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician. His writing has appeared in automotive trade publications, Consumer Guide and Consumers Digest. Send automotive questions along with name and town to motormouth.tribune@gmail.com.