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Could Water Shortage Be the Next Semiconductor Crisis?

How water shortages are affecting the car industry and how dealers and buyers can help solve the crisis.

The last few years have been marked by a severe semiconductor crisis that caused problems in sourcing materials for car production and raised vehicle prices enough to bar some buyers from the purchasing process.

As this crisis finally eases up, a new one could be on the horizon: water shortage.

In this article, you’ll find out what this new crisis means for the automobile industry and the world at large, as well as find out what the industry is currently doing to minimize the harmful effects. Finally, you’ll learn what you can do, as a car seller or buyer, to do your part to combat water shortage.

Let’s get into it.

Water use in the automobile industry

Believe it or not, a lot of water goes into car production. As a matter of fact, it’s estimated that, in the EU alone, 42.33 million m3 of water is used in the car industry every year. That’s enough to fill 17,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

And this is actually an improvement over the previous years. Owing to the EU’s strict environmental policies and water-use regulations, the car industry has been able to cut water usage by half since 2006.

Illustration: eCarsTrade / Data: acea


The parts of the production process that rely heavily on water are those in which water is used to dilute various compounds that are applied to the car body, as well as in components that need water for their functioning. Some examples here include:

  • Surface treatment and coating.
  • Spray paint application.
  • Washing and rinsing after chemical treatments.
  • Air conditioning and boiler filling.


To “paint” you a clear picture here, have a look at this car body painting process in a BMW factory. Notice that each car is rinsed multiple times and submerged in water before paint (a water-based acrylic polyurethane enamel) is applied.

How is a new car painted at the factory ? // BMW Paint Shop


Another thing that’s widely used in car manufacturing are semiconductors. And when the global pandemic caused a widespread semiconductor shortage, the automobile industry experienced a downturn soon after. Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that the current water crisis will also affect the industry, as water is another resource car production relies on heavily.

The growing global water crisis

The truth is that we’re already in the midst of a water shortage crisis that’s so severe even ordinary citizens are feeling the consequences, and not just the industries dependent on water. 

 Here are just some examples from Europe to confirm this:

  • The Sau water reservoir in Catalonia, Spain, has recorded its lowest levels in decades.
  • Several villages in France can’t guarantee tap water for their residents anymore.
  • The river Po in Italy has dried up almost entirely due to the lack of snow this year.

As shocking as these news headlines might sound, the water crisis is hardly a new occurrence on our continent. According to a recent study of satellite data, the continent has been experiencing an unbroken severe drought since 2018.

A serious drought has depleted European groundwater

As you can see in the image above, some regions in Europe have seen their groundwater levels drop by 15 cm on average!

To make matters more complex, this crisis has several causes, meaning it’s going to be that much more difficult to solve. One cause, of course, is attributed to climate change which is affecting the quantities of precipitation we’re seeing. The record holder here is France, where some regions haven’t seen rain in no less than 31 days in 2022, which is unheard of for this country.

Another notable cause is population growth, and no, we don’t mean people have been drinking too much water. Rather, as populations grow, they have a greater need for food, which comes from agriculture and animal farming. And growing food (both for humans and the animals they eat) takes a lot of water.

In this situation, what we can do is mitigate water use as much as possible and thereby lessen the effects of this crisis. And the good news here is that the car industry, car traders, end-buyers, and entire governments are making enormous strides to make cut water use as much as possible, with some very promising results! But more on that in the following sections. 

Mitigating water usage in the automobile industry

As we already mentioned in the first section, the automobile industry is a big water consumer. This fact is not lost on car producers who are taking action to curb their water use (remember, the EU today is using 50% less water in car production than it was in 2006).

These cuts actually come from a variety of sources, some small-scale, and others systematic. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Installing flow restrictions on pipes and taps.
  • Hosing down surfaces and areas less frequently and dry sweeping more often.
  • Monitoring and eliminating leaks.
  • Recycling and reusing water at different stages of rinsing during production.
  • Installing tanks to catch rainwater.


Some manufacturers deserve special mention here for their massive efforts to cut water use as much as possible. Ford is one of them.

In the year 2000, Ford began their Global Water Management Initiative. Their efforts resulted in a whopping 61% water use reduction in the span of ten years (until 2010). That’s almost 40 billion liters of water saved! The project was so successful and so well received that they pledged to cut another 30% percent by 2015 and crushed that goal two years before the deadline.

Ford’s strategy included the water-saving methods we mentioned earlier, but they also adopted a wide range of technologies that helped them conserve even more, such as the Dry Paint Overspray System and the Minimum Quantity Lubricant (MQL) method for reducing water-based lubrication during production.

Minimum Quantity Lubrication (MQL)

Ford’s great example is proof that a lot can be done to save water and mitigate the crisis we’re facing. Let’s hope more and more manufacturers will realize the severity of the water shortage crisis and follow suit.

Recommendations for car buyers

Car producers aren’t the only ones who can take action to mitigate water use. Buyers can do their part too by choosing their next vehicle wisely. Here are some considerations to take into account.

Going back to the beginning of this article, let’s reiterate that the car production process is very water-intensive. It logically follows that opting for a used car, rather than a new one, results in enormous savings. To be exact, just by making this decision, you’ll save around 147,000 liters of water.

So if you’re buying a car, scroll through the classifieds or visit a used car dealership. If you’re a car dealer, try sourcing more of your cars from quality used car platforms, like eCarsTrade

A broad selection, effortless purchasing process, and dependable service


An added benefit of working with us is that you’ll be partnering up with a company that makes a conscious effort to minimize its environmental impact, including water use. For example, all of our cars are handed over to their new owners as is, without pre-delivery washing, to conserve water as much as possible.

Apart from skipping the water-intensive production process, you can also opt for a car that uses less water during its entire life cycle, and this is where things get quite interesting.

Here’s why. You’re probably accustomed to thinking about electric vehicles as environmentally friendly and better for the environment. And this is definitely true from an emissions perspective. In fact, EVs emit 80% less CO2 than other types of vehicles! 

However, they are less efficient when it comes to water management as they need more water during their life cycle than ICE vehicles.

Illustration: eCarsTrade / Data: Lowvelder

This is due to the water resources needed to extract, process, and dispose of the rare minerals needed to build EV batteries.

On the other hand, from the perspective of fuel, ICEs do more damage water-wise because the oil needed for these vehicles needs to be extracted, refined, and transported which, again, uses a lot of water.

Therefore, if conserving water is a key consideration for you, choosing a used, fuel-efficient, ICE car for your next purchase should be the best possible solution. But keep in mind that EVs are still the champion when it comes to lowering car emissions.

The water shortage crisis is here but we’re not helpless against it

In conclusion, we can be sure that the current water crisis has the potential to be as damaging as the semiconductor crisis, if not more so.

However, as car dealers and car buyers, there’s a lot we can do to mitigate the effects and do our part in solving the crisis.

Take some time to research the car producers that are taking steps to mitigate their water use, like Ford has been doing for the last 20 years, and take your business to them. Also, make wise choices when purchasing vehicles by investing in used vehicles that use less water during their lifetime. 

eCarsTrade has a wide selection of used vehicles of all brands and engine types, with comprehensive information about fuel efficiency so check out our offer today.