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(Updated with clarifications) Could a tesla coil be safely built, installed and operated on an active road vehicle which is driving a regular city street? Let's say we want the discharges to be 20-30cm long in the longest direction. Could that tesla coil be actively operating for long periods of time on that car while it is moving, or would this inevitably damage some parts of the car or immediate surroundings (like other cars or electric equipment around that) around it? If it could be switched on/off, then perhaps it would be enough to only make sure it doesn't damage the car itself, while turning it off when too close to other cars or objects.

If there is a safe way to operate it, does that way entail building some kind of electrical cage around the tesla coil? Or would that not help? Or is not even required? Would it need to be a bipolar TC since those don't require ground connection?

How would you even approach this question, what would be hypothetical damage to the car if it was not in fact safe? For the types of the damage that it could cause, is there a way to diagnose, monitor and prevent it? For example if the problem is RF frequency interference, is there a way to shield the electronics from it, or monitor it with some sensor to make sure it is within a certain range?

Several people have asked what the "intend application/usage case is". The usage is to use the tesla coil as a show, for coolness factor. (But are they really ever used for anything else at all? Maybe scientific experiments?) The regular operating environment would be normal city streets.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why would there need to be an operational Tesla coil on a car? Anyway, I think that the RF energy from the TC can be an issue especially with any car that uses electronics for motor control etc., that means any car less than about 30 years old I guess. So you would have to have appropriate (metal) shielding around the TC so that the RF signals are contained. Do realize that no engineer will declare having a TC on a car "safe" unless lots and lots of testing has proven that it isn't very unsafe (proving things are always safe is impossible). \$\endgroup\$ – Bimpelrekkie Jun 16 at 10:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ And if the TC works fine and doesn't disturb your car what about other cars nearby? If another car's electronics are disturbed and an accident happens, who's fault is that? \$\endgroup\$ – Bimpelrekkie Jun 16 at 10:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems that you are not really answering the question, instead saying "electricity is generally dangerous". Thank you for your input. This question is a challenge, of how it would be possible to build this in a safe way. There are tesla coils operating at concerts etc, so there is a way to operate them safely. Please comment something on-topic, not questioning the original question or saying "why would you need to do it" - that is not an answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Cray Jun 16 at 10:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm going to assume you need this for a "circus act" or something alike. Then I'd go for an old (1960) fully mechanical engine or diesel without any integrated circuits. \$\endgroup\$ – Jeroen3 Jun 16 at 10:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Bonus points for building it on a Tesla. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Drummond Jun 16 at 11:27
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Unlike the commentators, I don't think there's any inherent reason why this wouldn't work, provided you don't overdo it.

The obvious risks are:

  • arcing
  • conducted EMI into the car's electrical systems
  • radiated EMI into the car and nearby cars
  • electrocution risk to operator
  • fire risk from ignition of fuel

I'm assuming the coil is outside the vehicle (on the roof? In a truck bed?) and of small to moderate size and fixed appropriately. The coil's ground should be properly connected to the bodywork of the car or at the very least to the car's electrical ground.

Strong electric fields move to the outside of metal objects. So fields relating to the coil will be kept outside the bodywork of the car. Petrol cars are already very electrically noisy devices with multiple-kilovolt sparks of their own, so provided you don't inject anything onto the positive side of the car's electrical system the existing shielding should be adequate.

Having a large enough coil to arc to other people's vehicles should be avoided - not necessarily because of electrical risks but because this will be extremely distracting. You may also run into police restrictions on "lights" on the car. And watch out for bridges, overhead wires, and other street furniture.

Oh, and make very sure the thing is off and discharged through a bleed resistor before you go anywhere near a petrol station. I think that might actually be the biggest risk.

some kind of electrical cage around the tesla coil?

A grounded mesh cage for the coil to arc to would be a great improvement in safety.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you think there is any use in making the whole coil circuitry run on a separate power source (a separate battery), not connected to the car's systems other than throught the electrical ground of the car? Will this minimize any risks or is it irrelevant? \$\endgroup\$ – Cray Jun 17 at 8:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ That would definitely mitigate the risk of conducted EMI into the car's electrical systems, so it's not irrelevant. \$\endgroup\$ – pjc50 Jun 17 at 9:28

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