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Is it Safe to Keep a Gas Can in Your Car? | What to Know

There are a few instances where you need to carry a gas can in your car. It could be for an extended trip into the backcountry where gas stations are scarce, or when you need gas for your lawnmower. Are there risks associated with transporting fuel this way? If an element of danger exists, what precautions can you take to limit them?

It is not safe to travel with a gas can inside your car. There is a multitude of dangers to your safety that this action initiates. Fumes from an empty or full gas canister can result in headaches, nausea, and serious consequences such as carbon monoxide poisoning.

Furthermore, in the event of an accident, the gas adds fuel to any fire, expands the crash scene, and may result in an explosion with a tiny spark from colliding vehicles. Sometimes, it is necessary to transport extra fuel in your car. After all, you can’t take a lawnmower or cement mixer to the pump! Luckily, while there are hazards associated with transporting extra fuel in a gas can, there are procedures you can follow to reduce the risks.

Close up of a woman holding a gas can and walking toward her car

The Dangers of Carrying a Gas Canister in Your Car

Carrying a gas car canister in your car can be a highly dangerous activity. Several modes could cause harm, from inhaling or igniting vapors, to increase the intensity of a fire at the scene of an accident.

Health Consequences from Exposure

Vapors from petroleum are the part of the fuel that burns – not the liquid itself. In a gas can, fumes are produced and build up and can mix with the car’s atmosphere. While a small spark can ignite the vapors and cause an explosion, the main risk from fumes is associated with inhaling them.

Breathing in gasoline fumes can lead to a series of health consequences ranging from a mild headache to life-threatening conditions. If you inhale a small number of gasoline fumes, you may experience dizziness, nausea, and drowsiness. Each of these symptoms could lead to a road traffic accident, resulting in further, more extensive injuries. While these health effects may seem mild, their seriousness increases proportionally with exposure.

Extensive exposure to gasoline vapors can result in severe, life-threatening consequences, including drunkenness, asphyxiation, organ damage, heart attack, or a coma. If you are transporting gasoline in your vehicle regularly, be extra vigilant with regards to inhaling any fumes.

Physically touching petroleum is a possibility if your gas can crack or is incorrectly sealed, resulting in you needing to clean up a spill. Contact with gasoline will cause your skin to become dry, cracked, and irritated. You may develop dermatitis following exposure over time. Prolonged, sustained contact will result in chemical burns. Finally, transmission to the eyes can permanently damage your eyesight if irrigation with water isn’t started right away.

Gasoline Adds Fuel to the Fire

Gasoline is a highly volatile flammable liquid. Its flash point (the lowest temperature at which vapors are produced and can thus ignite) is only -50 °F (-65 °C). As a result, vapors in a gas canister can ignite at any temperature on the road – the cold will not protect you.

All it needs is an ignition source, something like a spark, an existing fire, or excessive heat. It is not an exaggeration to state that the vapors in a gas can lead to an explosion inside your car. It is understandable, therefore, that a significant risk when carrying a gas canister arises if you are involved in an accident and the fuel becomes unsecured. In this scenario, you’ve turned your vehicle into a fire hazard.

In the event your gas canister is breached during a vehicle collision, it is probable the metal-on-metal contact will generate a spark that ignites a fire. Beyond the apparent injuries associated with burns and smoke inhalation, the blaze can also delay treatment as first responders need to secure the scene before they can initiate a rescue.

Gasoline vapors are hazardous, and limiting your contact with them is the best course of action for your health and safety.

How to Limit the Risks Associated With Transporting a Gas Canister in Your Vehicle

Gas Can on Ground

While there may be numerous negative consequences related to transporting a gas can in your car, there are methods to employ to protect yourself from them. Here are some rules to follow to carry a gas can in your vehicle safely.

1. Always check the integrity of your gas canister

The last thing you want is petrol leaking inside your car or trunk. After checking for any puncture, cracks, or other damage, make sure the cap is on securely. If you need to clean up a gas spill, make sure you wear appropriate personal protective clothing. Such precautions will prevent direct exposure to your skin or eyes. If you are exposed to gasoline, wash the affected area with soap and water (or just water for the eyes) for 10-15 minutes. Seek medical treatment if appropriate. I recommend purchasing a no-spill gas can, like this one found on Amazon, to mitigate any potential spills that could occur.

2. Fill the can to its safe fill line

As vapors are the primary concern when transporting gasoline, rather than the liquid itself, you want to limit the amount of headspace in the gas can that vapors use to accumulate. However, you also need to leave enough headspace for the fumes to expand with temperature fluctuations; otherwise, the gas can could rupture. To fill your gas can safely, place it on the ground, and manually fill it to the line. Don’t use the auto-stop mechanism. Do not smoke or leave your engine running while you are at the pump.

3. Don’t transport more fuel than you need

We may live in a culture of overabundance and over-preparedness; therefore, it is tempting always to have an ample supply of the things we need. There’s nothing modern life requires more than a source of fuel. However, the less fuel you transport in a gas canister, the safer you will be. If you only need a gallon, get a gas can that holds that volume and nothing more.

4. Transport the gas on the exterior of your vehicle

There are two benefits to transporting the gas outside. First, you eliminate the hazard of inhaling gasoline fumes. Second, the dangers your vehicle poses are more apparent to first responders. To affix your canister to the exterior of your vehicle, you can buy adapters, like this one found on Amazon, to mount a gas can to either the back or roof of your car (or tie it to an existing roof rack). If you have a truck, secure your gas can within the exterior bed.

5. Securely fasten the gas canister to your vehicle with the valve facing backward

You want to secure the gas can so that it will not wobble, fall, or otherwise shift during transport. The vented nozzle should face backward to prevent any leakages during a sudden stop.

Sometimes, it is unavoidable to transport extra fuel in your vehicle. However, if you can follow these practices, you will limit the negative consequences associated with this hazardous activity.

Final Thoughts

Transporting a gas can in your car can be a highly dangerous action that can have serious health consequences. When driving with a gas can, try to affix it to the exterior of your car, or at least open a window next to it to provide adequate ventilation so you do not inhale vapors.

Never transport gasoline in your trunk – these are poorly ventilated areas that are prone to sparks during a rear-end collision, which will ignite the fuel and burn you and your car. Always remember that you are traveling with a highly volatile, flammable liquid, and drive cautiously with that in mind. For your safety, never transport more fuel than you need.

Related Questions

What Are Gas Cans Made From? Gas cans generally come in two formats: plastic or metal. The plastic models are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is a thermoplastic polymer. They are thick and robust and are designed to tolerate the chemicals in gasoline without eroding, which will happen with other plastics. HDPE is also challenging to puncture. Metallic gas cans are typically steel with anticorrosive and antistatic qualities. Metallic gas cans are more suitable for long-term storage as the fuel won’t leech into the plastic, and the container is less fragile to changes in temperature.

How Long Can You Store Gas in a Gas Can? Gasoline will last for 3-6 months when stored in a gas can, although this time frame is dependent on the fuel grade and the storage conditions. Regardless of how you preserve your fuel, it will decay over time if a stabilizer is not added. Reduced fuel capacity over time occurs because octane, the energy molecule in fuel, degrades at a constant and predictive rate. If you are planning long-term storage, add a stabilizer that contains mineral spirits, isopropyl alcohol, or 1,2,4-trimethyl benzene, and then your fuel can last for up to 24 months. In this scenario, also store your fuel in a metallic container, as over that length of time, plastics can leach into your fuel, lowing its fuel capacity.

Are There Any Laws Regarding Gas Can in Cars? Several states have laws that only allow gas to be transported in approved plastic containers. Generally, these cans are red and will be stamped with Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) or the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). There are also limits as to the capacity of your gas cans. In most states, you can only transport gasoline in containers of five gallons or less without requiring a specific license.

For more, don’t miss How Long Gas Lasts (And How To Make It Last Longer).