March 03, 2020
By David M. Fortier
There are few things as crucial to the average American as the automobile. We are a people who depend upon the automobile with its internal combustion engine for far more than most realize. They transport us to work, carry our food home, act as beasts of burden and whisk us about our hectic daily lives. Yet while we have become dependent upon their service, the majority of Americans are less than one tank of gas away from walking. Despite the crucial role the automobile plays in our daily lives very few people store any amount of fuel to ensure its running when they need it most. Many do not even have an empty fuel can to transport fuel if they should run out. Due to this, when the electricity goes out and the pumps shut down, it’s not long before people are ‘side of the road’.
Without fuel your car, truck, generator, chain saw, tractor and anything else run by an internal combustion engine sputters to a halt. Running out of fuel during normal times is an ‘inconvenience’. The loss of something as important as a vehicle or generator in a time of crisis can have dire results.
Why Should You Store Fuel?
For many people the mere thought of storing gasoline or diesel fuel sounds a bit eccentric. If you need fuel, then you simply drive to the gas station and fill your tank, right? The problem arises when normal day to day life is turned upside down by unforeseen circumstances. A simple loss of electricity is all it takes to prevent a gas station from being able to pump fuel. An extended outage over a wide area such as from a hurricane, earthquake or large winter storm can lead to stations being down for days or even weeks. Major damage from a large scale storm can also prevent fuel tankers from replenishing empty tanks leading to stations being pumped dry. Panic buying and fuel shortages can also lead to empty tanks at stations. Sound unlikely or far-fetched? During recent large events, like Hurricane Sandy and Katrina to name just two, all of these things did indeed happen. Fuel became extremely difficult or impossible to find in the affected area. It took only a couple of days before vehicles began to run dry and generators to sputter to a stop. So you have the choice, prepare for such an event by taking measures to be ready or hope for the best and expect big government to take care of you.
What Is The Best Fuel Type To Store?
If you come to the conclusion you’d like to store extra fuel, just in case, it’s time to make a decision. You’ll need to decide what type of you fuel you wish to keep on hand. Basically this comes down to diesel or gasoline. As first glance it would seem gasoline is the obvious choice. Most cars and trucks run on gasoline as do the majority of common generators and other small internal combustion engines. For many readers this will be their only option. However, the downside to gasoline is it is much more volatile than diesel fuel. Gasoline burns in a limited range of its vapor phase and, coupled with its volatility, this makes leaks highly dangerous when sources of ignition are present. Gasoline vapor rapidly mixes and spreads with air, making unconstrained gasoline quickly flammable.
Diesel is a different animal. It’s not very volatile and so not enough evaporates to make a fuel air mixture which will burn under normal conditions. While it is not accurate to say that diesel is not flammable it is safer to store than gasoline. Diesel fuel, being lightly refined, also has a relatively long storage life compared to today’s gasoline. These two factors alone make diesel the preferred fuel for relatively safe long-term storage. While I recommend making the switch and storing diesel, the reality is most people will continue to rely on gas powered vehicles and small engines. This is understandable for a variety of reasons, so with that in mind you store what you need.
How Much Fuel Should You Store?
The next question to consider is how much fuel do you need to store? Many factors will play into this ranging from where you live, what you will be powering to even local laws and zoning restrictions. Everyone’s situation is a bit different so there is no simple blanket answer. My suggestion is to start by making a plan. To do this you will need to stop and figure out:
- How long of an event are you planning for? (3 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month?)
- How many vehicles do you need fuel for?
- Range of each vehicle on a full tank of fuel?
- How many miles do you expect to travel during the event you are planning for?
- Do you plan on running a generator or other engines?
- If so, what is their fuel consumption and how long do you plan on running them?
By simply considering these factors you will have a good idea of how much fuel you would need to store. Many people with generators felt prepared when Hurricane Sandy first approached. Unfortunately, a large number ran out of fuel after only a few days as the local gas stations were shut down or empty. Many common big box store 6,000 watt and similar generators use a fair amount of gasoline if run 24 hours a day. Some will burn 10 to 12 gallons a day. Many people in urban areas will quickly notice that storing sufficient gasoline or diesel fuel may not be feasible for anything but a short term event. This is simply due to the quantity required, zoning ordinances and safety issues. Rural dwellers certainly have an advantage here.
My suggestion is to try to have enough fuel on hand to refill your vehicle’s tank one time at a minimum. If you begin an event with a full tank and have the ability to completely refill your tank once, you will be considerably ahead of the majority of people out there. If you are storing fuel for a generator then I suggest having enough for a minimum of five days of straight use. If this is possible, great, if not, store what you can. Do not be surprised if you begin to plan differently once you really consider your fuel needs. Many people switch from relying on one large gas guzzling generator to a two generator system. They retain the large generator for heavy loads during certain times of the day. However they use a much smaller and more fuel efficient design for powering only essentials the rest of the time.
In Part 2 we will consider what to store your fuel in, storage considerations and what to do if storing fuel is not a possibility. If you like what you’re reading click https://www.osgnewsstand.com/product/be-ready-2019 and check out a copy of Be Ready! magazine.