Gas: most of us use it, but do you ever think about how it is made, what it is made of or how long it lasts in your car or in a gas can? While these questions may not keep you awake at night, understanding a little more about the fuel that powers your vehicle can help you to keep your vehicle running more efficiently and also identify when there is a problem.
What Exactly is Gasoline?
Gasoline starts its life as petroleum or crude oil. This naturally occurring substance contains hydrocarbons that can be turned into a large variety of different products including engine oil, paraffin wax, paint solvents, dry cleaning fluids and gases such as ethane, propane, butane and methane.
All around the world, gasoline is used as fuel for vehicles. The US is the largest consumer of gasoline worldwide and uses almost 45%.
How is Gasoline Made?
To produce gasoline, the right hydrocarbon chains must be separated from the crude oil mixture using a process known as distillation. This process occurs at an oil refinery where the oil is heated to high temperatures. As the temperature starts to rise, different chains of hydrocarbons start to boil off. These chains are siphoned off and recovered as they start to condense at different temperatures.
Once this process is complete, gasoline manufacturers can add other ingredients such as ethanol, stabilizers and other additives that can help to enhance engine performance and increase the lifespan of your gas.
How Long Can Gas Last In Car or Can?
Gasoline is a highly refined product containing volatile components. It is these components that can start to degrade over time. As these components break down, so does the volatility of the fuel. This means it will burn less efficiently and diminish the performance of your engine if it is allowed to go stale. If gas is left to sit in your tank for a long time, the engine might be harder to start and in some cases not run at all. If it does start, you may notice a decrease in both power and fuel economy. The good news is that topping off the tank with new fuel usually solves the problem. As the old fuel burns off, it will be replaced with the new fuel in your engine.
The length of time your gas lasts in the tank will depend on how fresh the fuel was when you topped up your vehicle, the type of vehicle you drive and also the composition of the fuel you used. For example, many gasoline products contain ethanol alcohol. This alcohol draws moisture from the surrounding air and adds it to the fuel mix. As you can imagine, water and the internal combustion engine do not work well together.
When it comes to storing gas in a can, the American Petroleum Institute recommends that fuel is not stored for more than two years in an approved container.
Is Your Gas Losing Its Edge?
While gas does break down over time, it won’t do so completely in a human lifetime. However, if you don’t use your vehicle for a long time and it has gas in the tank, the following problems can occur:
- If your tank is not completely full, water may start to condense in the tank overnight when temperatures drop. This water will not mix with the gasoline and will instead become trapped underneath. The fuel line draws fuel from the bottom of your tank and will draw in the water first which will present a problem when you start your car.
- Oxidization is another common problem in gas tanks. This is where oxygen is introduced into the tank and combines with the gasoline mix. The hydrocarbons in gasoline react with the oxygen and create new chemical compounds that alter the composition of your fuel. This will lead to varnish and gum deposits in your fuel system that can, in turn, clog up filters and fuel lines and coat the surface of your tank. This may result in your entire fuel system needing a complete drain down.
How to Keep Your Gas in Great Condition
Preventing gas from becoming old and stale when it is in storage is largely down to the storage conditions and the gasoline you use. However, there are a number of things you can do to keep the gas in your tank fresh and ready to provide optimum performance when you need it.
- Aim to fill up your tank only with as much gas as you’ll use over the next month or so. This will help to guarantee that the gas in your tank will always be fresh.
- Top off your gas tank with fuel to prevent water contamination.
- Be sure that any cans or containers are topped off and tightly sealed to prevent exposure to oxygen and water contamination.
- If you own a classic or antique car that you only drive occasionally, be sure to top off the tank every time you take it out for a spin.
- Consider adding fuel stabilizer to your fuel. This applies to any vehicle or small engine equipment that may have fuel sitting idle for more than three months or during the off-season.
The performance of your engine and the health of your fuel system relies heavily on the condition of your fuel. Keeping your fuel as fresh as possible and avoiding contamination from external sources will help to keep your fuel system in prime condition and your engine performing beautifully.