We love a good post-apocalyptic movie or TV show, but the vast majority of these Hollywood creations prioritize flashy visuals and entertainment factor over realism. That's somewhat understandable, since watching the protagonist roar through the deserted streets on a chopper draws in a bigger audience, and money is the name of the game. However, one of our pet peeves with this genre is the way they overlook a virtually-unavoidable problem in a long-term survival situation: fuel expiration.

While this makes for great entertainment, it's not exactly realistic.

Mad Max: Fury Road makes for great entertainment… but it's *a wee bit* unrealistic. (Photo: Warner Bros.)

Problem number one: in a major nationwide or worldwide crisis, fuel production and distribution will cease. If the proverbial fire and brimstone is raining down from the sky, Steve the local tanker truck driver is going to stop making his rounds to the gas stations and go find his family. (It's OK Steve, we'd do the same.) If the disaster is big enough, ports, shipping lines, and refineries will also grind to a halt. That means no new fuel will be produced or distributed.

Sorry “The Walking Dead” fans, this Hyundai would likely sputter to a stop less than a year after SHTF....

If the only fuel that's available is sitting idly in the tanks of vehicles, gas stations, and regional storage facilities, we'll run into problem number two pretty quickly. Most vehicle fuels have a limited shelf life, and when there's a finite supply of new fuel, it's a matter of time until the volatile fuel expires. Generally, modern ethanol-blended E10 gasoline will last 3 to 6 months, depending on how it's stored and the tolerances of the equipment it's being used in. Diesel (or biodiesel made from cooking oil) is a little better, with a 6 to 12 month shelf life.

After this time, fuels will form gum, varnish, and oxidized deposits, which may clog filters, injectors, and lines. Condensation may also cause water buildup in the fuel, reducing its potency and causing misfires or knocking. It may even cause rust in the system, which can break off particles and be a real nightmare to clean. You can check for fuel expiration in a number of ways:

  • Look at the color. Old fuel turns dark brown as impurities form.
  • Waft a little of the fumes toward your nose and smell them. If it smells sour, it may be expired.
  • Use a test swab from an auto parts or hardware store. These strips can detect the presence of water and contaminants.

The last thing you want is to try to fire up your engine and bug out, only to find it won't start.

Oil Pumps

So, now that we know fuel will eventually expire, what can you do to stop it? Unfortunately, it's impossible to permanently prevent fuel expiration, but you can slow down the degradation process with the following steps.

  • Obtain ethanol-free gasoline, which has a shelf life of many years, since it has less tendency to attract water. Small cans of stabilized ethanol-free fuel are also available for 2-cycle and 4-cycle engines — while these won't be practical for keeping a car running, they would be a good option for small generators, chainsaws, or even motorcycles.
    Ethanol free fuel gasoline bugout shtf survival preparedness
  • Store your fuel in a purpose-built air-tight container. Contact with oxygen, moisture, or certain metals can cause it to degrade faster.
  • Keep your fuel in a cool and dark environment. Heat accelerates degradation.
  • Fill tanks to the top to keep excess air pockets away from the fuel. A half-full tank will form condensation quickly.
  • Top off with a little fresh fuel when possible, if you manage to find some that has been properly stored and stabilized.
  • Mix in a anti-oxidant fuel stabilizer before storing your fuel. This reduces the rate of oxidation and can double or triple shelf life (12 to 15 months for regular gas).
  • Use an older vehicle that's less sensitive to poor-quality fuel. Modern fuel injection systems can become clogged easily by particulate.
  • Convert your vehicle to run on used vegetable oil. This fuel source is plentiful, and you can gather it easily while other survivors fight over the remaining gasoline.

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