Can I fill a jerry can with fuel? Law on storing petrol and diesel amid shortage explained, and does it expire?

As drivers panic buy, here’s what the law says about filling fuel cans and storing petrol and diesel on private property

The ongoing fuel crisis has seen drivers struggling to find petrol or diesel in many parts of the country.

The Petrol Retailers Association said that, at its peak, a third of its members had run out of fuel entirely, although that has begun to ease.

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Moves to ease shortages, including bringing the army in to drive fuel tankers, are being put in place but some filling stations are still seeing surges of drivers trying to fill up.

And around the country some motorists have been spotted filling up fuel cans, often several at a time, so here is what you need to know about what the law says filling and storing jerry cans.

(Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Are jerry cans legal?

Yes, it’s perfectly legal to fill up a jerry can or petrol can as long as it meets some basic standards.

The regulations state that metal containers can be up to 20 litres in capacity while plastic cans can be up to 10 litres. They must be “reasonably robust and not liable to break under the normal conditions of use”, designed to stop the escape of vapour, not liable to degrade due to contact with petrol, and clearly labelled with the words “petrol” and “highly flammable”.

How many jerry cans can you fill up?

The law around carrying fuel in petrol cans and storing it is slightly different. According to the Government, you can transport up to 240 litres of petrol in one vehicle, with up to 60 litres in an individual receptacle.

However, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) makes it clear that petrol can only be transported in a suitable portable petrol container of up to 20 litres in capacity and regulations for storing petrol at home limit the amount you can keep on private premises.

Individual filling stations might also have their own limits on the number or type of cans you can fill up.

Can you store petrol at home?

You can store petrol at home but there are several restrictions on how much petrol you can store at home and where you store it.

The HSE states that private individuals can store up to a total of 30 litres in suitable portable containers or in a single demountable fuel tank.

If you are using a metal petrol can you can store up to 20 litres in one container.

If you are using a plastic fuel can you can store up to 10 litres in one container.

If you are storing the fuel containers in a vehicle you can store no more than 30 litres in no more than two containers.

Where should I store petrol?

If you have petrol in jerry or fuel cans you must not store it in living accommodation, so you cannot keep full petrol cans in the house.

However, the HSE states that petrol in cans must be stored within a suitable building.

You can keep them in a garage, shed or other outbuilding as long as it is well ventilated, and there is no nearby source of ignition.

If the space where you are storing the petrol is attached to your house, such as an integrated garage, it must be “fire-separated” from the rest of the building by an external wall or internal wall with fire-resistant internal linings.

Is it safe to transport and store petrol?

While it is legal to transport full jerry cans in your car and store them at home, recent days have seen warnings about the dangers involved.

if incorrectly sealed or stored full petrol cans can pose a serious fire risk and in extreme circustances even explode.

Earlier this week former London Fire Brigade firefighter Steve Dudeney shared a photo of a car fire he had attended, caused by a driver incorrectly transporting petrol. He tweeted: “The man driving the car had filled some petrol containers up and placed them in the boot. The escaping petrol vapour met an ignition source in his car, this was the result. Panic buyers beware!! He was still alive but badly burned when I arrived, airlifted to a burns unit, I never heard if he survived."

Do petrol and diesel expire?

Despite being made from crude oil which has lain underground for millions of years, petrol and diesel don’t keep forever and, in fact, have surprisingly short shelf lives.

According to the RAC, petrol generally has a shelf life of around six months if it is stored properly. That means in a tightly sealed container at 20 degrees.

At higher temperatures it degrades more quickly, for instance at 30 degrees it will last for just three months.

Similarly, if the container is poorly sealed, the fuel will degrade more quickly.

In general, diesel will last in a portable can for between six and 12 months before it begins to degrade. Like petrol, however, how it is stored can affect its longevity.

Degradation happens because different chemical elements of the fuel evaporate at different rates, meaning the fuel’s chemical composition changes over time. As some chemicals evaporate, others react with oxygen, causing the fuel to go “gummy”.

Will stale fuel damage my car?

In most cases a small amount of stale fuel is unlikely to cause significant problems. If you’ve used stale fuel or suspect the fuel in your car’s tank may have gone off, it’s best to fill up with fresh petrol or diesel.

However, the older the fuel, the worse the degradation and potential for problems, so if the fuel has been sitting in your car’s system for a prolonged period (more than six months) it’s worth having it drained.

If you use petrol that is past its best you might experience poor starting or loss of performance due to the degradation of the fuel.

In more extreme cases where the petrol has oxidised and gone “gummy” it can create solid impurities which can clog up the fuel system and other parts of the engine.

Similarly, diesel which has degraded can cause deposits to form which will block sensitive parts of the fuel system and lead to potentially expensive problems.