One Man’s Quest for Gas Cans that Don’t Suck
If you’ve had the pleasure of buying a gas can in the past few years, then you’ve likely come to the conclusion that all modern gas cans suck. After Hurricane Sandy prompted me to buy a generator and stockpile gasoline, I came to the same conclusion when looking for containers for my gas-hoarding pleasure. Not one to give into frustration, I solved the crappy gas can problem, and I’ll tell you how. But I think a bit of history is in order. Why do all these new cans suck anyway?
From what I can tell, this is pretty much an American problem. As of January of 2009, all new portable fuel containers in the US must meet new Mobile Source Air Toxic regulations based on the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) regulations, and they must meet the requirements of the Children’t Gasoline Burn Prevention Act. Now, clean air and children not being burned by gasoline seem like good things, but the these new rules have inflicted us with a plague of vile gas cans outfitted with maddening, useless spouts. Why?
As is typical of political, board-derived solutions, the actual implementation of these regulations has been a disaster. These new cans have caused more gas to spill and more fumes to escape than any gas can in history. At least in my history; I don’t have any statistics to report about spills outside of my own garage. Suffice to say that everyone I’ve talked to about these new cans hates them, and reports similarly alarming spill statistics from their own experiences in their own garages.
I could regale you with tales of spilled gas when filling the damned things, or tales of spilled gas when the spring-loaded safety nozzles malfunctioned. If you’re reading this, then you probably have similar stories to tell, so I’ll cut to the chase, and tell you how I’ve dealt with the modern scourge that is the CARB-regulated gas can. And no, I didn’t just drill a vent hole in the back.
For my needs, I decided that I would have four smaller cans and five larger cans. Yeah, that’s a lot of cans, but after Hurricane Sandy, I bought a thirsty generator and my goal was to have 5-7 days worth of gas. Having been in an area that first had no gas for three days, and then had weeks of gas rationing, I decided that I’d never go through that again.
2.5 Gallon No-Spill Gas Cans
The best of the CARB-cans in my experience come from the No-Spill company. These cans have many of the drawbacks that all of the new cans share, like hard to open, locking tops (especially in the cold), obnoxious caps that prevent the nozzle from fitting in gas tanks, what seem to be a terribly confusing spout assemblies, and finally, a ridiculously high price tag for all that pain. Still, of the many CARB-cans I tried, this one was the best. I actually have two gas cans in my arsenal: Larger cans for long-term storage, and smaller cans that my wife and kids can use to fuel the generator when I’m not home. At 2.5 gallons (10 liters), this can is a good size for them to handle while not being overly heavy. Additionally, once it’s filled and ready to go, it actually is pretty darn spill-proof. Sure, I managed to spill gas all over the damn thing while I was filling it the first time, but I’ll blame that on the other CARB-can I was filling it with.
The first thing I like about these cans is that they’re flat on all vertical surfaces, so instead of having to hold it up in the air while filling, my wife can just place it on the generator as shown in the picture to the right. This alone is a nice benefit, which is something I had never even thought of as a feature.
It is important to note that in that picture, no gas is flowing from that can. In order to make the gas flow from the can, the green button must be depressed, and held down. This is both a benefit and a bane to my ongoing sanity. First, it’s nice because as the name of the can would imply, no gas is spilled when positioning the spout.
The not-so-good aspect of this button is that the spring is pretty firm, and the same amount of force that keeps your toddlers from drinking the tasty, tasty gas means that your thumb will be complaining vigorously by the time the can is empty, which brings me to the next problem with all these CARB-cans: they pour slowly. These pour better than most, but they’re still nothing like the good old-fashioned pre-ban nozzles of yore.
By the way, if you look at the yellow part of the nozzle, it’s actually designed so that you can wrap your fingers around the bottom, which let you position your thumb differently. That will help you keep a grip on the button while you pass the time swearing at legislators.
I will say that for dispensing gas, these cans live up to their No Spill name. Sure I’ve made a mess once or twenty times filling them, but even then I like that they have very large openings. Also, all of the No Spill cans under five gallons have neat strips of translucent plastic up the front and back so you can tell at a glance how full they are. The five gallon models have an extra handle on the back which helps with pouring, especially since they pour so damn slowly. Because of this handle, the 5-gallon models aren’t square and don’t stack as cleanly as the smaller cans.
One more thing I like about these cans is that the company sells spare parts for them! Break a spout? Contact No Spill and order a new one. They even sell them on Amazon.
As much as I like these cans above the other plastic crap-cans out there, they still don’t hold a candle to the real deal. For the big cans, I went old school and managed to get some good old fashioned Jerry Cans.
20-Liter NATO Jerry Cans
When I started on my gas can quest, I quickly found myself yearning for the days of my youth. I grew up on a farm, and the gas cans we had for the tractor were World-War-II-era Jerry Cans. They were big five-gallon metal cans, rusted from top to bottom, that were at least 30 years old when I started using them, and closer 50 when I moved out. In all that time, we never once considered the idea that we would need new ones. As an interesting side note, the nozzles for those old cans were colloquially called a colorful term that had something to do with donkeys and people named Richard, but I digress. Gas-can slang aside, I wanted cans like those from my youth, so I commenced Googling.
I was surprised to find that not only were Jerry Cans still being made, but that NATO had a standardized version in use. I set out to buy some, and that’s when I discovered that they cost a LOT of money. Some of my preciously listed complaints with the CARB-cans include the facts that they’re plastic, they suck, and they cost too much. The 2.5 gallon cans I showed above cost almost $40 a piece. That actually helped me to rationalize the Jerry Cans, which were close to $80 each with shipping. Besides, I told myself, these cans should last for damn-near ever. I ordered five (yes, five), and eagerly awaited their arrival. It’s true; stuff like this excites me.
These cans are everything I’ve ever wanted in a gas can. They’re as solid as the ones I remember from the farm, but they also have internal venting to prevent the dreaded gurgle pour. The openings clamp shut and lock with authority, and the rims of the caps are sealed with gaskets. The nozzles were extra (and not cheap), so I bought two. What can I say? I’m complicated. They come with attachment clamps so that they can be stored on the cans when not in use. The nozzles are also metal, except for the tips which are plastic.
The caps for these cans are captive, which means you can’t lose them. Not only that, but you can lock them shut in such a way that they cannot be knocked open. A small captive pin is crimped into the locking lever. With the pin pulled out (the picture shows it out as far as it will go), the cap is free to open, though it still takes considerable force on the lever to do so. With the pin engaged and twisted, I imagine that it would take about 20 years of sliding around and banging against a truck full of tools before the cap would open by accident. That time would be shortened to 10 years if monkeys are involved. In short, these aren’t your average crap-tastic CARB-can caps. These are military grade caps that mean business.
One of the new rules about gas cans states that they must be red. As you can tell from the pics, that wasn’t a problem. These cans are welded together (not crimped like lesser metal cans), painted inside and out, and seal so tightly when closed that I took a chance and transported one on its side in the trunk of my car. Not only did it not spill a drop, but I never even smelled gas when I opened the trunk, which brings me to some pleasantly surprising features of these cans: space efficiency.
As you can see, I can fit five of these cans side by side in the back of my Acura – a car not built for hauling things. Actually, I could have fit another row of them! These cans are tall, unlike all the CARB-cans out there which tend to be wide. In the space where I store my gas, I used to have three of the regular modern 5-gallon cans. These were a mix of CARB and pre-CARB cans, but the point is, I could fit only three.
With my Jerry Cans, I can fit five in the same space, and I can store four 2.5 Gallon No-Spill cans on top of them. Where I once had 15 gallons, I can now store 35 gallons! If I had shelves, I could store them on their sides and fit even more. There comes a point, though, where I simply wouldn’t be able to cycle through that much gas in a year. This much gas will let me run my generator for almost a week, which was my goal. I never thought that I’d be able to increase my storage capacity by over a factor of two without an increase in floor space, though. I love when that happens!
Be careful if you shop for Jerry Cans. There are a few types out there, and some are better than others. Beware of NATO-Like cans, as they are often inferior. My advice is to look for actual NATO 20-liter cans. The similarly shaped cans from Blitz and Wedco, but buying NATO cans seemed to make more sense to me. In my Googling, I got conflicting reports as to whether or not the Wedco cans were actually NATO spec or not. There are some out there with screw-on plastic caps, and I wanted nothing to do with those. Sadly, it appears as if Blitz may be folding due to excessing litigation against them.
I bought mine at CampingMaxx, but I bought them through Amazon.com because the shipping was cheaper. Here are the links I used:
- Amazon.com: 20-Liter Red NATO Gas Can
- Amazon.com: Spout for NATO Gas Can
- Amazon.com: 2.5 Gallon No-Spill Gas Can
- Camping Max: Jerry Cans
Oh, and the spouts I bought were supposed to be green, so I was quite pleased to see that they were black.
So yeah, I have a lot of gas cans, but for the first time in 30 years, I’m pretty happy with them all. Every time I bring the Jerry Cans to the gas station, I get asked where I got them, because everyone hates the state of the modern American gas can.
The little no-spill can in the last picture is 1.25 gallons, and is used only for my 2-cycle motors and will be marked accordingly. And yes, I’ve already bought three more spouts for the Jerry Cans so that they all match.