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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:

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.

 

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  1. Guess Who says:

    May you soon find a new problem that irks you enough to begin an endeavor that allows others to benefit from your findings.

  2. Brittany says:

    My boyfriend was just cussing the other day about how the drunk idiots trying to light there bonfire with gas ruined it for everyone. He just takes the old had can tops with out the saftey features (he has stocked piled :) and will screw them on once we get home from filling them.

  3. Brittany says:

    He will be happy to know where to buy his beloved “good old days” gas cans Thanks for the link

  4. Jed Clampett says:

    Great analysis. I have the same generator and the same problem. I had not shopped for gas cans since about 1970. CARB is typical of the Soviet-style bureaucracy that has taken over the country. Deutsche Optik has the NATO cans available @ $200 for four cans plus $100 for four nozzles. About as good as I could find.

  5. Jethro Bodine says:

    VP Racing 5-gallon square “motorsport containers” cost $30 each and are far superior to the No-Spill models. Still made from red plastic. Not as good as NATO jerry cans. The spout is clear piece of flexible tubing that threads through a hold in the cap. Definitely not CARB-compliant (if that is an issue) but much better than No-Spill, Blitz, Scepter, etc.

  6. Dash Riprock says:

    I saw where Blitz has gone out of business due to the cost of insurance premiums and defending against lawsuits from alleged burn victims.

    Why did you buy a separate nozzle for each jerry can? Why not buy a single nozzle and switch it between cans (unless you are going to be filling different tanks from multiple jerry cans at the same time)?

  7. Milburn Drysdale says:

    Don’t forget to add fuel stabilizer to the fuel stored in the cans and to the fuel in your generator. The most common brand is STA-BIL, but my Honda generator dealer recommended a product called Ethanol Shield. I have been told (by persons whose opinions I respect) that modern unleaded fuels (particularly those containing ethanol) have a short shelf life and should be rotated every 3-6 months using the simple expedient of filling up your car from the cans and then refilling the cans. Also, ethanol will damage internal hoses and gaskets in your generator without using fuel additive to mitigate the effects. The Honda dealer cautioned me to “exercise” my generator by running it for 30 minutes on full throttle once every 30 days.

  8. Mark G says:

    Thanks for this info. I just bought a gennie last week and was looking for the requisite gas cans to bring home and store the fuel for it, and was getting frustrated that the only thing available were those crappy CARB compliant cans. I was even scouting Amazon, but the NATO cans didn’t even come up as an option. Because I live in a boarder state, I was seriously contemplating a trip to Canada to pick up a 20L can (or two) from Canadian Tire. Since I’ve had plastic cans that lasted for years I wasn’t automatically opposed to them, just the lousy spill-proof nozzles they come with now. I may still do that for a few of them since the cost is right at $14 (like it used to be here) So that may be an option for those with similar geography. As far as I know customs doesn’t ask if you’re bringing gas cans into the country a la guns, tobacco & liquor. (Hopefully legislators aren’t reading this…)

  9. Ryan says:

    hey i dont kno if you have anyhitng to do with old tin gas can and or oil 1′s but i was wonder if you knew if they are worth anything and som info about them i have a few (5 gallon-ish) gas can i no 2 ar Eagle type ll’s …plz help and where to sell them alsp

  10. Cheng Liu says:

    I really like the Jerry can, unfortunately I would consider $60 each to be cost prohibitive. I guess I’ll have to settle for the cheaper metal ones.

  11. Ken says:

    Hello Gary,
    Great website. I was researching gas containers and came upon your site.I looked into the No-Spill gas container and found an online store offering the cheapest prices i could find and free shipping on orders over $25. I ordered two 5 gallon and four 2.5 gallon containers for about $128 shipped. The cans arrived a week after i placed my order.If you would like to pass this information on to your readers, the name of the store is Equipsupply.com.
    Thank you for taking the time to share and help.

  12. Just some follow-up on the situation. CA LE and Rangers are ticketing people carrying gasoline in containers that are not red and/or not specifically labeled for gasoline. There is debate as to whether older gas cans that do not conform to the current CARB/DOT/EPA specs are grandfathered (manufactured before 2009). Some sources say CA will not allow cans manufactured after 2009, that are not CARB compliant, to be used (or manufactured or sold in CA). The question outstanding is how and if this impacts people traveling in CA from out of state.

    It does appear that most cans painted red do not draw attention from authorities. Many 4X4 off road people are making canvas covers to cover banks of cans on the back bumper. There have also been stories of gas station personnel not allowing customers to fill gas cans, even is marked for “gas only,” if not painted red, So the olive drab of old GI cans and the pearl green, dark green, and black NATO Jerry cans may draw more attention from the gas station attendants than you might want.

    The tan colored plastic Specter cans do not conform to the CARB standards and are not sold by retailers at all in the US, even though they are Military standard these days. I have read stories of people being ticketed here in CA carrying gas in the Specter cans regardless of the date of mfg.(brought in from Canada)

    A couple of regulations significant from the CARB specs. And, I am told that modifying your your non-legal cans to conform to configuration of the compliant cans does not make it a legal can. If the date of mfg is checked (stamped or molded into the can) even if the can does comply due to your mods, if manufactured after 2009, it is still not legal. The following is part of the question about grandfathered cans. New cans have to vent in a fire so they do not explode, which is why you see plastic caps. The caps melt and the gasoline burns off rather than violently explodes. Replacing the steal cap, on your non-compliant can with a plastic one, does not make it a legal can. The older cans with the steel threaded bungs (US GI cans) certainly seem questionable in the intended spirit of the law.

    Plastic cans are OK but those have to conform to a vapor release regulation (fuel evaporating through the plastic material). Plastic cans made after 2009 must conform to this vapor release regulation and say so in words or via regulation numbers embossed, stamped, or molded into the can. Conforming cans are thicker and generally tougher than the older plastic cans.

    Now, conforming cans are supposed to be child proof, which appears a requirement of some type of ratchet mechanism on the cap or twist mechanism on the spout that children cannot normally operate. Also the spout on the can must be of a type that automatically closes so that a can does not spill or leak if accidentally knocked over. These spouts must be internally vented so they are S-L-O-W. They sometimes require an extra hand to open and hold them open while handling the can. Very awkward. Most of the automatic nozzles are not heavy duty enough to tolerate the weight of the full can while up-turned to fuel a vehicle.

    Separate vents, like the old pop-top style are not legal on conforming cans. Some people install them and also adapt tire air valves as vents.First hand experience, some of the adapted tire valves melt over time and exposure to gasoline.

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