Gasoline Doesn't Smell Good Like It Used To - Anyone Know Why?

When I grew up in the 1970s, gasoline had an orange color and smelled good. Working with dad, tarring the roof of our shed, we got the sticky tar off of our hands with a rinse of gasoline and rags (now we’d wear rubber gloves). Fast forward to today, and gasoline is now clear like paint thinner and not at all pleasant smelling. How did it change so drastically? (It’s got to be more than merely removing the lead.
If you remember the Esso Tiger and the Sinclair Dinosaur and the “man who wears the big, bright, Texaco star”, you will know what I’m talking about…)

The gasoline shelf life does not seem to be near what it used to be. This could because lead is no longer in use and/or ethanol which can go downhill very quickly.

A few years back I put 4 gallons of ethanol gasoline (buying ethanol was an accident…) in a project car with new fuel lines, filter, carburetor, etc.
Four months later it would not even cough while cranking. After removing the gas cap I could smell that old house paint aroma and knew the gasoline had gone sour already.

I ended up draining the tank of the muck that used to be fresh gas, replacing the filter, cleaning out the lines, and going through the carburetor. In 4 short months it had gone fresh to totally rotten.

@ok4450 I know of what you speak, sir. Have a look at this recent youtube with Jay Leno talking about the same topic - ethanol ruining fuel systems. If this link doesn’t work, just go to youtube and search for this title: "Fight Ethanol Corrosion - Jay Leno’s Garage"

At the cabins in MN we can get 91 octane, non ethenol gas (for boats and off road vehicles), it smells like the real stuff, but unsure about the color. No problems using a little sea fome and storing over the winter

@barkydog Likely, people’s experiences may differ state-to-state. It would be interesting to see a comparison of all gasolines side by side.

I think I’ll switch from smoking dope to sniffing gasoline to answer this question.

Yeah I remember back in the 50’s we’d take our bikes down to get a gallon of gas for the mower and it really smelled nice. On a hot day, it really made you thirsty too but we’d get a cold root beer instead. Then draw straws to see who had to carry the gas can back on their bike.

In my small engines and the car that sits most of the time, I only use the high test, non oxy fuel and use the stabilizer all year round. I haven’t had any gas problems since then.

When we were in Mexico, the car exhaust had a very distinctive odor that I can’t quite put my finger on. Almost like a rich or burning oil smell, but it was very different than the US even at custom car shows, so there must be something different there.

The E10 gas I buy has the distinct odor of fusel oils. These are the higher alcohols that are produced in the fermenters along with the ethanol.

I was behind an old restored rambler last summer and it left that distinct '60s odor. I had forgotten about that. It really did bring back memories.

Any chemists in the room?

Interesting. I don’t remember any odor difference new vs old, but I do recall gasoline being more an orange color years ago. I don’t think the orange color was b/c of the lead additive though, as I recall tetraethyl lead is a colorless liquid.

Perhaps the refining process of decades ago left more sulpher in the fuel. Just a wild guess.

Gasoline was once a straight-run distillate made from crude oil by a fairly simple process…Most of today’s gasoline is “Cat-Cracked” a much more complex refining process…They can make gasoline out of asphalt today…So the smell might not be as you remember it… Also, this “cracked” gasoline is unstable. It breaks down after a year or two into something like varnish…Adding 10% ethanol to it just compounds the problem…

Interesting. I don’t remember any odor difference new vs old, but I do recall gasoline being more an orange color years ago.

Yeah I’m with you.
Also, are you guys who are blaming ethanol for gasoline deterioration sure about that? I mean, ain’t alcohol supposed to be a preservative?
Maybe this reformulated gasoline is more complicated than that?

Also, I think they’ve cut back on Benzene due to cancer concerns. Benzene–and other carbon-ring compounds–are known as “aromatic” hydrocarbons due to distonctive smell. I suppose Benzene-laden gas would be fragrant.

Mexican gasoline is made in Houston. The premium has its additives added in Houston. Regular (Magna) has its additives added in Vera Cruz. I was told some years ago by a cousin to always use Premium, that regular at times was bad. A year or so ago, Pemex screwed up the additives for regular, and thousands of cars had screwed up gas lines and so forth. Profeco, the national complaint system, was flooded with complaints. Need I say I attempt to always use Premium.

I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and miss that great gasoline smell too. I do get a whiff of gasoline every once in a while that reminds me of the old days but it’s rare. The thing I miss most though is the “ding” “ding” “ding” sound of the pump as it pumped the gas. That sound is gone forever.

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Yep gasoline smells different(used to smell good)cant bear the stuff now.The smell of Interstate is different now(smells like old shellac) in the old days Phillips gasoline had a distinctive odor( the VDOT vehicles used Phillips and always had a distinctive odor) I’ve pumped Diesel lately,that smelled like asphalt

The orange color of gasoline came from dyes added to identify it. Without dyes, all gasoline is clear as water.
Purple red dye is added to off road diesel to identify it as an untaxed fuel, if you get caught with red fuel in your 18 wheeler, you face tax evasion charges.

Aviation gas is dyed to identify it.
Aviation gasoline 80/87 red dye
Aviation gasoline 82UL purple dye
Aviation gasoline 100LL blue dye
Aviation gasoline 100/130 green dye

Anymore, at most airports, the only avgas you will find is 100LL…The market is just too small to continue refining the other grades…Sometimes you can find the 100 unleaded, dyed green…Today, Most light-planes can and do use automotive fuel. Since avgas has little or no propane / butane in it (very low vapor pressure) it smells different…

@Tridaq: “I think I’ll switch from smoking dope to sniffing gasoline to answer this question” That sounds better than sniffing dope and trying to smoke gasoline…

Re. shelf life though, I’d expect that as long as the tank/can is sealed and full without much oxygen in there to help it degrade, you should get a longer life than a few months. Some years ago when a big blizzard was predicted here I bought 10 gallons of gas for my generator. The blizzard never materialized and I never lost power and I spent 2 years running those 10 gallons through my mower and other power equipment, with no ill effects. I also had a somewhat derelict van that I was planning on junking at one point. This was a carbureted vehicle and was sitting with about 1/4 tank in it for about 2 years. I was living in an apartment at the time and I eventually had to move the van when the parking lot was being resurfaced. I put a battery in it, turned the key, and it fired right up and ran fine. (the transmission is another story)

My point is, you can get a surprising amount of life out of gasoline before it degrades, probably even more if you put stabilizer in it.