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Is a full tank less likely to explode?

I have always been a freak about the gas gauge I guess, because I start getting anxious when it shows 1/2 tank and start planning on getting to the gas station. I was once told that in the event of a wreck a full tank of gas was less likely to explode than a tank headed toward empty. Is there any truth to that or is it just an old husband’s tale?

Nothing here to worry about. Your vehicle has equipment to keep the thing from catching fire . No need to get anxious but I also refuel at 1/2 tank, some times at 1/4 but that is so I can have enough fuel to go to an area that has power because I live in Tornado alley.

Gasoline vapor burns much more readily than liquid gasoline, so in one sense I suppose that’s true. However, if the gas tank is ruptured, you don’t want a lot of gasoline leaking out at the scene, so that could be an argument against keeping it full. Regardless, exploding gas tanks are extremely rare (unlike on TV), so I suggest not letting this issue dictate when you get gas.

On the other hand, it is good to always have enough gas to make an emergency trip to the hospital or to help a friend or family member. My usual practice is to fill up if I’m under a half tank when passing my normal gas station and to change my route to get gas if I hit a quarter tank.


Yep, ‘old husband tale’. Watched too many episodes of CHiPs where the gas tank exploded milliseconds BEFORE the car was hit or left the road and crashed…

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Historically, in tank fuel pumps have motors with brushes. The reason the gas tank will never explode is the ratio of oxygen to gasoline vapors is very, very low. Without oxygen, nothing will happen. It’s perfectly safe but not advisable to run your tank too low for a few reasons. Risk of explosion isn’t one of them…

Lots of folks driving around with less than half a tank. How many explosions have you seen?

Not a problem, explosion-wise.

TV shows and movies have great special effects with cars exploding. Rarely happens in real life. You can google Myth Busters and several other sites to show what does and more importantly what does not happen. I am a fire fighter and we rarely have a gas tank leak and burn. Most cars have robust protection around the tank. We have had cars fully involved and the gas tank did not get compromised. Unless the accident involves massive damage we usually never see a tank rupture. We see more engine or passenger compartment fires. Rest easy, except at the movies, I doubt you will ever see a gas tank explode. However as others have said there are other reasons to keep your tank above 1/2 . I remember several bad snow storms, stuck in traffic, took me hours to get home, if I had less than 1/4 tank I may not have made it. I did make it, grumpy, but warm and a little gas left in the tank.

As long as the fuel tank doesn’t rupture or leak as a result of an accident, I’d guess it is better it be full rather than near empty – explosion wise.

The Ford Pinto was the most dangerous car on the planet in the 70’s due to the placement of the fuel tank at the very rear of the car.

I once saw (while walking down a sidewalk) an old beater sedan with sagging rear springs drive over a steel plate with a spike sticking up a few inches.
The spike ripped open the gas tank and started a fire. No explosion.
Luckily the occupants got out before the fire spread and consumed the car.

Not really. The world is a very big place, with dangerous cars in every market.

As for the Pinto, from a Popular Mechanics article on the subject;

“In 1978, all 1971-through-1976 Ford Pintos were recalled and upgraded with the originally proposed shielding and reinforcements. In the ensuing years, though, some doubt has been cast on the relative severity of the defect. Reports range from 27 to 180 deaths as a result of rear-impact-related fuel tank fires in the Pinto, but given the volume of more than 2.2 million vehicles sold, the death rate was not substantially different from that of vehicles by Ford’s competitors.”

The Ford Bronco II introduced in 1976, reportedly caused 70 deaths a year from rollover accidents.

I’d say the 3 wheeled Reliant Robin has to rank far above the Pinto and Bronco in level of danger to the passenger! Top Gear aside, a single front wheel, 2 rear wheels and a front mounted engine is a fundamentally tippy, rollover prone design.

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Let us not forget the GM pickups with the tanke outside of the frame rails.
Had a CJ5 with the auxiliary tank under the drivers seat.
Our ‘46 Chevy PU had the tank behind the seat.
Over the years lots of vehicles had many safety shortcomings.

Absolutely millions and millions of those sold. Very, very low stats for injuries because of fire. The NBC network did a notorious report on the supposed danger of side-saddle tanks by sparking the fire themselves to make better TV.

I’ve worked at scrap yards for years. I’ve seen people remove the gas and/or gas tanks from cars in many ways. I’ve seen customers puncture the tanks with a screwdriver to drain the gas. I’ve watched car crushing crews use a front end loader to raise the cars up, then drop them on a large steel spike, puncturing the tank and capturing the fuel in a large open container. I’ve seen people use the forks of the loader to puncture the tanks. I’ve seen cranes flip cars upside down and rip the tanks off. Surprisingly, I’ve never seen one explosion. I’ve seen a few fires, but never one of those drive off a cliff TV explosions.

These days we put the car on a rack, drill into the tank with a low speed bit and an air drill, then suction the fuel into a closed tank.