How to carry extra fuel in your car
Thanks to the vastness and sparseness of the continent in which we live there’s often a need to carry additional fuel when four-wheel driving. Here’s the best (and safest) way to do it.
There’s no doubt about it, Australia is a mighty big place, and when you’re travelling in remote areas service stations can be few and far between. Add increased fuel consumption to the mix when driving off-road and you can soon find that your vehicle’s standard fuel-tank capacity is woefully inadequate, which could leave you and your rig stranded a long way from home.
Of course, the solution is to carry more fuel with you when you travel… and there are several ways you can do this.
The jerrycan was designed by the Germans in the Second World War and it was considered so much better than the fuel containers used by the Allies at the time that it was reverse engineered and quickly became the standard when it came to transporting extra fuel. In fact, it was so good that the design remains largely unchanged to this day, and modern jerrycans are still manufactured from steel, as well as polyethylene (plastic).
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If you’re going to carry extra fuel in jerrycans, don’t store them in the vehicle’s cabin, where fuel fumes can affect vehicle occupants. If you drive a ute, store the jerrycans somewhere in the tub where they’re well away from any potential ignition sources such as electrical items like portable fridges, especially if carrying petrol.
Speaking of petrol and jerrycans, always remove fuel containers from the vehicle and place them on the ground before filling them up at the service station. Petrol fumes are heavier than air and can remain trapped in a vehicle for quite some time, and any potential ignition source could result in fire.
Ideally, jerrycans should be transported in dedicated jerrycan holders, preferably at the rear of the vehicle but, if not convenient, then up on a roof rack. Bear in mind, however, that a full jerrycan will weigh somewhere near 20kg, and putting heavy loads on the roof of your vehicle is not only difficult but will also raise the centre of gravity and adversely affect vehicle handling.
Another downside with jerrycans is fuel transfer, which can be messy, dangerous and result in fuel contamination, especially in dusty or wet conditions. And as jerrycans need to be manually handled they’re prone to damage from drops and knocks, which could even result in unnoticed fuel leakage, leaving you stranded with not enough fuel. Admittedly, modern polyethylene fuel containers are very strong, but they should still be regularly examined for damage on long trips.
A more convenient and safer method for carrying additional fuel is to equip your vehicle with a long-range fuel tank, of which there are plenty of options available to suit most vehicles.
Traditionally, long-range fuel tanks have been manufactured from steel, and can be fitted as auxiliary tanks (in addition to the vehicle’s standard fuel tank) or replacement tanks (instead of the vehicle’s standard fuel tank. The advantage of auxiliary tanks is they are often the best way to get the maximum amount of fuel under a vehicle, whereas an advantage of a replacement tank is there’s no need for additional plumbing and pumps for transfer of fuel between the auxiliary and main tank.
Unlike jerrycans, the fuel-transfer process from an auxiliary tank to the vehicle’s main fuel tank is a simple and mess-free affair. When the main tank drops to about ¼-full, the driver simply turns on a pump via a dash-mounted switch to transfer the fuel. With some set-ups the pump will switch off automatically, but with some older designs the driver must remember to manually turn off the pump. It should also be noted that under some vehicles the auxiliary tank can be located higher up than the main tank, allowing gravity feed and thus eliminating the need for a fuel pump to transfer fuel.
Well-designed long-range fuel tanks will feature quality fittings and internal baffles to prevent the fuel from sloshing around, and often the tanks are manufactured from aluminised steel to minimise the advent of corrosion.
ARB manufactures long-range fuel tanks from a resilient cross-linked polymer material, which is essentially the same plastic used by vehicle manufacturers in OE fuel tanks. Called the Frontier tank, it’s lighter than an equivalent-size steel tank yet is super tough and resistant to chemicals, fire and heat. ARB says another advantage of manufacturing long-range tanks out of this material is that intricate shapes can be formed allowing the maximum amount of fuel to be carried under the vehicle, and because there are no welds or seams the tank offers exceptional strength and durability.
No matter what type of long-range tank you opt for, you should ensure that it provides the fuel capacity to suit your needs, without reducing vehicle ground clearance beyond what you’re willing to accept. Some tank manufacturers, such as The Long Ranger, offer large (L) and small (S) tanks to suit various vehicles; the ‘S’ has slightly less fuel capacity than the ‘L’, but has less of an effect on the vehicle’s ground clearance.
If you’re not keen on fitting a dedicated long-range fuel tank, and you don’t like the idea of carrying 20L jerrycans, there’s an alternative in the form of larger capacity poly fuel tanks. Boab, for example, manufactures poly diesel and petrol tanks in a variety of shapes and capacities from 40L-58L that are designed to fit into various spots in a vehicle. For example, there’s a footwell tank designed to fit in the rear footwell of a vehicle, a vertical tank with wheel-arch cutouts designed for the tub of utes, and vertical- or flat-mount tanks designed to fit in the cargo area of wagons, among various other designs. These tanks can be fitted with optional fuel lines and taps for safe, mess-free fuel transfer.
No matter what extra-fuel solution you opt for, you should always regularly check fuel tanks for damage and leaks, especially when travelling in remote areas where you’re relying on your fuel capacity to get you where you need to be. Examine the tank itself, as well as connections and fuel lines, ensuring that all fuel lines are tucked up and out of the way where they won’t get snagged on obstacles when driving off-road.
Consider packing a fuel-tank repair kit when travelling in remote areas, as well as some back-up fuel in a separate container.