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COVID-19: Gasoline do's and don'ts

By HUB SmartCoverage Team on August 25th, 2020

With many of us driving less because of the pandemic, have you ever wondered how much gas you should keep in your tank or when fuel goes bad?

Gasoline that sits does slowly go bad in as little as three months because lighter, more volatile components evaporate over time. That being said, fuel that sits - even for a few months - can be redeemed by topping off the tank with fresh gas. When the fresh gas mixes with the older gas, the motor will operate properly.

John Ibbotson, chief mechanic at Consumer Reports, said in an interview: “The new gas will mix with what’s already in your tank, and any variance in the octane will be adjusted for automatically by your car’s engine computer.” The adjustment will get the engine running back to normal.

Octane levels in old gas could be a concern only if you’re storing your car for six months or longer, in which case you can add a gasoline additive (or stabilizer) to preserve it. Stabilizer is available at local automotive supply or hardware stores.

How much gas should be in the tank?

A chronically low fuel tank can cause problems in several ways. Experts say filling up your tank all the way limits the amount of oxygen inside the tank for the gas to evaporate into.  

“Filling the tank up leaves less room for air and the possibility of condensation in the tank,” Ibbotson said.

Generally speaking, they advise keeping at least one-quarter of a tank of gas or more in your vehicle. Driving around on fumes can cause condensation in the walls of your gas tank that can dilute fuel and cause rust.

You may still feel driving on empty gives you more fuel for your buck. But driving on fumes can cause the fuel pump located in your gas tank to start picking up everything at the bottom, including sediment from dirty gas and tank condensation. This, in turn, can make your gas mileage worse, and cause your motor to work harder and possibly cause damage to your fuel system parts.

Tips on staying safe at the pump

When you do go gas up, COVID-19 means you should be taking some additional safety precautions. Pump handles and credit card keypads, which are high-touch areas, could have the virus present, which experts say can stay alive for hours or even days on hard surfaces.

Your best protection is to wash your hands properly on a regular basis and to refrain from touching your face with unwashed hands. But there are a few things you can do that will help you stay safe when you have to gas up.

Consumer Reports auto experts suggest:

  • Consider carrying some disposable nitrile or latex gloves in your car to use when gripping the pump handle. You can also use paper towels that are available at the pump to cover your hands when you grip the handle or touch the payment keypad.
  • Alternatively, carry disinfectant wipes in your car to wipe down the gas pump handle and payment keypad.
  • If you use gloves, invert them and throw them away. Place any paper towels you have used in the garbage. Use hand sanitizer to make sure your hands are clean before you get back into your car.

RELATED READING:9 Eco-friendly ways to wash your vehicle

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