Fuel and refuelling when on a long trip

There’s an inevitable need to take on fuel on overland trips, and the further you go, the more strange the issues connected with the refuelling – at least, strange from ‘our’ European/US point of view. Recetly I got back from a thousand-mile trip through Nepal where we refuelled our three Land Rovers at remote hill stations. The diesel pump was hand-cranked, and the owner of the station (or at least his arm) ran out of steam when it came to the hundreds and hundreds of litres we needed! We each then took a turn on the crank, drawing the fuel out of underground tanks to help out. A typical tactic in Nepal is for the refuelling tanker from the capital, Kathmandu, to only restock stations in a certain area (or along one main road) – so those stations double their prices, as they are the only folk with fuel to sell. More awkward than this are the stations in Africa – sometimes the only one for miles – where they have run out of fuel and have no way of knowing when their next tanker delivery will be. Many in oases in the Sahara region rely on electricity to pump the fuel – but the mains power is only turned on for some of the day in the village, and you as the traveller have no way of knowing when that is (no hand cranking here either). In more ‘settled’ regions of the world, as many know, we aren’t out of the woods either. Despite warning my bank that I was abroad, I have had my card ‘routinely’ stopped at a fuel station in Luxembourg, not so long ago, when paying for diesel.

Filling up, Nepal

            All this suggests we should have a Plan B. There are a few possible ways forward. Large internal long-range tanks are an obvious solution. If plumbed into the dead spaces in the vehicle’s bodywork (in the rear wheelarches of a Defender for example) they don’t take away any internal loadspace – but they do become additional deadweight which is unremovable when you are stuck. A litre of diesel weighs about a kilo (just under) so a 60 litre tank weighs about the same as a 17-year-old boy, especially when you include the tank itself. Jerry cans (proper military steel ones, not plastic filling-station faffery) are another possibility – you can stow them where you like in the truck, when empty they can go on the roof, out of harm’s way and clutter, and they are relatively easy to use. At 4kg each empty (the steel NATO pattern cans) they aren’t light, and some folk hate them because they ‘glug’ as they pour, and throw drops of fuel out of the nozzle. This is because air is trying to get in to replace the fuel that’s pouring out – assuming you are using a steel jerrycan with the outlet offset to the left, tilt the can ninety degrees as you pour, so the outlet is at the top – this will help it ‘breathe’ and it won’t spurt fuel everywhere. This works well if you are fuelling a Defender with the extendable mesh-filtered filler neck, but with vehicles that lack this, you might want to invest in the detachable filler spout that clips onto the outlet. Again, these only work with original NATO spec jerry cans, not the Sceptre military cans that have started to appear with the big round outlets. If you haven’t got this you can make a very good spout for filling with a jerry can with a cylindrical mineral water bottle – cut it diagonally across the body of the bottle with a sharp knife, and it makes a very acceptable filler funnel.

Centralising all oils and fluids is worth doing

            Jerry cans themselves are much-copied. Proper NATO pattern cans have a recessed welded seam around the edge which helps add strength, and also enables the can to expand as temperatures change. Avoid ones with a seam that sticks out – they tend to be weak there and also won’t fit in jerry can carriers. There are lots of Chinese copies of the NATO can – they leak. There’s nothing really wrong with buying surplus jerry cans, though make sure they contained the same stuff you want to fill them with (petrol, diesel, gin or whatever) and make sure they aren’t too old. Steel jerry cans are coated on the inside with rust-reducing paint, but after a few years of being bashed about, this paint flakes off and comes out in the fuel. This can (and does) block fuel filters, carburettors and fuel lines – hence the need to regularly check jerry cans and retire those that are getting old.

External jerry can racks are handy where possible and legal

            When filling a jerry can (especially with petrol as opposed to diesel – with petrol, the vapour is flammable) only fill it to around 80% capacity in hot areas to allow it to expand – otherwise it will become pressurised and will spurt out into your hand when you open it.

Refuelling with a jiggle syphon

            The ‘magic bullet’ for filling a car from any sort of can or external tank is the wonderful ‘jiggle syphon’, a self-priming hose syphon that will transfer up to 20 litres a minute. They are available for around £10-20 on Amazon or at any well-stocked overland equipment supplier. I got my most recent one from Black Paw 4×4 in York. You can drop the syphon in the can and let it get on with it – no tedious pouring or lifting of heavy cans.


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