Fuel Tank Explosion: Is it True?

Published On  May 29, 2015 03:02 PM By Firdaus Shaikh at CarDekho.com

Lately one message that has been doing quite a few rounds on Whatsapp groups, and on public forum discussions is that of fuel tank explosions due to heat on filling the entire tank completely. There are a lot of people who are paranoid thinking that yes, given how high the mercury is soaring this summer the fuel tank explosion could be a possibility. It is a matter of concern because nobody wants to burn to death, and there is definitely more fiction out there than fact. We did our research and here’s what you need to know, before you hit that share button, spamming every Whatsapp group and broadcast list on your phone.

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1. Basic chemistry

If you ever paid attention to chemistry class in school you’ll remember that air/oxygen is needed for combustion. Remember the experiment where the candle flame blows out when covered by glass due to lack of oxygen? The same principle applies here as well. When you fill in the fuel tank with petrol, there is not much space for air; hence the possibility of combustion is erased. Also for anything to blow up into flames there needs to be the right proportion of oxygen and combustibles; 10% oxygen and 90% fuel will not blow due to the lack of the supporting agent for combustion aka oxygen.

Fire is a chemical reaction, and it needs fuel, oxygen and heat to take place; with a tank full of fuel you eliminate the possibility of once crucial element i.e. oxygen, so the fuel will not get ignited.

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2. Fact of petrol combustion

It is proven research that even if the car/ outside temperature reaches 50 degrees, the fuel in the tank will not combust because petrol requires much higher temperatures, in the range of hundreds of degrees to self combust. So again, your fuel tank will not blow up even if the temperature hits 100 degress. Imagine the folks living in the Middle East, where the desert temperatures easily go above 55 degrees, their cars don’t burst in flames, so they certainly won’t in India

3. What really goes boom - Liquid fuel Vs Fuel Vapour

Fuel needs to be in gaseous form to catch fire. Contrary to what they show in Bollywood movies – just because you’ll throw a lighted match into a can full of petrol, it won’t catch fire, because for a fact it is the fuel vapours that ignite than the actual fuel itself - once they come in contact with oxygen. There are plenty of real life and practical videos which prove that it’s the vapours that create the inferno, than the liquid fuel itself.

4. The proportion game

When the FUEL inside the tank is MORE the vacant space inside the tank will be very less, so only small amount of FUEL VAPOUR will be present in it. So, even if you drop a FIRE STICK inside the tank there won’t be sufficient air for the FUEL to EXPLODE. The upper layer of the FUEL may catch fire but it will definitely not EXPLODE. That's why the chances of a BLAST are less if the tank is FULL of FUEL.

If the TANK is half-filled with FUEL, there will be much free space in the tank and it will be filled with FUEL VAPOR. If someone introduces a small fire inside the tank, then in this CONDITION surely the tank will EXPLODE.

And finally, it is not the first time that a misleading message has been circulating on a social media platform leading people to panic. This same hoax was doing the rounds three years ago in the Middle East, Europe and South East Asia, and this time around it’s finally reached our homeland. So please do not blindly believe everything on the internet and on whatsapp; remember rumors spread faster than the facts.

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