As many travellers and campers know, carrying spare fuel is often necessary- especially when you are heading to remote areas where opportunities to purchase fuel can be scarce. Long distances between towns and remote isolation is what Australian travel is all about. Carrying extra fuel is a great insurance policy and peace of mind knowing you have backup fuel available. Sometimes headwinds, terrain and fuel quality can all contribute to increased fuel usage where your ‘average’ economy can be unpredictable and you may find yourself using more fuel that normal. Getting caught ‘short’ can be embarrassing at best, running out of fuel in the outback can be dangerous.
The carrying of fuel containers safely and legally in Australia is a topic of much discussion. I recently set myself the challenge of researching the laws regarding this. This is an area that has so many grey areas and although some laws can be quite specific we all know they can also change state to state. Unfortunately a lot of the wording is either contradictory or left open for individual interpretation.
So, hopefully the following can be a safe guide to carrying fuel during your travels.
Firstly, what do the different colours mean? This all depends on who you ask but according to the
Australasian Fire And Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) there are preferred colours for specific contents. The preferred colour coding is a safety precaution only and conforming to the colour guide is not legally required in any State or Territory of Australia nor is it enforced. (However the container used must comply with a safety standard for the purpose)
A common practice and a practice endorsed by the AFAC is to use the following as a standard ‘guide’ for carrying extra fuel in metal or plastic fuel containers.
RED: Unleaded Fuel
YELLOW or BLACK: Diesel Fuel. Although black sometimes used for oil.
BLUE: Water (food grade plastic if its for consumption)
If you are using the Army Green metal jerry cans it is recommended that they are clearly labelled with its contents. In fact AFAC, the NSW Police and the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) all recommend you still clearly label each fuel container regardless of its colour. Special labels can be purchased at most auto parts stores for only a few dollars.
There are 2 main reasons for the preferred colour coding.
1- In the event of an emergency situation, accident or fire. Emergency rescue services have a good idea what type of flammable or explosive fuels they may be dealing with. Of course, not having the colour coding as a legal standard, it still adds a lot of guesswork and extra risk for the emergency services as they can only assume the contents.
2- Some manufacturers of fuel cans/jerry cans make their containers to suit a specific fuel and as such the quality and rating of the materials may not suit ALL fuels or liquids. It is important that it is clear exactly what liquids can or can not be carried in each container. Diesel fuel is not considered as dangerous as Petrol in most cases and there are variances in definition between flammable and inflammable, combustable and non-combustable. For some, this is where a lot of confusion is present.
Fuel should always be carried in a container specifically designed for that purpose and all fuel containers should comply with Australian Standard (AS) AS2906:2001
Where to carry it?
This is a good question. Fuel Containers should be well secured and carried externally on your vehicle. It is not safe to store the containers inside a vehicle where the vapours can be inhaled. This can cause nausea, drowsiness or even be fatal as the fumes are poisonous.
But, you are very limited as to where you can safely carry them externally too. The fuel containers must not overhang your vehicle to either side (left or right). Must not be mounted on the front of your vehicle and if mounted on the rear of your vehicle it must be mounted in an approved holder (ADR compliant). If they appear to be mounted in an unsafe manner or they overhang the rear of the vehicle too much (determined by a Police Office or Road Safety Office) then an infringement can be issued. Another reason how the law is considered a ‘grey area’ as it may be left up to an authority to make a decision at any point in time.
You can carry extra fuel in approved containers in a secure roof basket if no other suitable option is available. It is crucial that they are secured well and strapped in so they can not slide. You do need to keep the weight in mind when adding items to your roof. Each 20l fuel container adds around 23kgs when full so this will change your vehicles centre of gravity and you need to be aware not to exceed your basket’s/roof rack’s weight ratings.
You must not carry more than a total of 250 litres of fuel on/in your vehicle at any one time (including the contents of your standard fuel tanks).
Carrying fuel containers on the rear of caravans or on the drawbar of trailers is not advisable. This is because fuel can ignite on impact and these areas are most prone to collision. However, I was not able to get a definite answer regarding legality of this except that they must be securely mounted.
This is NOT legal advice by any means. Give your insurance company a call and ask them if they have any restrictions on fuel container placement. Best to get any advice of that nature in writing for reference if ever needed later on.
Filling Jerry Cans
- Ensure that the container is in good condition, has no cracks or holes and the rubber seal around the lid is in tact.
- Ensure the container you are using meets the Australian Standard (AS) AS2906:2001
- ALWAYS place the container on level ground when filling up
- Never fill the container to the very top. Allow room for the liquid to expand.
- Wipe the container after filling to remove any spillage or splashes of fuel
- NEVER fill a plastic bottle or other type of container with any fuel.
- Label your containers clearly with the contents.
*It is illegal for any retailer in Australia to sell any fuel containers that do not meet the Australian Standard. The same goes for jerry can holders- they MUST meet ADR designs regulations. However- you as the end user must also ensure that everything you are using complies with the law.