Protect your equipment with clean fuel

No one purposely puts dirt into his or her gas tank, but that is exactly what can happen every time you add gasoline to your equipment. Your fuel can pick up contaminants during shipping or when stored over 60 days, handled improperly or left in unsuitable containers. The most common invaders are rust, dirt and water.

Large storage tanks, metal gas cans and fuel tanks are the starting points for rust's invasion. It forms, over time, when fuel levels (primarily in metal containers) remain low and condensation exists. Rust is an abrasive and can damage your entire fuel system.

Dirt and water invade your fuel in several ways. Dirt is mainly introduced to fuel through dirty tank spouts and dispensing funnels. In addition, dirt and debris may invade your fuel whenever you remove a dirty fuel cap. Dirt is a real danger. It causes gasoline to deteriorate, clogs fuel lines and destroys engines. Water also can enter your fuel by various routes-the most common being condensation. In less-than-full, metal tanks, warm, moist air condenses on the cooler, inside wall of the tank. Before long, droplets of water mix with the fuel, not only causing deterioration of the gasoline but also of the tank itself-thus inviting rust.

General storage recommendations By storing your fuel correctly, you protect your equipment and help prevent invasion from unwanted, damaging contaminants. Gasoline breaks down over time. These five precautions will delay this deterioration: * Use approved storage containers * Fill containers to only 90 to 95 percent capacity * Cap containers tightly * Store containers out of direct sunlight in a location where the temperature stays below 75oF most of the time * Purchase your fuel from a reputable source.

Nearly full and tightly capped containers reduce evaporation of gasoline during storage and reduce its exposure to air and water vapor. In addition, a 5- to 10-percent air space allows room for the gasoline to expand if its temperature rises.

When conditions require you to store your power equipment for 90 days or longer, add a fuel stabilizer. This will keep your fuel fresh. You can purchase additives at auto-supply stores and some service stations. Follow the label directions. You achieve the best mix when you first add the stabilizer to the container, then add gasoline. The stabilizer works only when you add it to fresh gasoline-it cannot restore deteriorated gasoline.

Besides typical gasoline, you often must store other fuels. Federal and California reformulated gasoline (RFG) will survive storage as well as, or better than, conventional gasoline. Adding oil to gasoline does not change its stability. Gasoline/oil mixtures for two-stroke-cycle engines have the same life expectancy as gasoline itself.

Storage containers You should store gasoline only in a container clearly intended for this purpose. A sticker or imprint indicates approval by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) for gasoline storage. Plastic containers hold an advantage over metal ones in that they will not rust and will help prevent contamination (to some degree) from condensation water.

The Uniform Fire Code (UFC) limits the amount of stored gasoline in residential buildings to the amount, "necessary for maintenance purposes and operation of equipment, not to exceed a maximum of 30 gallons." A flammable-liquid storage cabinet is the preferred method of storing gasoline or flammable chemicals. Do not store gasoline near gas appliances or spark-producing equipment such as welders or grinders.

Equipment preparation Most equipment manufacturers recommend that you not store equipment with gasoline in the fuel tank and that you empty the tank and run the engine until the fuel line and carburetor are empty. Both recommendations aim to protect fuel-system parts from gum deposits. While most gasoline is stable beyond 30 days, I defer to the recommendations of the equipment manufacturer-especially during the warranty period-when it comes to storage. Follow the fuel and storage recommendations in your owner's manual.

My personal preference is to use a fuel stabilizer instead of completely draining the fuel tank and lines. The draining procedure poses a number of challenges. First, it is virtually impossible to get every drop of fuel out of the system via draining. You need to blow out fuel lines to ensure they are dry, because any remaining fuel can cause problems. Second, draining the fuel exposes the metal tank and fuel system to air and moisture which, together, result in corrosion and rust, as well as dry, cracked and shrunken gaskets-which cause fuel leaks. Third, drained fuel is a fire and safety hazard that represents an environmental problem. For these reasons, draining is not always a practical solution. Besides, stored fuel oxidizes and breaks down. Using oxidized fuel greatly increases the likelihood that deposits will form in the fuel systems of your equipment.

Keep in mind that gasoline remains fresh for a maximum of 60 to 90 days, but when you add fuel stabilizers, it can last from 12 to 15 months.

Detecting deteriorated gasoline Gasoline deterioration occurs in three modes: * Evaporation * Oxidation (gum formation) * Contamination.

Moderate deterioration by evaporation or oxidation is virtually impossible to detect without testing. However, testing by a qualified laboratory is impractical except when a large amount of gasoline-or a critical situation-is involved. Discarding deteriorated gasoline in an environmentally responsible way is not always easy.

Evaporation Evaporation of some volatile components is impossible to detect without testing. If the first 10 percent of a gasoline distills above 160oF (summer) or 140oF (winter), the fuel no longer meets the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) automotive spark-ignition engine fuel specifications for gasoline. Only specialized laboratories can run these tests. Look in your Yellow Pages under laboratories to find one near you.

Oxidation Severely oxidized gasoline has a rancid odor and darker color. Do not inhale the fumes purposefully. If you notice a foul odor, follow this test procedure: Fill a jar with the questionable gasoline. Shine a light through the jar, examine the color, look for separation and look for contamination particles settling to the bottom. If the color is abnormal and debris exists, discard the gasoline. The presence of solid gum particles also results in the loss of brightness and clarity. Testing is required to detect moderate oxidation. Perform all tests on gasoline outside or in well-ventilated work areas.

Contamination Common gasoline contaminants are, as I mentioned, dirt, water and rust. Visual inspection reveals all of these contaminants-even water. However, since they tend to settle, sample from the bottom of the container or fuel tank.

Handling gasoline safely We have all read cautions about gasoline, but these warnings change, and we require updates. I suggest that you take a minute to refresh your knowledge about these precautions. You certainly do not want to risk an accident. Simply put, gasoline is dangerous. First, and foremost, it is highly flammable. It is easy to ignite, and it burns explosively. Second, exposure to gasoline-in liquid or vapor form-can adversely affect your health. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for gasoline contains the following warnings: * Extremely flammable * Harmful or fatal if swallowed-can enter lungs and cause damage * Vapor harmful * Long-term exposure to vapor has caused cancer in laboratory animals * May cause eye and skin irritation * Keep out of reach of children.

Filling a container at a service station Service stations minimize the hazards of handling gasoline. Flames are prohibited, dispensing equipment is grounded to prevent sparks, and dispensers are located outdoors so that escaping fumes rapidly disperse. For environmental reasons, many air-quality-management districts now require that dispensers be equipped with nozzles that collect fumes from the fuel tank of equipment and vehicles. However, the seemingly simple task of filling a container requires precautions: * Use only UL-approved containers * Shut off the engine * Place the container on the ground at a safe distance from your vehicle, equipment, other customers and traffic * Keep the nozzle in contact with the container during filling * Manually control the nozzle valve-do not latch it open (If the nozzle has a fume-collector, the filler-spout seal must be compressed to activate the dispenser.) * Do not smoke * Avoid breathing gasoline fumes.

Flowing gasoline generates a static-electric charge that builds up on the gasoline in the receiving container. If the charge has no opportunity to dissipate, it can discharge to the metal spout of the dispenser nozzle as a static spark. If the spark occurs near the open mouth of the container-where the concentration of gasoline vapor and air is in the flammable range-it could ignite the gasoline. Never fill a container in the trunk of a car or in the bed of a truck (especially a truck with a bedliner) because the static charge dissipates more slowly and is more likely to ignite. Gasoline fumes are invisible and can remain in closed spaces (like a car trunk) for long periods. Even without spillage, gasoline fumes in a car trunk can ignite when the mercury-vapor switch sparks after the trunk is closed. Putting the container on the ground and keeping the nozzle in contact with the container helps dissipate the static charge. Another reason not to fill a container in a vehicle is that spills cause contamination . Manually controlling the nozzle valve prevents its weight from tippingg the container over and reduces the possibility of overfilling.

Caution: At most, you should fill the container to 95 percent of its capacity. For example, if the container is 10 inches tall, leave 0.5 inch (5 to 10 percent) of air between the surface of the gasoline and the top of the container. Gasoline, like any liquid, expands as its temperature increases. In some parts of the country-during certain times of the year-stored gasoline may encounter 50oF temperature swings. A 50oF temperature increase causes gasoline to expand approximately 3.5 percent. If no air space exists for this increased volume, the gasoline will escape via the container cap or vent. Also, the walls of the container will distort or crack, perhaps causing a spill.

Handling gasoline away from the service station To avoid a fire, keep gasoline away from any ignition source-such as a welder or grinder. For safety reasons, you must not store or handle gasoline within 50 feet of any appliance pilot-light system or igniter. Gasoline fumes, which are invisible and heavier than air, travel along the floor where air currents do not disperse them. When they ignite, fumes act as a fuse that convey flames back to their liquid source.

To avoid eye and skin contact, wear safety glasses and gasoline-resistant gloves. For fire and health concerns, handle gasoline outside. Fewer ignition sources exist and fumes dilute and disperse more readily outdoors.

First aid When accidents occur, appropriate first-aid treatment depends on exposure. * Eye contact. Remove contact lenses. Flush eyes (with eyelids open) with water for at least 15 minutes. If irritation persists, see a doctor. * Skin contact. Remove contaminated clothing. Wash skin thoroughly with soap and water. * Inhalation. If headache, dizziness or lack of coordination occur, move the person into fresh air. If symptoms continue, see a doctor. * Ingestion. If gasoline is swallowed, give water or milk to drink and call a hospital or local poison-control center for medical advice. Do not induce vomiting unless directed to do so by medical personnel.

Disposing of non-deteriorated gasoline To avoid wasting fuel, you can store excess, non-deteriorated gasoline in the tank of your equipment along with the proper amount of fuel stabilizer. Store any additional gasoline in an approved (preferably plastic) container (90 percent full) and add a fuel stabilizer. Use a funnel with a flexible stem to direct the gasoline into the tank and container. This helps prevent spillage. Oxygenated gasoline can damage paint, so avoid spills. When they occur, clean spills up immediately.

Deteriorated Gasoline It is not as easy to dispose of deteriorated gasoline. However, companies exist that can help you dispose of it in an environmentally responsible way. Finding your best alternative may take some research. Sources of information include your community's fire department, recycling center and hazardous-waste disposal center. Check the government pages of your phone book to locate these organizations. The Yellow Pages contain listings of commercial disposal organizations under environmental and ecological services, oils and waste. Paying for this disposal is better than the price you will pay for replacing an engine you have damaged by using inferior gasoline. Do not dump gasoline into a sewer, street drain, stream or river. Such action is environmentally harmful, illegal and dangerous.

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