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AAA Arizona: Does fuel expire?

Michelle Donati. (Haute Photography)

Some people store a few gallons of gas in their garage for emergencies. Many don’t know, however, that gasoline can go “bad” if it’s left unused.

Gasoline is a highly-refined product created with very specific characteristics. Over time, those characteristics change. Gasoline will degrade through oxidation and lead to a number of issues, including hard starting, rough running or not starting at all.

And people who leave town for the summer are the ones who usually are affected. AAA repair shops see customers in the fall when they return to town after letting their cars sit for six months.

As an automotive resource, AAA offers up some gas facts:

  • What happens when gas goes bad? As fuel oxidizes, which is a fancy term for fuel breaking down, it starts to turn gummy and gets darker in color. As time progresses, it turns to a hard varnish. When that happens, it plugs fuel filters and makes fuel pumps and fuel injectors seize up and stick shut.
  • What can the damage cost? It can be very expensive. Sometimes a professional fuel system cleaning can be done for a couple of hundred bucks. But replacing fuel injectors can cost $800 to $1,000. And you can’t clean a heavy varnish out with anything you pour into a gas tank – it needs to be done by a professional.
  • How long will gas remain viable? It varies, but it can go bad within two or three months. Sitting out in the Arizona heat, it doesn’t take long.
  • How can you tell gas is bad? It turns darker and gets a pretty pungent odor to it.
  • What should you do if your car won’t start or runs rough and you think it’s because of bad gas? It’s best to call AAA and have it towed.
  • If I’m going to be gone for several months, should I just drain the gas tank? You should leave it with at least half a tank and put a fuel stabilizer in it. It stabilizes the fuel for long-term storage. Some of it can help it last six months. Read the bottle. Keep in mind that it should be mixed with fresh gas and not added to already old gas.
  • Can I extend the life of gas by storing it a certain way? It doesn’t matter how you store it. You may get a little bit longer life if no oxygen’s there, but it’s best to add fuel stabilizer, run it around the block a couple of times and then park it.
  • Is it better to add extra fuel stabilizer if you’re going away for a long time? More is not better. Read the instructions on the container and follow them. It’s also a good idea to consult your trusted technician to seek their expert recommendations and advice before doing so.

For more information, visit: AAA.com/automotive.

– Michelle Donati is the communications manager at AAA Arizona. Contact her at mdonati@arizona.aaa.com.

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