Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fuel

In most emergencies, earthquake, power outage, snow storm, torrential downpour, lahar, tsunami, or trade embargo, fuel will be in limited supply. You'd better stock up on your own.

Most vehicles these days run on unleaded gasoline. Some of you, like me, also drive oil burners known as Diesel powered vehicles. However, most do drive gasoline powered vehicles. My work van runs on unleaded gas. This is a strength and a weakness at the same time. Normally, unleaded gas is widely available and can be had at any gas station you choose. However, if you were paying attention during my last post in moisture, you recall that I said during the last big power outage in the area, all the gas pumps were dried up for miles. I don't know how many miles. What I do know is that of all the 5 gas stations I visited, all were crammed with really cranky people trying to get the last drop of whatever was left, which meant that I had to visit 5 gas stations just to get 5 gallons of 92 octane fuel; the cheap stuff was bought out first.

The first line of defense is to keep your fuel tank at least 1/2 full. I know this can be a pain because it means you will visit the gas station twice as much as you normally do. I know a lot of people wait until their tanks are on "E" before they stop by. The good news about filling up when your vehicle is at 1/2 is the sticker shock isn't so high. I keep my vehicles at at least 1/2 tank at all times, or at least I try to. Sometimes it drops a bit lower, but I make a concerted effort to keep the tank full, or at least at 1/2.

Why?

Because in the best case scenario, you will be able to drive straight home. Widespread power outages don't make for impassable bridges and roads. However, it can make for a really bad traffic jam if all the companies in the area send their employees home. Ever sit in traffic with only 1/8 of a tank of fuel, and have 30 miles to go? Not a very comforting feeling, is it? What about a snow storm? If you are prepared, you might have tire chains. This means you can drive on most roads even in the snow. But that doesn't mean that some idiot in a fancy rear-wheel drive sports car won't try to drive home without chains. Every single time there is a snow event in the Puget Sound area, it seems that EVERYONE takes to the roads and freeways in their cars. Unprepared for the conditions as they are, they put their lives in jeopardy in a vain attempt to make it home instead of just waiting it out until the traffic dies down. I can't count how many cars I've seen stuck, abandoned on the side of the road because they got stuck or ran out of fuel. The bottom line? Keep your tank full as often as you can because you never know when you will be stuck or unable to get to a gas station... or even if the station will have gas.

Now, you vehicle's fuel tank is the obvious, and smartest choice for storing fuel safely. They are vented and engineered to be extremely safe, even in a crash (unless you drive an old Ford Pinto). There is no need to drive around with a 1-gallon fuel can sloshing and rolling around in your trunk.

But wait James. Isn't this about the 72 hour kit, not the vehicle? Keep your shirt on, I'm getting to it.

Now that we understand that you will have a good chance of driving home, albeit on weird routes to avoid major congestion, during many emergencies, we must still address you going out on foot. This is where your fuel tank can help you again.

We want to see if there is a way to close the distance between our location and home. If even only 5 miles, it will cut hours off your walk. We want to get as close to home as we can. If it means sitting in traffic or driving slow for a few hours, it still means something. Chances are it is really cold outside and even though one could walk faster than you are driving, you are still warm and your feet and hands aren't cold. Your cell phone is still plugged in and charging, and your gear is still stowed away in the back, protected from the elements outside.

But now is the time to hoof it. If you are still 20 miles from home, you have a good day to two days worth of walking ahead of you, depending on terrain and conditions. Give yourself plenty of time if it is overly hot, cold, blustery, or snowing. Ice slows you down fast because you don't want to slip and hurt yourself.

You will still need to eat. But as stated before, unless you only bring a year's worth of Clif Bars, you will need to prepare your food. For this, you will need a stove, and for that you will need fuel.

For backpacking and camping, I use a combination of different stoves and fuel styles, depending on what I'm doing. I have propane, white gas, dual fuel, and butane mix type stoves. My favorite for backpacking is my butane canister stove because it works in the cold and high altitude, where white gas or unleaded doesn't. It's also easier because there is no need to dispense or pressurize the fuel. It's all done for me. But that's backpacking. There are no gas stations or cars to siphon fuel from where I go, so there is no need to take white gas on most occasions. However...

You will likely pass all sorts of cars and gas stations on your way home. Some may have fuel. Some won't. But chances are that you will be able to find at least something.

For the "bug out bag", I recommend taking a dual fuel, or other multi-fuel stove. My favorite, although a little more bulky than others, is the Coleman Sportster II dual fuel stove.

Another good stove is the MSR Dragonfly multi-fuel stove which burns white gas, unleaded gas, diesel fuel, kerosene, and jet fuel. That's good news for you diesel guys too. Another is the MSR Whisperlite Internationale, which burns white gas, kerosene, and unleaded fuel. I have yet to see a stove that can use isobutane/propane and liquid fuels. But if you find one, email me and I will buy it.

Now, this isn't a plug for Coleman or MSR, even though I'm a big fan of both companies. This is just what I know works well. I've seen cheaper stoves out there and most of the time, my backpacking or camping companions ask to use my stoves because either theirs won't work or it's broken. Remember this adage: Quality hurts you once. Crap hurts you all the time. Aside from the backpack, your stove will represent the most considerable investment of money and time to learn to use and maintain. You may buy something you think will work well, only to find out down the road that it doesn't work as well as you intended for your circumstance. How do you think I ended up with 3 or 4 stoves in the first place? My MSR Superfly is great for backpacking, but I'm not so sure it would be great as a survival tool because it uses a specialized fuel canister using a special blend of 80/20 Isobutane and propane. You gonna refine that in the field?

Nope, it's dual fuel, multi-fuel or nothing at all. Get something that will operate on automotive unleaded fuel. That's the key. Should you find yourself needing to siphon off a tank, you will find a lot of cars or even a fuel station. Note, this kind of behavior is not condoned at all... unless your life is at absolute risk. Remember, your own vehicle is a storage vessel for fuel. Here's a trick for getting to it:

This trick works for carbureted and EFI vehicles.

1. If you have an electric fuel pump (EFI), then it will start to pump fuel when you crank the vehicle. If you have a mechanical fuel pump (carburetor), then it will start to pump fuel when you crank the vehicle.
2. Disconnect the distributor from the coil by unplugging the coil wire. This will allow the vehicle to crank, but it will not start (also a great theft deterrent).
3. Disconnect the fuel line going into your carb or the fuel rail, or TBI. Note, on EFI systems, there is a return line to the tank. If you disconnect it, crank it, and nothing comes out, you disconnected the wrong fuel line. If you do not know which one is which, locate your fuel filter (normally under the car) and follow the line to the carb or EFI system. You can also disconnect the line at the fuel filter if you have the tools to do so. If nothing else, cut the rubber line to get access to the fuel.
4. stick your container (whatever you will catch the fuel in) under the open fuel line. Go inside and crank the engine. Fuel will pump out into the container.
5. Reconnect or plug the fuel line when you are done. Note, if you are leaving your vehicle, just leave the distributor wire unplugged until you can return.

I used this trick one time out camping. Silly me, I forgot to pack extra white gas for my Coleman stove. Luckily it is dual fuel, so I used this trick to fill up my stove and keep cooking. Needless to say, the boy scouts who were with me learned a valuable lesson about being prepared and learned a neat survival trick at the same time.

Now, you ask, why not just siphon the tank? Well, most vehicles have a little check ball in there that keeps the fuel in the tank in the event the vehicle rolls over. The opening is wide enough for fuel to get through, but not necessarily a siphon hose. My dad found this out trying to siphon fuel from his van in a vain attempt to get fuel for his generator.

One thing you can do, if you wish to avoid damaging your vehicle, is install a shutoff and bypass valve. This will allow you to close off fuel from your engine and open a valve to harvest it from the supply line. Two small ball valves would accomplish this task. One valve closes fuel off to the engine and the other is open to drain the fuel from your vehicle. I recommend installing this AFTER the fuel filter because it will protect your camp stove from contaminants.

Of course, it is hoped that you have enough white gas on hand so that you do not need to siphon off your tank. You may, at your own risk, carry your stove with the fuel tank almost full. Allow some room for expansion for hot days. I'd also carry an extra fuel bottle, like this just to be safe. You should note that dual fuel stoves, like the Coleman Sportster II actually burn hotter with unleaded gas, and unleaded gas is less expensive than white gas. Be sure to rotate your fuel supply every 6 months, as with everything else. Gasoline does have a shelf life. 1 year max with unleaded fuel. Do not use fuel stabilizers in stoves. I have done some research into Coleman white gas and while it lasts a lot longer than unleaded gas, you will still want to filter it before use. You can buy a funnel that has a small foam filter at REI for less than $3. My advice. Save yourself the headache and cycle out fuel every six months during normal kit rotation.  Otherwise, you risk the fuel gumming up the gas lines and jets.

I like to purge my stove of fuel by draining most of it, but leaving just a little inside. Pump it up and run it at full bore until the flame dies. This will ensure that no residual fuel is left in the jets or in the line leading to the jet. Open and drain out any remaining liquid fuel and let it sit for a while. Unleaded fuel does evaporate. Now, Coleman does not recommend storing your stove with fuel in the tank due to lacquer buildup, which can impede the flow of fuel. If this is a concern for you, then get another MSR fuel container so you can fill the stove as needed instead of using it as a storage vessel. But if you are going to to that far, just get an MSR stove in the first place and store the fuel in their containers.

There is no catch-all. Obviously, you can't prepare for everything and there isn't enough room in any vehicle to be prepared for all that may happen. What we are focusing on is a few major situations that we, in the Puget Sound region, are concerned about. Fuel is an important asset in a survival situation. You cannot always count on being able to collect firewood to make a fire. It rains a lot here and during the months when many disasters could take place, everything is soaked. A small puddle of white gas will burn for about 5 minutes even in the rain; that's just enough time to warm up your hands so you can get to work.

Once you get your fuel and your stove, you need to light it. I'd recommend carrying both waterproof matches and a lighter that is windproof.

The bottom line: Keep your tank full and take care of your fuel. It will take care of you.
 
-James

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