Doing the can can

Regular contributor John Knights delves into an essential piece of kit – the fuel can.

I recently learned the hard way about keeping hold of old metal jerry cans for too long, so I have written this piece about fuel cans in the hope you won’t have to strip down your carburettor because of contaminated fuel.

The Jerry can gained its name in the Second World War, when the Allies used to use cheap and cheerful metal fuel cans nick named “flimsies”, because of the thin metal wall and the ease with which they split. The German forces had far better 20l fuel cans made from thicker pressed steel, easy pour non glug spouts, and locking pins to stop the top working loose due to vibration. It did not take long before the Allied forces realised the far superior design of the German or “Jerry” cans and copied them, the basic design is still in use nearly 80 years on.

If they are so good why am I writing an article on replacing them? Because being steel they are prone to rust, not necessarily from the inside, as most cans have an inert lining and being full of petrol or diesel there is little chance for rust to form, but the outsides are prone to chipped paint and rust which can either cause leakage, or in my case drop tiny particles of rust into whatever you are filling with fuel – in my case a portable generator, these then clogged the carburettor causing it to stop working.

So if you want something that is not going to rust, then what else can you look at? There are plenty of solutions available across a wide range of budgets, but a cheap solution may not always be the best, so it depends on if your jerry cans are for a one off adventure in the desert, or a designer fashion accessory for your custom aluminium roof rack.

John Knights3 - chem drum
The humble cheap ‘n’ cheerful ‘chem drum’

Cheap and cheerful – the bargain basement option is a 20l industrial chemical drum. Square in shape, they start at around €10 and come in a variety of colours. Sometimes they can be scrounged for free from businesses that buy chemicals in them and pay to dispose of the empties. Pro’s – cheap and disposable; cons – not clearly labelled as fuel or fuel type, no bleed or anti glug device. The dumpy square shape usually stacks well, but does not fit into a “jerry can holder”.

John Knights1 - hunersdorf cans
Hunerdorf plastic jerry can

Plastic jerry cans – these start again as little as €10 each, but the cheaper containers tend to be quite thin plastic, they will not be as durable, they may fit into standard jerry can holders, and may come with a pouring spout. I recently bought a couple of reasonable quality Hunerdorf plastic jerry cans for €20 each. These featured standard sizing and a moulded holder to keep the pouring spout with the can. Good quality and nice thick plastic.

If you want the bees knees of fuel (and water) cans there is only one name you need, and that is Canadian company Scepter. They have produced top quality well thought our fuel and water cans for over 30 years. The Scepter Military Fuel Can (MFC) is pretty much the ultimate fuel can.

John Knights2 - scepter-mfc
The Scepter Military Fuel Can – pricey but top quality

Designed for the US military, it is more shock resistant than a metal can, won’t rust, has a big filler neck for ease of filling and pouring, and a host of spouts and delivery methods for fuelling. I would, given the choice, pick a Scepter MFC above all others except for one slight problem – price. Because the MFC was designed for the military and then the US government bought out all sorts of laws about fuel cans MFC’s have become quite hard to get hold of. New and used examples are available but will cost at least €90 each! This puts them well beyond the budget of poorly paid reporters like me.

John Knights4 - scepter diesel spout
Scepter’s range of civilian fuel cans include yellow for diesel, red for petrol

A more affordable alternative are Scepter’s range of civilian fuel cans, these are again high quality plastic, and appropriately coloured (yellow for diesel, red for petrol.) They come with an ingenious “inside out” pouring nozzle where the nozzle lives inside the can with the fuel until needed. They also have a bleed valve at the back of the can to allow air in and smooth pouring, and a vibration proof top, designed to stop it unscrewing on washboard roads.

When you can get them, the civilian fuel cans retail about €40, compared to about €30 for a new quality steel can. I have bought 2 diesel cans, but unfortunately couldn’t find a retailer with the red petrol cans when I needed some.

The steel jerry can is a truly iconic piece of design, and for that reason I am sure there will always be one laying in my garage, but in terms of durability and longevity I think the new plastics are the way ahead. All I need now is a lottery win so I can afford some Scepter MFC’s!

Again all products mentioned in this article were purchased retail, unfortunately no press freebees, but if you make fuel cans that you believe are superior to the ones mentioned above, I will happily accept some for evaluation.


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John Knights