December 14, 2018 Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s been a few years since I’ve looked at gas cans available for purchase. I’m looking now at Walmart. Nothing has changed. You still can’t get one that works properly. Whatever you buy will not pour properly. It has no valve to release air so it blows up and shrinks depending on the weather. It is likely to spill when you have to use it.

Here’s to hoping you saved your old cans before modern regulations ruined them. If you didn’t, you are either going to end up with a non-functioning can or spend Saturday hacking your new can with one of these many kits you can buy online.

I love this reviewer’s comment:

I love using new gas cans with the safety, spill proof spouts as much as the next guy – I mean who doesn’t love standing there with a full 5 gallon can inverted for 15 minutes while approximately one quart a minute flows out of the spout and no less than half of that quart escapes from every “sealed” seam, threaded fitting, and valve on the safety spout, spilling onto top of your fuel tank, shoes, hands, and best of all, the still quite hot motor of whatever you’re filling. But, that being said, I realized one day that I’m a grown man with better things to do, with children who need a father who isn’t covered in third degree burn scars because some hippy in California is convinced leaking gas can vapors is what the real global warming problem is, and the industry is just as good at making leak-proof safety gas can valves as they are mousetraps, and generally speaking, dying in a burst of flames when a “safety” spout leaks fuel onto a hot exhaust seems like such an ironic and anti-climatic way to go.

That’s some white-hot anger right there. Rightly so. The gas can is broken. The regulators broke it. Despite gazillion complaints on every conceivable forum, nothing is changing. The regulations sticks.

Regulations began in 2000, with the idea of preventing spillage. The notion began in California, spread, and was picked up by the EPA, which is always looking for new and innovative ways to mandate as much human misery as possible.

An ominous regulatory announcement from the EPA came in 2007: “Starting with containers manufactured in 2009… it is expected that the new cans will be built with a simple and inexpensive permeation barrier and new spouts that close automatically.”

The government never said “no vents.” It abolished them de facto with new standards that every state had to adopt by 2009. So for the last ten years, you have not been able to buy gas cans that work properly. They are not permitted to have a separate vent. The top has to close automatically. There are other silly things now, too, but the biggest problem is that they do not do well what cans are supposed to do.

And don’t tell me about spillage. The reviewer above is correct. It is far more likely to spill when the gas is gurgling out in various uneven ways, when one spout has to both pour and suck in air. That’s when the lawn mower tank becomes suddenly full without warning, when you are shifting the can this way and that just to get the stuff out.

There’s also the problem of the exploding can. On hot days, the plastic models to which this regulation applies can blow up like balloons. When you release the top, gas flies everywhere, including possibly on a hot engine. Then the trouble really begins.

Never heard of this rule? You will know about it if you go to the local store. Most people buy one or two of these items in the course of a lifetime, so you might otherwise have not encountered this outrage.

Yet let enough time go by. A whole generation will come to expect these things to work badly. Then some wise young entrepreneur will have the bright idea, “Hey, let’s put a hole on the other side so this can work properly.” But he will never be able to bring it into production. The government won’t allow it because it is protecting us!

Five years ago, hardly anyone even mentioned this problem. Now complaints are everywhere.

The main sites that seem to have discussed this are the boating forums and the lawn forums. These are the people who use these cans more than most. The level of anger and vitriol is amazing to read, and every bit of it is justified.

There is no possible rationale for these kinds of regulations. It can’t be about emissions really, since the new cans are more likely to result in spills. It’s as if some bureaucrat were sitting around thinking of ways to make life worse for everyone, and hit upon this new rule.

You are already thinking of hacks. Why not just stab the thing with a knife and be done with it? If you have to transport the can in the car, that’s a problem. You need a way to plug the vent with something.

You can drill a hole and put a tire stem in there and use the screw top as the way to close the hole. Great idea. Just what I wanted to do with my Saturday afternoon. You can also buy an old-time metal can. It turns out that special regulations pertain here, too, and it’s all about the spout, which is not easy to fill. They are also unusually expensive. I’m not sure that either of these options is ideal.

Ask yourself this: If they can wreck such a normal and traditional item like this, and do it largely under the radar screen, what else have they mandatorily malfunctioned? How many other things in our daily lives have been distorted, deformed and destroyed by government regulations?

If some product annoys you in surprising ways, there’s a good chance that it is not the invisible hand at work, but rather the regulatory grip that is squeezing the life out of our normal consumer products.

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker served as Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research from 2017 to 2021.

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