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Is it safe to keep a container of gasoline in my trunk?

I never worry about running out of gas because I always keep a container of gasoline inside my car and minivan. In the car, it's in the trunk. I make sure there's no gas on the outside of it. My 14-year-old son says it's stupid – and an explosion waiting to happen. – Kevin, Airdrie, Alta.

Chances are, keeping gas in your car could prove to be a pretty bright idea. Yep, we mean bright as in fire.

"It's not safe. It's not recommended," said Carol Henke, spokeswoman for the Calgary Fire Department. "If the lid is not tight or if there's any leak, the fumes can escape and when they reach a certain concentration any spark or heat source can cause them to ignite."

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And even if the fumes don't find a spark – from wiring or static electricity – you shouldn't be breathing them in.

"The fumes and vapours can make a driver light-headed and nauseous," Lewis Smith, manager, national projects with the Canada Safety Council, said in an e-mail. "[Jerry cans] should always be stored in well-ventilated areas, which rules out the passenger cabin of vehicles for obvious reasons."

Just as there are still warnings on gas pumps that static could cause an explosion, there's a long list of warnings on the sides of new Jerry cans, including "keep out of reach of children and direct sunlight," "store in a well ventilated area" and "do not store in home or vehicle."

Leaks inevitable?

There's a difference between carrying a gas can inside the cabin or trunk – for instance, when taking the can home from the gas station so you can fill up your lawnmower – and storing it there all the time. Even if you're sure the can's lid is snug, vapour can still get out.

"Plastic gas containers are intended for brief periods of transportation for flammable liquids, not for storage in confined spaces," Maya Filipovic, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. "As temperature rises, gasoline expands, and in order to equalize the pressure, the container would release pressure by allowing gas vapour to escape."

That same expansion happens in your car's gas tank, but it's designed to release the vapours safely to the outside, Filipovic said. And, unlike that plastic Jerry can sitting in your trunk, your car's gas tank is shielded from static and electrical sources.

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While neither fire department could point us to specific cases of vehicle fires caused by a Jerry can, the danger of fumes was shown when a garden shed exploded in the U.K. this summer. Investigators believe a faulty fluorescent light ignited fumes from containers and garden equipment.

"To create a potentially explosive atmosphere, there only needs to be a small amount of petrol vapour present, as little as 1.4 per cent," Jamie Lister, West Yorkshire fire investigation officer, told reporters.

Unlawful to carry unleaded?

Both Calgary and Edmonton Fire said they weren't aware of a provincial law against carrying a container of gas in a vehicle.

Gasoline is covered under Ottawa's Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations.

"It is important that drivers are aware that gasoline is dangerous and needs to be transported safely," Julie Leroux, Transport Canada spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. "Gasoline must be in one or more small containers designed, constructed, filled, closed, secured and maintained so that under normal conditions of transport, including handling, there will be no accidental release of the dangerous goods that could endanger public safety."

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The fines could be $500 to $800. You have to use approved containers – no two-litre pop bottles.

You're allowed to carry up to 150 kg of gasoline, as long as each container weighs 30 kg or less.

Better alternatives?

The Canada Safety Council doesn't recommend keeping gas inside your vehicle. So what's left?

"Securing a [Jerry can] to a roof rack is also a possibility, but given the relative weight of the fuel it's important not to overload the vehicle and throw off its centre of gravity," Smith said. "The roof-rack solution also comes with the added concern of a loose can flying off at highway speeds – obviously less than ideal."

If you have a truck, you can safely keep a gas container in the bed of the pickup. And, if you have an SUV, you can get a metal Jerry can mount installed on the back of your vehicle.

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"Ideally, gasoline should be stored at room temperature and away from heat sources [like the sun]," Smith said.

When you're filling up a container, take it out of your vehicle. It must come into contact with the ground in order to eliminate any chance of static electricity igniting fuel vapours.

And leave some room in the can. "They should not be filled to the brim, as gasoline can expand," Smith said.

Better yet? Don't run out of gas. Make sure you fill up early, especially if you're on a long road trip – don't test that number that shows the number of kilometres you have left on your tank.

"There might be extenuating circumstances where there are no gas stations, but on most highways in Canada, that's not the case," Calgary Fire's Henke said.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada's a big place, so please let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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