In 2009, the EPA adopted a California Air Resources Board (CARB) rule that banned the sale of traditional gas cans. To be CARB-compliant, a can must be self-closing, a requirement intended to protect the environment by reducing spills.
The rule didn't affect me until someone stole my pre-ban cans and I had to buy new, compliant ones. Since these cans did not have that little vent in the back, they chugged and spilled when I used them. And they were ridiculously difficult to use; you could do your taxes in the time it took to transfer 5 gallons from one of these cans and you'd need three hands to do it because you must hold a small button back to get the spout to pour—while supporting a heavy can in an awkward postion. Some CARB compliant cans have spring loaded nozzles that you have to rest on the lip of the gas tank at just the right angle to allow the fuel to flow. Using CARB compliant cans is tedious at best and guaranteed to be a frustrating endeavor.
We recently worked on a project that required us to refuel many machines over many days. I dreaded the thought of doing it with the cans I had so I went looking for new ones that would actually work. I found four promising models online and bought them from Amazon.com (they weren't available at the big box stores, where I normally buy gas cans). I figured I'd test the cans and whichever one worked best would be the model I'd buy more of.
The testing was simple: I filled each gas can with exactly 5 gallons of gasoline from the pump at a gas station, transported them back to my house, and fueled each of my vehicles with the cans to see how fast the fuel flowed, how much spilled, and how much effort was required to operate the can.
Eagle Safety Can
This is a galvanized steel can with a plastic handle and funnel attached. The funnel must be removed to fill the can but detaches and reattaches quickly. At first glance, I thought the design would be awkward to operate, but it turned out to be the best can I tested because it didn't spill a drop and was very easy to pour at full tilt. The handle operation allows for very precise filling of smaller tanks like those on chainsaws.
- Time to dispense 5 gallons: 2 minutes 23 seconds.
- CARB compliance: It looks like it should comply, but the label and manufacturer's website make no such claim.
- Web price: $43.
Just-Rite Safety Can
This galvanized steel gas can has a steel fill handle with a separate funnel. Once attached, the funnel is tipped down to fill and clicked back up into position to dispense. I assumed it would operate similarly to the Eagle Safety Can, but the funnel design is terrible to the point of being dangerous; I spilled so much gas on myself while fueling a vehicle that I stopped the test midway through and won't use the can again. The exit point of the funnel's nozzle is about the diameter of a dime while the funnel is huge. The user must take extreme caution not to tilt the can too much, which overfills the funnel, causing it to back up and leak at the connecting joints while dispensing. Granted, if you pour the gas out like a little old lady, I'm sure the system works adequately, but time is money and my goal was to find gas cans that dispensed quickly without spilling.
- Time to dispense 5 gallons: N/A due to massive amounts of spillage.
- CARB compliance: Marked as compliant in catalog and on label. - Web price: $42.
This plastic can has a plastic nozzle and dispensing system. The nozzle is opened by pushing a spring-loaded button on its rear. This button requires a fair amount of pressure to actuate and pressing it can be awkward in certain pouring positions. My thumb was downright tired after I tried to dispense 5 gallons. I was not able to dispense the entire contents of the can into a vehicle because the shape of the nozzle and bottle prevented me from tipping the can enough to get out the last half gallon or so. On a generator or top-fill application, it would probably dispense everything. I did see some slight leaking (enough to cover the front of the can and put five or six drops on the ground) around the threads of the nozzle where it attached to the can.
- Time to dispense 5 gallons: 2 minutes 37 seconds (only dispensed 4 1/2 gallons; flow rate is obviously slower than other cans tested)
- CARB compliance: Online vendors say it complies, but the label and manufacturer's website make no such claim.
- Web price: $36.
This plastic can is designed to fuel race vehicles and has a high-flow nozzle that looks almost homemade. I have seen landscapers use these types of cans, so figured it would be worth trying one. Between a separate vent and a 3/4-inch-diameter nozzle, this can dumped the gas quickly. In fact, it was the fastest-dispensing can I tested and I thought it would be the best one in the bunch. It's close, but two minor issues drop it down a notch. It's easy to tilt the can too high and spill gas from the vent—I did this, but noticed right away and was able to adjust—and the cans flow fuel so fast, it would be tough to fill a small tank, like the one on a concrete saw, without spilling. The cans are tall with the nozzles attached, making them awkward to transport in the covered bed of a pickup truck. If you primarily fuel large equipment, this is the can to get.
- Time to dispense 5 gallons: 1 minute 50 seconds.
- CARB compliance: This can is almost certainly not compliant, but for some reason you can still buy it.
- Web price: $43.
If I were going to stock up and buy more cans after this, I would buy the Eagle Safety Cans. They didn't spill a drop, were easy to transport and operate, and dispensed quickly.