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Are Jerry Cans legal? What is the law on fuel cans?

Are Jerry Cans legal? What is the law on fuel cans?

Note: We have endeavoured to make this article as accurate as possible using sources and citations from UK Government legislation which was valid and up to date at the time of posting in August 2015 and updated in June 2016, March 2017 & Feb 2018 and April 2020.

Here you will find the answers for the following common questions:

  • How much fuel can I store in my vehicle or home?
  • How many containers am I allowed to fill up?
  • What sizes of fuel cans may I use?
  • Are there different laws for plastic and metal cans?
  • Petrol station etiquette
How much fuel can i store?

Fuel Cans & the Law

Are Steel Jerrycans legal for carriage and storage of fuel?

Yes, provided they are UN Certified by an Approved Test House and embossed with the Certification number.

Are Plastic fuel cans legal for carriage and storage of fuel?

Yes provided they are manufactured to UN Standard and provided petrol is only placed in cans up to 10 Litre in size.

Is it legal to fill up a Steel or plastic Jerrycan at the petrol station?

Yes, it is legal. However, some filling stations may have their own local rules about filling portable fuel cans. These rules may cover the size and number of cans that are allowed to be filled.

What is the law concerning fuel cans?

Irrespective of the amount of fuel that is needed, most people prefer to remain legal and therefore we often get asked about the law concerning Fuel Cans and the storage of petrol. As you would expect the wording of the answer is quite long winded so we suggest the following this link : http://www.hse.gov.uk/fireandexplosion/petroleum.htm

How much fuel can you carry in your vehicle?

You are allowed to store up to 30 litres of fuel on your home or non-work premises without informing your local Petroleum Enforcement Agency (PEA).

However, you may also store up to 275 litres of fuel on your premises, but are required to obtain permission from your PEA, who may check that you are storing the fuel in an approved manner. To store more than this, you can apply for a licence to do so. For more information on all three cases, click this link to find out the HSE guidelines on storing fuel at your home or non-work premises. 

How much fuel can I store at home?

You may store up to 275 litres of fuel on your premises, but are required to obtain permission from your PEA, who may check that you are storing the fuel in an approved manner. To store more than this, you can apply for a licence to do so. For more information on all three cases, click this link to find out the HSE guidelines on storing fuel at your home or non-work premises.

The Law

There is no consistent law surrounding fuel storage and there is currently no International, European or British Standard for the storage of petrol in metal containers. However, there are many references to a “suitable” or “robust” container in the legislation, which states that “a UN-Approved metal container meeting the performance requirements for the carriage of petrol… would be considered robust for most storage conditions.” In terms of volume, HSE states that “suitable petrol containers” include:

• Plastic containers up to 10 Litres
• Metal containers up to 20 Litres
• A demountable fuel tank.

Fortunately, Wavian 5L, 10L & 20L Jerry Cans are UN-approved, and therefore completely legal for storing and carrying fuel. The www.hse.gov.uk website states that “the regulations do not specify” how many containers can be filled at a petrol station, rather that it is a responsibility of the sites to do their own risk assessment on what is an acceptable number for their customers to fill.

Again, in The Red Guide (A document from the Petroleum Enforcement Liason Group detailing Petrol filling stations guidance on managing the risks of fire and explosion), it is stated that “A limit of two containers is generally accepted… (to allow) for compliance with the majority of storage conditions applicable to petrol…” . However, it goes on to elaborate that this doesn’t mean that it’s illegal to fill more, but it is up to the site to decide what is appropriate and safe.

Because of the complexity of the law, this may lead to some filling stations erring on the side of caution and limiting the amount their customers may fill- For example some Tesco petrol stations are reported to have a one-can policy, whereas Sainsburys insurance policy does not allow customers to fill more than 10 litres per container. This in turn can cause public misconceptions, as highlighted by this brief and dubious BBC article on the legality of fuel cans which incorrectly states the legal limit for filling cans at any petrol station is either two 10L metal containers and/or two 5L plastic containers.

However, it does highlight that much of the British legislation regarding petrol storage dates back to 1929- As the Jerry Can was first developed in 1937, these laws could be considered out of date!

1940's fuel can
1940’s petrol can

1940’s Petrol Can

These were built in a range of varying shapes and sizes but were generally not much more than a lightweight tin with a lid. Much of the petrol storage legislation was written to apply to cans of this specification. When considering the difference between the relatively flimsy pre-WW2 fuel cans for which these laws were introduced, and the quality of a UN approved NATO Jerrycan (Which are to this day used in military operations worldwide), there still seems to be uncertainty and a panicked response at the sight of someone filling a can from a pump. The bottom line is that it is legal to fill metal cans of up to 20 Litres and plastic cans of up to 10 Litres from a petrol station. Many businesses have their own rules about what they allow and what may be allowed in one station may be completely forbidden in the next.

A Modern Day UN Approved Jerry Can

Some apparently hold the view that all Portable fuel cans are dangerous. Of course, this is incorrect as the vast majority of Jerry Cans in use worldwide today are new, built to modern specifications in modern production facilities and in fact the design has been improved since the 1930’s with the addition of rust-proof inner lining, 'pickled' corrosion resistant steel, powder coated exterior and rust-proof paint.

20 Litre Wavian Fuel Can
20L Wavian Red Jerry Can

Petrol Station Etiquette - Will they allow it?

Again, in The Red Guide (A document from the Petroleum Enforcement Liason Group detailing Petrol filling stations guidance on managing the risks of fire and explosion), it is stated that “A limit of two containers is generally accepted... (to allow) for compliance with the majority of storage conditions applicable to petrol…” . However, it goes on to elaborate that this doesn’t mean that it’s illegal to fill more, but it is up to the site to decide what is appropriate and safe.

Because of the complexity of the law, this may lead to some filling stations erring on the side of caution and limiting the amount their customers may fill- For example some Tesco petrol stations are reported to have a one-can policy, whereas Sainsburys insurance policy does not allow customers to fill more than 10 litres per container. This in turn can cause public misconceptions, as highlighted by this brief and dubious BBC article on the legality of fuel cans which incorrectly states the legal limit for filling cans at any petrol station is either two 10L metal containers and/or two 5L plastic containers.

The best approach is to vet your petrol station first to avoid an unpleasant confrontation- Approach or call them before filling your can and let them know what you intend to do. If you are using a good quality Jerrycan, such as the Wavian brand, mention this and the fact that it is UN approved. Additionally, make sure that your can is clean and looks to be in serviceable condition. A dirty, dented can is likely to cause more alarm than a new one.

If they tell you “no”, then it is more likely to be a case of the station’s policy rather than the law itself, and unfortunately you must respect this. If you have a 20 litre can and they inform you that you may only “legally” fill 10 litres at their station, there is no good reason for them to stop you filling your can half-way so just say that you’ll fill it up to 10 litres and not a drop more. Finally, be amicable in the face of confrontation. As many people are unsure or misinformed about the legality of fuel can use, don’t be surprised if you are challenged or queried when filling up. A cool head and straight facts may convince even the most pedantic jobsworth. Appearing frustrated and defensive may make them assume you are a budding arsonist!

Click here to view our high quality Wavian Steel Jerry Cans >

24 thoughts on “Are Jerry Cans legal? What is the law on fuel cans?

  1. David Atkinson says:

    Hi, my son was asked by his workplace to go and take a Jerry can I’m his car and go and fill it up at a local petrol station. He filled it and put it in the boot and when he got back to work it had fallen over and spilt it’s entire contents, causing a huge clean up operation where it would seem now that all the linings and back seats are ruined. On a legal stand point we’re his employees acting responsibly in asking him to use his private car for a business function with a Jerry can with a lid misfunction and who’s insurance would cover this. Thanks for your advice in advance

    • JerryCans.co.uk says:

      Hi David, thanks for the message and enquiry. I would love to help, but unfortunately I think this is more a question for a solicitor/lawyer rather than something we are qualified to comment on.

  2. SIMON ANGEL says:

    There was an item on the news recently ,about the increased amount of red diesel, finding it’s way into road vehicles and there is going to be a crackdown on this practice. The TV news reporter challenged the owner/driver of a car based taxi, who was openly pouring red diesel into his tank from jerry cans. The reporter told this driver, that filling road vehicles with red diesel is highly illegal ,resulting in a prison sentence! the driver was unconcerned, until the TV cameras turned up! Red diesel came about in the 1948 act to give agricultural and plant operators, a tax advantage to get the Country growing food and building industry to recover after WW2. The 1948 act is still current and woe betide anyone caught using red diesel in road vehicles. Even when the fuel tankers drivers ,were on strike, commercial vehicle operators asked the HMRC if they could use red diesel in their truck fleets…HMRC flatly refused to allow this. Red diesel permanently stains injectors, valves, pumps etc even if white diesel is used afterwards. I expect there will be increased random tank dipping, to catch culprits!!!!

    • JerryCans.co.uk says:

      Thanks for the message Jen. These questions are always tricky, but as far as we understand it you are allowed to carry 333 litres fuel in suitable containers. I don’t think there is mention of what the mix can be so that infers that the fuel can be petrol or diesel or a mixture of the both.

    • JerryCans.co.uk says:

      Thanks for the question Aris. As far as the legal situation goes, the guidelines aren’t clear. We would always recommend refilling a fuel can on the floor and well away from any potential sources of ignition.

  3. Judith says:

    Confused by Toolstations June ’19 catalogue page 286 narrative against ‘Jerry Can’ includes ‘Transportation or storage of flammable liquids is legally restricted to 10L (unless specifically Licensed). This sent other half into a flap as we regularly buy & store 20L for our garden equipment. Fortunately I found your website that clarifies, thank you. We were also told recently that it was illegal to fill more than 2 cans at our local station we had 2 10L metal & 1 5L plastic and both they and us could be fined £100 if spotted. I understand that fuel stations can legitimately have their own rules but it would be so much better if they had a clear notice on the pumps of their rules, which would stop confusion & confrontation. I have spotted a very small notice at our local Sainsburys restricting the filling of cans to two.

  4. Alan says:

    I witnessed someone filling twelve or fifteen (I lost count as he was loading them) 20l jerrycans and loading them into an estate car at my local shell garage a few days ago. The management say this is fine as he is a local business man! Is this legal?

    • JerryCans.co.uk says:

      Hi Alan, thanks for leaving a comment. It sounds like what he was doing is against the law (and very dangerous too).

  5. Richard says:

    Hi, the following is text from the HSE website, does this mean I can store petrol at home, but not actually use it? it is legal to store, but not dispense?

    ‘Can I dispense petrol into the tank of my vehicle, boat or airplane at my home, club or my association?
    Yes, provided you have a licence to store petrol at your premises issued by your local Petroleum Enforcing Authority (PEA). Your local PEA can issue you with a licence if you are storing more than 275 litres of petrol, and the licence can include conditions relating to your storage and dispensing arrangements.
    If you do not have a licence to store petrol, you should not dispense petrol into the tank of vehicle with an internal combustion engine, either by manual or electrical means. ‘

      • JerryCans.co.uk says:

        Hi George (and Richard). You are both right it is not very clear. We are also unhappy with the wording and are taking it up with the HSE for clarification. Quite often when the guidelines are ambiguous it’s difficult to get someone to stick their neck out and give you a definitive answer.

        • George says:

          Thanks for taking the time to follow this up.
          As Richard said, taking the words at face value it suggests that you can store petrol but not pour it into anything that has an Internal Combustion Engine.
          It does beg the question, what is there that doesn’t have an ICE that you would pour petrol into?

  6. p cubbin says:

    I have been using a plastic petrol can holding petrol. I now have a diesel engine car, can I use my original petrol can that used to contain petrol, or do I need to buy a new one for the diesel?

    • JerryCans.co.uk says:

      Many thanks for the question. You can use this petrol Jerry can for diesel use no problem. What you would have to do though is rinse the Jerry can out thoroughly using a small amount of diesel before use and dispose of this in a safe and environmentally friendly way. This will ensure there is no remaining petrol left in the can.

  7. G.R.: says:

    Is this right: You are allowed to store up to 30 litres of fuel on your home or non-work premises without informing your local Petroleum Enforcement Agency (PEA). I know you will never be found out but this is bizarre to be able to bring home 60 litres but only keep 30 at home. I did read once about storage near a house or in a garage was restrictive but is that what you mean. What about a garden shed 50m from a house or even outside under a shelter? If you inform the PEA I guess you would get all sorts of inspections.

    • JerryCans.co.uk says:

      Hi Greg, thanks for the question. There are lots of conflicting reports about the legality, but it is perfectly ok to store 30 litres of fuel at home, provided they are in containers not bigger than 20litres.

  8. Keith a redpath says:

    For the fist time in my life my local Tesco station tuned off the pump when I had filled 2 . 5 ltr. cans telling me it was the law, I now find out it is not it was just another JOBSWORTH being difficult . I have often filled 4 or 5 at a time as being in the building trade I have many things that need petrol,As the law allows you to carry up to 60 ltrs. no one should be able to stop you filling these cans up.

    • JerryCans.co.uk says:

      Hi Keith, We really appreciate your feedback and you are exactly right, it is not illegal to fill your cans from a petrol station. Sometimes you’ll find that places like Tesco will have their own guidelines regarding how much or how many cans you can fill, so it can be a good idea to check with them first. We are looking at finding definitive answers from the big garages and supermarkets about their policies in the near future, so watch this space!

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