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- Quite possibly justified in' X-Men. To quote Cyclops:
"Blowing up a car is a lot harder than it looks in the movies. Puncturing both sides of a fuel tank to draw in the proper amount of oxygen is a million-to-one shot. Thankfully, I'm a pretty good shot."
- Sin City had a scene in which the Old Town girls opened fire on a cop car with machine guns. Eventually, it blew up, implying this trope.
- Garth Ennis' rebooted Punisher series had Frank blowing up a car with nothing more than a few handgun bullets. At least they paid lip service to the reality by having him almost empty his clip with direct hits to the tank while his internal monologue hoped for one to spark.
- Averted in the Judge Dredd Spin-Off, The Streets Of Dan Francisco. Francisco gets into a firefight with some perps and shoots a fuel tanker behind them. When they're drenched in fuel and start complaining, Francisco convinces them to surrender by threatening them with an Incendiary round from his lawgiver. It works.
- Thelma & Louise - not just the fuel tank but the whole damn truck. Subverted in that the girls were actually playing at shooting his tyres out, one by one...
- This is how James Bond makes his escape in the opening sequence of Casino Royale (2006), he shoots a propane tank with a handgun.
- Also averted in that film; the airport fuel tanker is riddled with holes and weeping fuel everywhere but doesn't burn.
- He also does this at the end of Quantum of Solace with a hydrogen tank. That one gets a pass, though, as the building was already on fire.
- Jaws did it with a compressed air tank.
- Also busted by the MythBusters.
- Played straight (and in slow motion) by Morpheus during the freeway chase of The Matrix Reloaded.
- Strange, when you consider this is averted in the first movie, though that was with a helicopter and not a car. The only effect shooting the fuel tank had was an empty tank a few moments later.
- Hell it was averted a few minutes earlier when Morpheus' Cadillac was shot about 1500 times from all directions during the car chase, which must have hit the fuel tank at least once, and nothing happens to it.
- Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2's "Bingo!" scene (which immediately follows the infamous "GARBAGE DAY!").
- The Bourne Identity: Bourne shoots a propane tank with a shotgun to distract the enemy/provide some smoke cover.
- Done in Mission: Impossible. To a moving vehicle, from a moving motorcycle.
- Subverted in Last Action Hero. When Jack Slater enters the real world, he chases Benedict until Benedict hops into a taxi. When Slater shoots at the cab, he is surprised to find that it does not explode.
- Averted in Speed, when the cop trying to defuse the bomb by suspending himself near the undercarriage of the speeding bus accidentally stabs the fuel tank with a screwdriver...which only causes the bus to leak fuel.
- Justified Trope in Lone Wolf McQuade, as the opening scene has Chuck Norris loading his sniper rifle from an ammunition case of 7.62mm Armor-Piercing Incendiary rounds.
- Kyle Reese crouches down and fires his shotgun at the gas tank underneath a car in a vain effort to slow down the T-800 in The Terminator.
- A gas tank does explode after a crash in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but that's only because a live wire sparked next to the leaking fuel. (Also impossible, diesel fuel doesn't explode even when a blowtorch is pointed at it.) Averted later during the Cyberdyne shootout, where the T-800's minigun does not ignite any of the police cars it's fired at.
- Played straight and averted at the same time in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. T-800 fires 750 rounds into the police cars, but only one of them explodes. All police cars have a serious amount of bullet holes in them after the shooting. Maybe the Terminator doesn't like the Chevrolet Caprice.
- In Terminator Salvation, he shoots a tanker with a shotgun in an attempt to stop a harvester. It doesn't work. However it did cause the tanker to start leaking, and he then uses a flare on the puddles of fuel, which proved to be MUCH more effective.
- In Iron Eagle, Doug Masters blows up an oil refinery as part of his scheme to force the bad guys to release his father. Cluster munitions will make fuel tanks burn quite nicely.
- Might have happened in American Psycho; even Patrick seems bewildered at the explosion.
- At the very beginning of Cars 2, Finn McMissile launches a bomb at several oil barrels while escaping the Lemons' oil rig in order to stave off his archnemeses, the Lemons.
- Mark Wahlberg's character does it in Shooter.
- Subverted in the opening gunfight of Shoot 'em Up. Mr Smith is trapped in a garage by a large number of mooks, so he aims at the tank underneath a car and punctures it. Instead of fuel bursting into flames, the tank leaks oil which Smith uses to slide along the floor and shoot all the mooks.
- Showdown in Little Tokyo. After Kenner flips a car on its side with his bare hands, he shoots the fuel tank as he escapes to make it explode.
- Seen in The Colony when one character makes his last stand against the horde of cannibals.
- Played straight in the 1976 poliziotteschi (Italo-crime) film "Italia a mano armata", even though it takes 7 bullets to make it happen.
- In the Corean Chronicles story Alector's Choice, Mykel detonates a barrel of oil being dropped on a battering ram with a bullet. Subverted in that he had to use magic powers to actually make the barrel explode. His superior (Who didn't know about the magic) later told him that he was extremely lucky: The odds of actually starting a fire with a bullet are low to the point of virtual impossibility.
- Dreamcatcher: this is how Henry blows up one of the two Hummers to kill the final shit-weasel. Double-subverted, since at first nothing happens and Henry even laments that in real life this kind of thing apparenty doesn't work the way it does in Hollywood movies, but then fuel tank explodes after all.
- Generation Kill: Corporal Burris gets assigned to take down a Iraqi T-72 tank, with the expectation that his anti-tank missile, being incapable of penetrating the tank's hull, would be used to blow off one of the treads and stop it from escaping (while, presumably, a more permanent solution is devised). Upon getting closer, he notices the rear-mounted fuel tanks, and decides to target those instead. The Iraqi tankers apparently did not drain them before entering combat, leading to the missile causing a huge explosion that blows the tank to pieces and knocks Burris flat on his ass from the force.
- Happens in almost every episode of Alarm für Cobra 11.
- MythBusters busted it until they tried special rounds, and a lot of them. They still didn't get an explosion, just a fire.
- They also tested the 'explode a gas cylinder with a bullet' variant, and failed completely. They had to detonate explosives under the cylinder to make the gas catch fire.
- Lost: in "The Variable," Jack fires at a gas tank to escape Dharma security.
- Averted in season 4, though. The helicopter survives a massive firefight with several leaking holes in the gas tank, but never explodes.
- Done in Torchwood: Children of Earth, when the bad guys are pursuing, Gwen uses this tactic to buy themselves some time. It works.
- Subverted in Burn Notice. Turns out that shooting a car's gas tank mostly just results in an empty gas tank. Shooting a gas tank with plastic bags full of acetone peroxide taped to it, on the other hand....
- In another episode, shooting a propane tank merely results in a cloud of cold gas, unless there happens to be an open flame nearby...
- In one episode of Hogan's Heroes Carter attempted to shoot a German fuel truck with a flaming arrow as it passed by the camp. He shot the arrow into the wall beside the window instead. Newkirk took the bow from him and did it properly.
- Averted in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia when Mac and Charlie attempt to fake their deaths to avoid Charlie's father. They decide to stage a car crash, and destroy the car so that the Police will think their bodies were incinerated in the explosion. When the crash leaves the car mostly intact, they try shooting the gas tank and using a grenade. Neither idea works.
- This was the fate of one of Vecchio's Buick Rivieras in Due South. A Discussed Trope, the characters had to figure out just the right part of the vehicle had to be shot in order to set it off.
- Averted in Breaking Bad when one of The Cousins shoots a parked truck's fuel tank - and it just results in gas spilling from the tank. After a while, however, he tosses a lit cigarette into some nearby dry grass, and after the brush catches fire...
- Done by Gibbs in an episode of NCIS to take out a heavily-armed suspect who's shooting at his team. (After he saves the suspect's dog, of course.)
- Person of Interest. As Reese drives away from him in a taxi, a government assassin armed with a bolt-action rifle fires two aimed shots; one to puncture the fuel tank, the other to ignite it. The assassin was mentioned as being equipped with armour-piercing ammunition in a previous incident, so it's likely he used the appropriate incendiary round this time.
- Happened in a number of The Professionals episodes, including "Blind Run" and "Blackout".
- Done toward the start of Final Fantasy X but with a sword.
- The first Gears of War game has the player shoot propane tanks to light paths to get around the Kryll. The second one has the first battle against Locust take place near a pile of these, shooting these will usually clear the area of any enemy (and you are far enough away from them when this battle happens, anyway...)
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas allows you to instantly detonate a car if you aim for the gas cap. Even if you can clearly see the rest of the tank, as on lorries, only the cap will set it off.
- Maybe they're blasting caps.
- In Halo 2, shooting a Ghost's gas tank will cause it to explode.
- Of course, a Ghost's "gas" is pressurized hot plasma.
- Half-Life had a warhead that could be shot to explode and get a Non-Standard Game Over, and at least Half-Life 2 and the episodes have Exploding Barrels.
- Left 4 Dead has fuel canisters and propane tanks that can be set down and shot to create a wall/sea of flames to kill the infected with.
- In the train level in Star Fox 64, shooting a fuel car will detonate all adjacent train cars.
- Flamethrower-wielding enemies in F.E.A.R. 2 can be insta-killed by shooting their backpacks.
- The Boiler of a Steam Punk tank in Valkyria Chronicles does this, though that's not the fuel tank but rather the unarmored radiator. The principle is still the same: shoot it for massive damage, or even semi-decent damage from small-arms.
- True Crime has an unlockable feature that allows you to lock on to gas tanks in Bullet Time for easier destruction.
- Fuel tanks are high-scoring targets in the two River Raid games, and they explode when you shoot them (but won't destroy any nearby enemies).
- One of the more notorious elements of Modern Warfare and its sequel, albeit it will take several rounds.
- Seen in the latest Borderlands DLC, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx. Badass Lance Troopers carry fuel tanks on their backs, which explode if you deal enough damage. Also seen in the original game, where Jakobs fuel storage tanks will explode if shot up enough. Strangely enough, you can't do this to the cars.
- The Red Alert series of Command & Conquer has missions which feature explosive fuel barrels that are often conveniently placed next to key targets.
- And the second game of the Tiberian series does this with less-explosive ammo crates.
- Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has a few sequences where Nathan shoots propane tanks in order to cause explosions. One instance where he's hurling them at the enemy and shooting them in the air was a big pain for Nolan North who was performing the motion capture and voice acting at the same time. He had to repeatedly hurl an empty propane tank, which isn't exactly light weight, across the studio to act out the sequence.
- In Mafia II, shooting the fuel caps causes cars to explode reliably after 2 shots with any weapon. Shooting right next to the fuel cap, or into the fuel tank from any other angle has no effect.
- Inverted in "War Of The Monsters", where you can throw gas trucks to deal massive damage to your opponents, as well as lighting them on fire.
- Shooting another tank's fuel tank in World of Tanks won't make it explode, unless your gun was actually enough to kill it, but if the enemy doesn' die from it, it will immobilize it until its crew can fix it.
- This often has he side effect of setting the tank on fire which, with the current patch, will randomly damage modules, injure crew members and possibly cook the ammo for massive damage.
- A viable tactic in Mass Effect games. In the first, there are little plasma, ion, and cryo tanks all over a ton of different battlefields, and an occasional big one with fuel in it. While facing Blood Pack Pyros in the second game, shoot the (rather obvious) tank with a lower damage weapon and will light then explode. Shoot it with a high powered weapon such as the Widow sniper rifle or zap them with an Overload or Incinerate tech attack and it explodes immediately.
- In both Sniper Elite V2 and the original game, you can cause enemy trucks and tanks to explode by sniping the caps on their fuel tanks; it's pretty much the only way to defeat a tank. As with the San Andreas example, this is despite the fact that you can very clearly see the entire fuel tank on all these vehicles, though in this case the fuel tanks in question all seem to be made of metal thick enough for bullets to bounce off harmlessly. It's also how Karl destroys the last V2 rocket. You even have to wait for the enemies to finish fueling it, because only a full tank will create an explosion big enough to wipe out every last trace of the deadly chemical agent it's carrying.
- The Far Cry series of games has this as a gameplay element, usually to show off the dynamic fire effects in game. Dotted around enemy outposts and towns are a variety of tanks to shoot, ranging from the standard Exploding Barrel to a large propane tanks. It should be noted that some of the tanks don't immediately explode when shot; they rather emit gouts of flame from the bullet holes, or in some cases fly around like rockets before exploding. While Every Car Is a Pinto, they don't blow up when the gas tank is shot, curiously.
- In From The Depths, fuel tanks will explode when destroyed, though the primary advantage of attacking fuel tank is to cause the enemy to run out of fuel and lose power rather than for the explosion itself, which is fairly weak compared to an ammunition explosion. On the other hand, mobile fuel refineries go off like a bomb when damaged, tipped over, or allowed to generate excessive dangerous gas byproducts.
- Mad Max uses this as a gameplay mechanic. Pulling your shotgun on an enemy vehicle is a good way to destroy it more easily. Helps that most vehicles have very exposed fuel tanks. The only real drawback is that shotgun ammo is hard enough to come by until you develop ammo benches for strongholds and have a bandolier large enough to carry more rounds. It may be justified to some extent in this case, as the post-apocalypse vehicles are running on very crudely-refined "guzzoline," which might be closer to avgas than unleaded.
- Subverted twice on We're Alive. First in Chpater 13 when Burt, Angel and Riley try to use gas canisters as explosives to ward off zombies while they try to get a fire truck started. The tanks don't ignite when Burt tries to shoot them. (Lampshaded by Datu who told them it wouldn't work before they tried it.) The second instance happens in Chapter 24, when the Mallers have a fuel truck rigged with explosives driving toward the Tower and Burt tries to blow it up while it's still far enough away to not cause any damage, but once again his shots fail to blow it up. (Again lampshaded, this time by Angel who screams "This is just like the gas cans all over again!"
- In the Justice League cartoon, Vigilante runs his motorcycle off a hill at the enemy, jumps off, then while flying backwards in mid-air shoots the gas tank with both revolvers akimbo to make it explode at precisely the right time to hit the enemy. Remember, this is an episode devoted to the Badass Normals of the Justice League. Totally a Crowning Moment of Awesome for Vigilante.
- In DC Showcase: Green Arrow, Merlyn tries to kill Green Arrow and Princess Perdita by shooting a flaming arrow into a fuel tanker which then explodes.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
- In the episode "Duel of the Droids", Rex takes out a group of battle droids by shooting a fuel cell hurled at the droids by Anakin.
- Obi-Wan and Cody use the same tactic against Grievous in "Bound for Rescue".
- In "The Mandalore Plot", Obi-Wan defends himself against Mandalorian insurgents by shooting one of their jetpacks, causing an explosion.
- In "Missing in Action", Gregor blows up some battle droids by shooting several containers of explosive Rhydonium fuel.
- Aversion: Interestingly, most dangerously pressurized material is kept in cylinders which tend to not only be easier to store, but also tend to burst with a vertically aligned rupture which produces little shrapnel. Spherical containers are more likely to explode. This is due to a principle known as hoop stress.
- The preferred way for many fire departments to deal with acetylene tanks (and some other compressed gas cylinders) in a fire is in fact to shoot them to keep them from exploding. Shooting them lets the gas out in a semi-controlled manner, and the released gas can be burned off instead of collecting and possibly causing an explosion. Furthermore, if the tank isn't already surrounded by fire, FD manuals state that you need to keep shooting at the gas cloud - with tracer rounds - after you've already put a hole in the tank to ignite the gas.
- Most definitely Truth in Television, if not for your average gun, nor your average fuel tank. Various military forces often utilize incendiary rounds for the purpose of setting fuel reserves alight, while various vehicles can be surprisingly easy to set aflame, either due to bad design, or a design necessity, such as the highly flammable fuel and lightweight materials used by jet aircraft. A hit to a fuel tank with an incendiary, or occasionally even a high explosive round tends to lead to quite the fireworks display—the heat of the blaze is often enough to set ammunition off as well, completely wrecking the aforementioned vehicle and usually killing everyone inside.
- The Soviet BMP-2 armored personnel carrier/infantry fighting vehicle was notorious for its poorly-protected fuel tanks mounted around and above the passenger hatch. Although rifle rounds wouldn't do it, and the fuel wouldn't necessarily explode per se, any hit from a heavy weapon to the rear of the vehicle could flood the passenger compartment with flammable liquid, barbecuing ten poor Slavic bastards inside with no way out.
- Jet fuel is way less flammable than regular piston-engine fuel. It's more akin to diesel than gasoline. The problem isn't that it explodes, but that once the tank is punctured and the fuel ignited, the plane is now hemorrhaging fuel, and quite likely the burning fuel is igniting other parts of the aircraft, such as the control systems, structural components, or the cockpit.
- Indeed, the plane with the worst reputation I know of for catching fire when hit was the Zero, Japan's famous WWII fighter. To save weight, the designers forwent the self-sealing fuel tanks that many other warplanes had, making it quite vulnerable to incendiary rounds.
- Early marks of Me-109 had a similar problem; the internal tanks were properly self-sealing, but the expendable drop-tanks were not. Most Luftwaffe pilots flat-out refused to fly with them attached, which often put them at a marked disadvantage when escorting bombers, as they'd often be perilously close to "bingo fuel"note by the time they reached targets in London and the Midlands.
- This was, in essence, the only reliable way to shoot down airships and balloons during World War One. Simply shooting them full of holes (hard enough given that many airships of the era could fly higher than airplanes) didn't really work because it was more akin to trying to sink a ship by punching a bunch of little holes in it. Instead, pilots had to use incendiary ammo, which still wasn't always effective at lighting off the hydrogen. And of course, trying the same trick on helium airships and balloons in World War II was even less effective since helium is inert and won't ignite.
- During the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian Second Pacific Squadron fell afoul of this due to two reasons: The Imperial Japanese Navy used a type of high explosive with incendiary traits in their shells, and the Russians, lacking friendly bases to resupply from on the way, had their decks piled up with extra coal that they had purchased from merchant ships during their voyage. In this case, it was less a problem of the fuel bunkers being hit, but that extra fuel stored outside the ship's armor protection was hit instead, setting everything else on fire. A similar problem was faced by German tanks in World War II, when Allied fighters would use Incendiary ammo to light off drums of extra fuel the tanks carried with them due to their horrible fuel mileage.
- Richard Marcinko maintains that it can be done, using special tracer ammunition, but in real life it's more effective if there is something in the vehicle that can spark and blow the fuel tank that way, much like the trick in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
- Of course the fuel tank doesn't have to explode to kill the occupants of a vehicle. A tank full of holes isn't a tank. A vehicle with no fuel is a dead vehicle. (Excluding heavy tanks which can be a bunker if it ever ran out of fuel.) An airplane with no fuel is, more often than not, a plane crash that just hasn't happened yet. If nothing else, losing a fuel tank can encourage an enemy to break engagement and get away while he still can.
- Subverted with the WWII British Matilda II tanks. Their external fuel tanks were arranged so they could get shot, blow up, and the tank could still keep fighting. This troper is sure many Nazi AT teams were very disappointed at this, considering how tough the Matilda II was.