The Law of Conservation of Detail likes to have us ignore mundane activities that have no bearing on the plot. Things like refilling your car at a gas station during a Road Trip just aren't important enough to show every time. But sometimes, a writer takes the mundane activity and ratchets up the drama by turning it into an emergency.
This trope isn't as common with cars or spaceships as it is with airplanes. The problem with many aircraft is that you can't just pull over at the nearest gas station, fill'er up, check the oil, and clean the windshield. You either have the mundane solution of landing it, or the emergency solution of refueling in the air.
In cases where a vehicle has to be stopped (or landed), this trope can be used to form a Closed Circle, as the characters cannot leave until they get the vehicle refueled. Maybe the people in that castle over there will have some gas....
- In the 1960s, Prince Planet had Bobby, who could transform into the titular PP. As part of the outfit, PP wears a P shaped medallion, which drains from black to white. Once an Episode he's almost out of power and has to be recharged by his home planet (English: Radion, Japanese: Crifton). A custodian is in charge of transmitting the power, but they're frequently distracted from the duty, resulting in the recharge arriving at the last possible second.
- Air Force One has a tanker sent out to the title aircraft to try and save the people on board from the terrorists (as the plane is running low on fuel). What the terrorist don't know is the President had sent the order via fax machine to use the tanker to get both planes down to a safe altitude where the hostages can parachute out. Things get hairy when a terrorist inadvertently causes the title plane to lurch up, damage the KC-10s refueling boom, which leads to a fire, which causes the KC-10 to explode.
- In Armageddon, not long after the two shuttle ships leave Earth's orbit, they are refuel at the semi-abandoned Mir space station. Currently manned by one man named Lev, who has gone a little space-crazy. Refueling goes okay until they suspected a leak in the space station; they're too late to prevent it, although they managed to escape in time before the space station explodes.
- In Around the World in 80 Days (both the David Niven/Cantinflas version and the Steve Goohan/Jackie Chan version) when the ship they are on runs out of coal, Phineas Fogg buys the ship and immediately orders it to be torn apart and the wood to be used to fuel the furnace. In the remake, though, it turns out that this still won't be enough to get to London on time, forcing Fogg to improvise an airplane out of the ship's furniture to accomplish it.
- Back to the Future Part III requires the characters to figure out an alternate means of propulsion when Marty gets the gas line cut in the DeLorean on arrival to the Old West.
- In Die Hard 2 the bad guys have taken over an airport and make the planes circle instead of letting them land. One plane runs very low on fuel; the bad guys pretend to let them land, but actually the landing lights are set in such a way as to make it crash.
- In Galaxy Quest the Beryllium Sphere gets broken, and the crew has to go down to a planet to find a new Beryllium Sphere. Just one problem, the planet is populated with cute looking but carnivorous creatures.
- The Marx Brothers's film, Go West, puts the gang on a Runaway Train. They run out of coal, and Harpo chops up the coal car in order to use the wood it's made from as fuel for the boiler.
- Night of the Living Dead (1990): Tom Savini's remake has a group of people trapped in The Siege with the zombies outside, who have a car that could help them escape. Unfortunately the car has no fuel and the gas pump on the outside of the house is locked with key, so a significant side-plot is the frantic search for the keys to the pump's lock all over the house. Once a set of keys that may be the pump's have been found, the survivors implement a plan to refuel the car. Except the driver discovers the keys are NOT for the pump.
- In The Perfect Storm, the rescue helicopter searching for the Andrea Gail is forced to ditch when the weather prevents them from being able to refuel.
- Pitch Black. A large part of the movie involves the protagonists trying to refuel a spaceship so they can escape the planet they're stranded on and avoid being eaten by its deadly wildlife.
- Screamers: The Hunting. The plot involves a rescue team looking for survivors from the first movie before the planet is destroyed by a Colony Drop in six days. Unfortunately a Screamer gets on board their spaceship and drains the power cells, so they have to find new power cells before any of them can get off the planet.
- Spaceballs: Played for Laughs; "I told you we should've put more than five bucks in" - right before they make a crash landing on a desert planet.
- SpaceCamp: The class gets launched into space accidentally. The ship has enough fuel to safely return to Earth, but not enough oxygen. NASA tells them to go to the space station to pick up more. Predictably, things go wrong.
- When the bus in Speed gets its fuel tank busted, the protagonists must figure out a way to get everyone off the bus before its speed gets below 50 mph due to loss of fuel. Why? Because the antagonist rigged the bus to explode if it didn't go fast enough.
- Stargate Continuum has the heroes refueling their plane before trying to head to the other Stargate in an attempt to Set Right What Once Went Wrong. However, shortly after they refuel, the tanker gets taken out by an Orbital Bombardment. Later, Mitchel has a few choice words about one tanker they had to stop and refuel from...
Mitchel: That last KC-135 pilot was a bit stingy. Fuel's gonna be close.
- In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, after the crew use the Klingon Bird of Prey to travel back in time, the dilithium crystals in the BoP start disintegrating due to the amount of effort required to travel back in time. This leads to a subplot where Uhura and Chekhov have to find a nuclear vessel, collect high energy photons from a nuclear fission reaction and use those to recrystalise the dilithium crystals.
- Stealth features an odd tanker craft which is basically a giant automated dirigible note that orbits an area, and refuels any craft that can reach it. After EDI goes nuts and requires fuel to continue on its rogue mission, the Navy tries to scramble its codes so that EDI will have no choice but to return to the carrier and refuel. EDI would have none of this, shoots the drogue off, and refuels anyway. When Gannon attempts to refuel his aircraft, he arrives to see a cloud of fuel, and while he refuels, EDI gives Gannon a "Reason You Suck" Speech, ignites the cloud of fuel, and leaves. Gannon barely manages to get away before the Camel Hump explodes in an fire ball large enough to be seen from space.
- In Ciaphas Cain, Cain's Ragtag Bunch of Misfits have rigged a supply depot to explode so the orks can't use it, when a straggler tank that's low on ammo shows up. Against Cain's judgement, the tank crew restock as much as they can and bail before the pursuing orks can catch up, and then the depot explodes.
- In the Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters, the completion of a very big magical spell involves a witch flying around the borders of the country of Lancre in a single night to delineate the area (the whole country) in which the spell will take effect. The problem is, there is no way a single broomstick can carry enough magic to do such a long flight in one go. After some creative thought, Granny Weatherwax stations the two other Witches of her depleted coven at strategic points. She links up with both, and they transfer the magic from their broomsticks to hers - effectively, as the book notes, the first ever attempt at in-flight refuelling of a broomstick.
- Seen twice in the Dale Brown novel Flight Of The Old Dog - first when the titular plane's crew has to convince a suspicious base commander to send a tanker for them, later when they are forced to land at an enemy fighter base to refuel.
- Star Trek: The Original Series:
- "Mudd's Women": Rescuing Harry Mudd's ship destroys three of the Enterprise's four dilithium crystals and damages the fourth, so they have to travel to a lithium mining operation on Rigel 12 to get more.
- "Elaan of Troyius": A traitor destroys the Enterprise's dilithium crystal converter assembly, rendering the ship without warp power or weapons. Scotty manages to use some dilithium crystals Elaan wears as a necklace to replace the lost crystals.
- Top Gear (UK): When testing electric cars, the drivers are desperately trying to find a place to plug in their cars before the batteries die. They eventually find a place to charge, with one car only having a single mile worth of charge left. Nissan claimed this was staged by intentionally driving the cars in circles to drain the battery to create drama.
- The X-Files: Mulder is held hostage by a man with a Brown Note in his head that will cause it to burst if he doesn't drive at a certain speed in the same direction. They run into a problem when Mulder has to stop the car for refueling.
- Late-game missions in Operation: Thunder must be completed before fuel runs out; the player can refuel by striking a playfield target and performing a mid-air refueling.
- In a mission of Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, the Warwolf squadron lands at a Russian base to refuel, only to find it under attack by the insurgents - so they have to refuel under fire before taking off again and handing the enemy's asses back to them.
- Duke Nukem Forever interrupts the plot several times while Duke is driving his Bigfoot to the alien-occupied Hoover Dam. He runs out of gas regularly and has to make at least three detours on foot to procure more of it and move the plot along.
- In the very old Apple computer Jump Jet game, your jet had to rendezvous with a tanker flying overhead in order to refuel. If you couldn't do it right, your plane crashed and you lost a life.
- In one of the maps of Left 4 Dead 2, the survivors have to navigate a zombie infested mall to find enough tanks of fuel to fill a car on display, and make their escape.
- In the House of Mouse version of Around the World in 80 Days, Scrooge McDuck robs Mickey of the coal for the boat to sabotage his chances of making it to England by the 80-day deadline, so he and his friends try to fuel the boat with the wooden furniture on the boat. They end up dismantling the ship so that it sinks.
- In Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves, Popeye tries to ride a camel to catch the thieves, who have kidnapped Olive and Wimpy. The camel proves to be too slow, as it's got "four flats", so Popeye stops at a gas station to fuel it.
Popeye: Boy, you take up a lot of gas for only a two-cylinder.
- Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "One of Our Planets Is Missing": As the Enterprise goes through the living space cloud it must expend an enormous amount of energy to power the shields. It eventually runs out of antimatter fuel and has to get more by removing part of the creature's alveoli, which are made of antimatter.
- The first episode of Hanna-Barbera's SWAT Kats has the Pastmaster teleport the Turbokat (fighter jet) into the age of dinosaurs, where T-Bone and Razor soon exhaust their fuel supply. They resort to venting "volcano gas" into the Turbokat to refuel it, which works.