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Gasoline Lasts Forever

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This is a fuel tank, judging by the look of it, but any liquid left inside would surely have been rendered useless by now.
Description of a tank in Oerba, Final Fantasy XIII
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In Real Life, gasoline is a very refined and volatile product. Creating usable gasoline (or any other petroleum-based fuel) requires extracting petroleum from the ground, and separating the various elements of it by carbon chain in an oil refinery. Gasoline is meant to be used soon after production, and has a usable shelf life of about 3-5 months. With fuel stabilizer, you can get a few more months out of it, but no matter what you add or how you store it, storing it for more than a year is out of the question. After that, it starts to break down and vaporize. The non-volatile component left behind is a useless gunk—usually called "varnish" in the trade, though it’s not exactly the best thing to waterproof your wooden table—that has to be cleaned out of the engine. But in today's modern world of nigh-ubiquitous motor vehicles, this is rarely a real problem.

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In fiction, on the other hand, gasoline is just an eternally lasting fuel liquid that can sit anywhere for any period of time, and be as usable as the day it was refined. This is common in post-apocalyptic fiction, where everyone is driving around in cars and scrounging for precious drops of gas long after any refineries would stop producing. If such a post-apocalyptic world did occur in reality, we would be able to drive around for a few months, but afterwards, every gas-powered vehicle on the planet would be 100% useless.

This is basically a Sub-Trope of Ragnarök Proofing, in that something leftover from the old society still works despite it being impossible. Sometimes this is handwaved through Applied Phlebotinum, but often it just assumes that audiences think gasoline is eternal... probably because audiences learned it from them.

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This trope doesn't only happen in post-apocalyptic fiction either. Sometimes people find a vehicle that goes for years or even decades unused, and they turn the key and it immediately turns on and works perfectly. Ignoring the fact that OTHER parts of the vehicle would need restoration, the gasoline still in the tank would be completely unusable and that transport is going nowhere.

Often overlaps with No Bikes in the Apocalypse, which is about a different piece of transportation technology not being used even though it can be.

Subtrope of Artistic License – Chemistry and Artistic License – Cars.

See also Bottomless Fuel Tanks, where vehicles in Video Games run on unlimited fuel.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Dimension W takes place in a future where free energy has been realized so there's not an energy crisis, but protagonist Mabuchi Kyoma refuses to use the coils that contemporary energy is grounded in for his own reasons. Part of his Establishing Character Moment is to take a job on the promise that he would be paid in half in cash and half in gasoline, the latter for his car, practically the only one of its kind left.

    Comic Books 
  • Uncle Scrooge: In "Chugwagon Derby" by Carl Barks, Scrooge reveals that as young man he bought a horseless carriage when they were first becoming available. However, after discovering that he could walk faster than the car could drive, he hid it away in a barn; afraid that people would laugh at him for his foolishness. However, after Donald shows him how you can make money in vintage car contests, he goes and hauls it out from under the pile of old harness where it is hiding. He comments that it runs on a mixture of kerosene and whale oil and, to his delight, he discovers there is still $1's worth in the tank. The fires the car up and it starts immediately. As the story was first published in 1961, the car and fuel would have had to have been sitting there for about 60 years.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Averted in Back to the Future Part III. After restoring the DeLorean which was buried in 1885, the 1955 Doc tells Marty "I put gas in the tank", implying that the car had its fluids drained before being buried. And this becomes a plot point when Marty travels to 1885 and accidentally tears the fuel line, forcing them to think about another way to have the DeLorean reach 88 mph.
  • Battlefield Earth: Jet fighters still work after a millennium without service, including apparently the fuel. Being less volatile than gasoline, jet fuel really does have a much longer shelf-life than gasoline, but even that's only a few decades.
  • The Book of Eli. It's been thirty years since a nuclear war that wiped out civilization, yet vehicles are still running on gasoline from before the apocalypse.
  • Five Graves to Cairo is set in 1942. Rommel tells Bramble that the Germans hid supplies in Egypt way back in 1937 while pretending to mount an archaeological expedition. The food and spare parts might still be good, but five years is way too long to store gasoline even under the best conditions. Gasoline will break down in two years, tops.
  • 48 Hrs. is another non-apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic example. While Jack and Reggie watch from a distance, Luther comes back to the Parking Garage where Reggie's car has been for the past two and a half years to collect it. The attendant sort of lampshades this trope when, after Luther asks how the oil and battery in the car are, he sarcastically responds that they take care of that every year.note  Not only does the car function, Luther is able to start it right up.
  • I Am Legend: Neville, the last human in the abandoned New York City, fuels his car by manually pumping out gasoline from abandoned gas stations. Like everything else in the city, these gas stations have been untouched for three years, with their last recorded price being 6 dollars a gallon!
  • Averted in The Interview. The climax of the film involves the heroes breaking out in Kim Jong-un's old T-54 Soviet tank, which is shown in an earlier scene to be recently fueled because Jong-un takes it out for joyrides. (Like most Soviet or Russian tanks since the T-34, the T-54 has a diesel engine, but diesel's shelf life isn't much longer than that of gasoline.)
  • Into the Forest has a downplayed example. There's never any concern about whether the sisters' gasoline will go bad, though this may simply be due to their ignorance. After at least a few months, it still powers the generator perfectly fine. After at least 15 months of storage, the gas is still volatile enough to be set ablaze with a spark, which might be possible.
  • I, Robot: Detective Spooner keeps a 2004 MV Agusta F4-SPR 750 crotch rocket in a storage unit, which he and Dr. Calvin use to get around during the robot uprising (his unmarked car was totaled earlier in the film). He's established as a Fan of the Past and has apparently kept it maintained, but where he gets the fuel from is a question mark: Dr. Calvin is fearful of the bike since it's gas-fueled — she notes gasoline's tendency to explode — strongly implying that it's no longer commonly available in the film's 2035.
  • Jurassic World: When Zach and Gray find the remains of the original Jurassic Park they also find the jeeps in the garage. The fuel inside is still usable despite it sitting there for over 20 years.
  • The Last Chase centers around a retired race car driver in a world where the oil wells dried up twenty years previously building a sports car in his garage and driving it the length of the continental US. That's a three thousand mile trip, requiring at least a hundred gallons of gas (likely a lot more given that he's driving a sports car rather than something fuel efficient), and nowhere does the film explain how he managed to find that much usable gas more than a decade after all the gas stations were shut down. Even if he could pump the dregs from abandoned stations, it wouldn't be of good quality, and the Porsche he was driving requires high octane fuel.
  • Mad Max: Averted. Despite being the codifier for post-apocalyptic car battles, it's shown this is only possible because gasoline is still being actively produced somewhere. Much of the conflict in the movies revolves around different factions fighting to maintain control of the few remaining oil sources.
    • Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior revolves around a conflict over an oil refinery between a tribe of people bound for Queensland and a wasteland gang led by Lord Humongous. It also opens on Max himself fighting gangsters on the highway and siphoning the gas out of their wrecked cars after he wins.
    • In Mad Max: Fury Road, cars are able to run because there's a still-operational oil refinery held by one of the villains, the other two owning a lead mine (for bullets) and an aquifer (to grow food).
  • Another World War II thriller, Northern Pursuit, has German commandos infiltrating Canada in 1943 so they can assemble a plane hidden in the far north before the war. Naturally, the plane starts up and flies.
  • Sleeper: Miles and Luna find a Volkswagen Beetle that has been in storage for 200 years. It starts right up and they drive it for a considerable distance with no problems.
  • In Star Trek Beyond, Kirk finds a fictional Hilts PX70 dirt bike in the cargo bay of the crashed USS Franklin, and soon rides it to the rescue of his crew. The motorcycle is at least a hundred years old.
  • Waterworld has interesting take on this trope, as the vehicles run on oil, not gasoline. Crude oil does have a longer shelf life, about ten years, but no vehicle in the world would use something so unevenly mixed as fuel (and a post-apocalyptic society couldn't build something that could). The setting is also implied to be hundreds of years, long past when those extra ten years would matter.

    Literature 
  • Death Lands hand waves (partially) with the fact that one of the pieces of Lost Technology that is lying around is a mixture of gasoline that is superior to regular petrol, taking much longer to burn (a regular tankful goes around five times longer) and has a different chemical mixture (which probably includes some kind of preservation agent). However 1) the series happens a hundred-plus years After the End (which should make even the best petrol preservative be on its last legs realistically) and 2) oftentimes the cars or generators that appear use scavenged fuel from regular pumps.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Early during the second season of Lost, a few of the survivors find an old Volkswagen van that crashed and was abandoned deep in the island's jungle and is as decrepit as you would expect it to be. A whole episode is spent trying to make it roll (and it eventually does, even becoming a Chekhov's Gun for the season finale) but the main concern of the characters seems to be the battery, not the fact that it's been lying in a jungle for so many years (roughly since The '70s, when Benjanin Linus made it crash by killing his abusive father) that the gas must have long since gone bad. Probably another of the mysteries of the Island — just like the beer that was inside the van for the same amount of time yet is still fit to drink.
  • The Last Man on Earth takes place two years after a virus wipes out most life on Earth, yet the main characters are shown driving cars constantly. There is at least one mention of how long gasoline can last, but it never becomes a serious problem.
  • The Last Train has a group of people who were cryogenically frozen during the Apocalypse wake up after forty years has passed, then go out and find a Mercedes Sprinter Van which starts and runs just fine pretty much on first turn of the key.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Rip Van Winkle Caper". Four men enter suspended animation in a cave after a gold robbery and sleep for 100 years. When they wake up, their car starts up and can be driven with no problem.note 
  • Confirmed, then averted in The Walking Dead. The first couple of years, they have no problems, with almost any car they come across starting right up. After a time jump to about ten years after the apocalypse, they're back to horses.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Explicitly handwaved in Apocalypse World, whose rulebook mentions towards the end that Real Life gasoline would evaporate within months of the apocalypse, but the author still wanted to include Cool Cars and Cool Bikes in his game.
  • Averted in Deadlands: Hell on Earth. There are a few survivor settlements located at the few oil fields not hit during the war. These settlements produce crude oil and refine gasoline and diesel that they export across the Wasted West. This makes them major powers, and their convoys are often targets for the warlords and bandits that haunt the highways.
  • Aftermath!, Scenario Pack 1: Into the Ruins. One vehicle used by some Non Player Characters is a jeep that runs on gasoline. The problem: the nuclear war and biological holocaust that destroyed civilization occurred twenty five years before the scenario begins, so any gasoline they find should be useless.

    Video Games 
  • Fallout 4 has cans of gasoline still usable as crafting materials for the "oil" category going on two centuries After the End. This is in spite of the Fallout setting being Post-Peak Oil and suffering a major energy crisis by the time of the Great War (and the fact that "oil" seems to be a lubricant rather than a fuel in many applications, when gasoline doesn't make much of a lubricant).
  • In The Last of Us, Bill gives Joel some siphoning equipment to get gasoline out of cars for his truck he just gave him. Since the game takes place 20 years after the end of civilization, these cars should be too old to have any usable gasoline.
  • In The Walking Dead in Episode 5 of Season 2, Kenny suggests to Clementine and Molly to siphon gas from the abandoned vehicles even though they should be unusable. Episode 1 of Season 3 has Javier's party scavenging cars for gas years after that.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "The Principal and the Pauper", Armin Tamzarian (the former Principal Skinner) goes to the storage locker where he keeps all his stuff from his rebel days. His old motorcycle is in there, and despite being untouched for well over 40 years, it still works perfectly and gets Skinner to Capitol City.
  • In Regular Show episode "The Night Owl", a vintage muscle car is put up as the prize in a Radio Contest. Two thousand years later, it starts up without a hitch when the gang need to use it to escape from the authorities.

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