Can a Motorcycle Gas Tank Explode?

We’ve all seen the movies. A car or motorcycle explodes and dramatically goes up in flames, causing the driver to have a near-death experience that he narrowly escapes from. Or perhaps the screenwriter has used a motorcycle explosion to kill off a baddy.

If you own a motorcycle, you’ll likely be wondering whether its gas tank can explode or whether the movies all use special effects to make them more dramatic and exciting. I did some digging, and here’s what I’ve found.

It is rare for a motorcycle gas tank to explode. Under very specific conditions, like smoking, soldering with an open flame or welding near a gas tank that has a leak, a gas tank may explode. A motorcycle gas tank may also explode in rare cases if shot at with the correct type of bullet.

An explosion can also be caused by smoking near your motorbike while filling up at a gas station. If a motorcycle gas tank catches fire or disintegrates into pieces, this can cause damage to your bike and also death or injury to the rider and other road users or pedestrians that are nearby.

This article will look in more detail at the reasons why motorcycle gas tanks may explode in rare cases as well as the chance of it happening to you. We’ll also tell you what to do to reduce the chances of your gas tank exploding.

Can a Motorcycle Gas Tank Explode?

A motorcycle gas tank can technically explode, as it does in the movies while the rider is sitting on the bike, but it is probably unlikely to happen. When an explosion occurs, it’s unlikely to be as dramatic as in the movies as a lot of special effects are usually used.

However, a gas tank can explode and may be caused by a variety of circumstances. If you crash your bike while traveling at high speeds, sparks generated by the friction of the metal of the frame may ignite leaking fuel vapor squirting out a punctured gas tank. The vapor in the tank could cause an explosion if you smoke or do your own fabrication using a naked flame near your motorcycle’s gas tank.

Your motorbikes gas tank could potentially explode while parked at a gas station while you’re filling up, only if you are smoking. Smoking could cause a spark that may lead to an explosion if it comes into contact with vapor from the gas tank. Due to health and safety legislation, this is unlikely to happen because most gas stations have banned drivers from smoking. However, if you took fuel home with you to fill up your bike or were working on your bike and smoking, this could create an explosion.

Another situation that may cause your motorcycle gas tank to explode would be if you were to shoot at it, or if someone shot at you as you rode past. This is probably unlikely to happen unless you are involved in some kind of criminal activity. Just shooting at a motorcycle gas tank wouldn’t necessarily be enough to make your bike explode.

A particular bullet would need to be used that had an igniter, which is like a tracer round. The bullet would also have to penetrate the fuel tank allowing air to mix with the fuel vapor. It would then have to create a big enough spark to ignite the tank. As a motorcycle gas tank is made from metal, this is unlikely to happen. Shooting at a motorcycle to create an explosion is another situation exaggerated by the movie industry.

Risk of Exploding Under Normal Conditions for the Average Rider

You may have heard that motorcycle gas tanks are prone to spontaneously exploding when full if it’s a scorching day. These types of warnings have been spread across the internet in many countries across the globe. While there is an element of truth in these stories, people are also exaggerating how often this happens and how likely this is to occur.

A gas tank or any type of container will eventually explode if you pump enough gas into it while it’s under pressure. In these situations, you may have heard a gas tank being compared to a balloon. When you overinflate a balloon, it’s likely to pop.

With gas in a motorbikes fuel tank, there is a danger of an explosion taking place because your tank can store gallons of highly flammable and, in the right conditions, explosive material. If it’s a warm sunny day, the pressure and temperature inside your gas tank will increase.

Leaving your motorcycle in the hot sun for hours wouldn’t be enough to make it explode as for this to happen, you’d need to have enough pressure building up to blow a hole in your gas tank, which would create fumes. You’d then either need there to be a spark, for example, from a cigarette or from using a blow torch near your gas tank.

In some cases, if the gas in your tank was heated to a high enough temperature, it may cause your tank to ignite, resulting in a spontaneous explosion without a spark. If a hot enough temperature was reached, this would be very dangerous and could injure or even kill people nearby.

Luckily this is highly unlikely to occur as your motorcycle would never get hot enough by being left in the sun. Motorcycle gas tanks have pressure release features that stop pressure build-up and reduce the likelihood of air mixing with the gas.

There isn’t an increased risk of an explosion on a hot day. The risk of an explosion happening will be the same, whatever the weather. If your motorcycle gas tank has a leak and a spark is created, it will cause an explosion.

When you’re filling up with fuel on a hot day, there’s no problem in completely filling your tank. Having a half-full tank, won’t stop explosions from occurring or make them less likely. This is because any fuel vapor is combustible, regardless the temperature.

If you go camping with your motorcycle, never stop it too close to the camp fire. A leak in the gas line may cause highly flammable duel vapor to escape. A flying spark is all it needs to ruin your camping trip.

Risk of Exploding for the DIY Home Mechanic

A gas tank may also explode if you were doing some DIY fiddling on your motorcycle that requires you to be using an open flame. For example, if you were using a blow torch for soldering, or you are welding or grinding the bike frame, a flying spark could be enough to set the tank on fire.

Gas in the tank releases vapor which is highly flammable, and very easy to ignite with a naked flame. It’s this gas vapor from your motorcycle tank that can be a silent killer. I’ve seen many home mechanics smoking while working on their bikes and I always keep my distance. If you have to take a smoke break, admire your handy work from a safe distance.

How to Prevent the Gas Tank From Exploding

When working on your bike, especially if you’re carrying out major repairs like grinding and welding the frame, or using an open flame to solder the wiring, make sure that you remove the gas tank, carburetor and fuel lines from your motorcycle. If you need to weld the fuel tank itself, you will have to fill it with water.

NOTE: Never ever ever weld an empty gas tank, ever!

francois – afraid of potential energy

Motorcycle gas tanks have been built to be durable and to reduce the risk of explosion. They are made with thick metal and are unlikely to combust spontaneously. There would need to be a spark that lights the gas vapor while being mixed with air for an explosion to happen.

There’s, therefore, no point worrying unnecessarily that your motorcycle gas tank is likely to explode. Just be aware of the dangers and don’t smoke near your bike, particularly when filling up at a gas station or working on the bike at home.

Final thoughts

You should always be safety conscious when working on your motorcycle. Always follow safety procedures and wear protective clothing such as goggles and a mask. You should never smoke near your bike, particularly if you’re working with fuel and naked flames or adjusting the gas tank.

Following these tips will help keep you safe and reduce the likelihood of injury or even death in the event of an explosion.

During hot days you can fill your gas tank up as you usually would despite what you may have heard. Having a full tank or leaving your bike in the sun won’t cause an explosion on its own unless a spark was created.

While an exploding motorcycle gas tank is relatively uncommon, they do sometimes occur. And if they do, it is always unexpectedly.

Francois Steyn

I've been riding motorcycles since I was in school and have traveled thousands of miles on various bikes through more than 10 countries. For more info, check out my about page:

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