COLOMBO – A hoax warning purportedly issued by the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) has been shared thousands of times on Facebook and WhatsApp in Sri Lanka. It advises against completely filling up fuel tanks in vehicles, falsely claiming that warm weather could cause them to explode. The IOC’s Sri Lanka subsidiary said it never issued the false warning and an automobile engineering lecturer told AFP the claim is “baseless”.
The image of the false notice was shared here on Facebook on April 19, 2023, where it has been shared more than 4,500 times.
The notice bears a logo similar to that of the IOC and is titled ‘Indian Oil issues warning’ (archived link).
The Sinhala-language text reads: “Do not fill your petrol tank to the maximum as the temperature these days is really high. This could result in an explosion in the fuel tank. Fill only half the tank and leave the other half for the gas to build up.
“This week alone, five explosions have been reported due to completely filling up the fuel tank. Also make sure you open the fuel tank daily and release the gas build up at least once a day.”
The purported warning circulated after Sri Lanka’s Meteorology Department issued heat warnings on April 13 and 17, which local media reported on here and here (archived links here, here and here).
The purported notice was also shared multiple times on Facebook, as seen here and here.
But it is a hoax that has circulated since at least 2015.
The IOC published this statement on Twitter denying the rumours on June 10, 2018 (archived link). The Times of India also debunked the false claim in April 2019 (archived link).
Lanka IOC (LIOC), the IOC’s Sri Lanka subsidiary, repeated that statement in a tweet published on April 19, 2023, as the hoax circulated among Sri Lankan social media users (archived link). The same statement was also published on the group’s Facebook page (archived link).
LIOC stated: “Automobile manufacturers design their vehicles considering all aspects of performance requirements, claims and ambient conditions with built-in safety factors. The maximum volume specified in the fuel tank for petrol/diesel vehicles is no exception.
“It is therefore perfectly safe to fill the fuel in vehicles up to the full limit (max.) as specified by the manufacturer irrespective of winter or summer.”
Tharindu Danushka Nandalal, an automobile engineering lecturer at the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka, told AFP that the claim in the notice is “baseless” (archived link).
“A full tank means there is not much space for oxygen, so there is less probability for combustion,” he said.
“Even if oxygen were present, without an external heat source the temperature will not be sufficient for an autoignition to create an explosion.”
Nandalal said the temperature required for autoignition of fuel is above 200 degrees Celsius and such high temperatures have not been recorded anywhere in the world.
“Warmer weather means higher temperatures and it could result in an expansion of the fuel due to vaporization. But, modern automobiles have sensors to detect this as pressure sensors are built within fuel tanks,” he added.
Asked about the alleged explosions cited in the false notice, a Sri Lankan police spokesperson told AFP no such issues had been reported in Sri Lanka.
“This is a bogus claim. No such vehicle explosions caused by full fuel tanks have occurred,” the officer said during a call on April 24.
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