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No, putting sugar into the gas tank does not ruin a car’s engine

During the days-long shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, some people vented their frustration by suggesting people fill gas tanks with sugar.
Credit: Kate - stock.adobe.com

The days-long shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline led to panic-buying, leaving some gas stations without fuel on the East Coast. While some people stocked up, others voiced their frustrations about the impact taking home extra gasoline could have during the shortage.

Some people vented on Twitter, saying they hoped people who were stocking up would have their gas tank filled with sugar, with the idea that doing so would ruin the car.

THE QUESTION

Does putting sugar into the gas tank ruin a car’s engine?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, putting sugar into the gas tank does not ruin a car’s engine. But it may still cause damage to other parts of the vehicle.

WHAT WE FOUND

The idea that a car engine could be ruined by someone putting sugar into the vehicle’s gas tank has been around for decades. References are made to it in the 1996 movie Kingpin, as well as in songs by country singer Chris Stapleton and punk band Less Than Jake.

YourMechanic, which connects people to mechanics who provide mobile repair, maintenance and inspection, describes it as a “tall tale” and a post on a Salem, Oregon, Subaru’s dealership calls the idea an “urban legend.”

“As the legend goes, the sugar will dissolve in the gas tank,” the post says. “Then, when the gas is brought up into the engine, the dissolved sugar will caramelize. This then coats the engine's components, completely ruining it.”

But that’s not what happens. The Subaru dealership says sugar does not dissolve in gasoline as theorized. Instead, the sugar remains in its granular state and settles to the bottom of the tank.

YourMechanic says other parts of the car would catch any of the sugar that makes its way out of the gas tank.

“Plus, when you factor in the multiple filters running along today’s modern fuel system, by the time the gasoline did reach the fuel injectors, it would be incredibly clean and free of any sugar,” YourMechanic says.

While it won’t ruin the engine, some maintenance may be necessary if someone puts sugar into a gas tank. The Subaru dealership said depending on the amount of sugar, the fuel injectors or fuel filter could clog up. As a result, the fuel filter may need to be replaced or the gas tank may need to be emptied.

“This means that it's a nasty trick that will end up costing you money, but nowhere near the amount of complete engine destruction,” the dealership’s post says.

More from VERIFY: Yes, gas stations were running low on gas, but panic buying made the problem worse

VERIFY
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