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In fiction, shooting a fuel tank makes it explode. This makes for an effective tactic in battle.

This myth was busted by Myth Busters as they proved that in most cases it simply will not work. A real life fuel tank explosion was only possible when they used a minigun armed with incendiary rounds which, suffice to say, is generally illegal. Besides, if you have a minigun then you're not likely going to need to shoot the fuel tank anyway.

This is about deliberately shooting a fuel tank. For vehicles that explode on any kind of incidental impact, see Every Car Is a Pinto.

Examples of Shoot the Fuel Tank include:


Comic Books

  • Quite possibly justified in' 'X-Men. To quote Cyclops:

 "Blowing up a car is a lot harder than it looks in the movies. Puncturing both sides of a fuel tank to draw in the proper amount of oxygen is a million-to-one shot. Thankfully, I'm a pretty good shot."

  • Sin City had a scene in which the Old Town girls opened fire on a cop car with machine guns. Eventually, it blew up, implying this trope.
  • Garth Ennis' rebooted Punisher series had Frank blowing up a car with nothing more than a few handgun bullets. At least they paid lip service to the reality by having him almost empty his clip with direct hits to the tank while his internal monologue hoped for one to spark.

Film

  • This is how James Bond makes his escape in the opening sequence of Casino Royale, he shoots a propane tank with a handgun.
    • He also does this at the end of Quantum of Solace with a hydrogen tank.
      • To be fair, the building was already on fire.
  • Jaws did it with a compressed air tank.
  • Played straight (and in slow motion) by Morpheus during the freeway chase of The Matrix Reloaded.
    • Strange, when you consider this is averted in the first movie, though that was with a helicopter and not a car. The only effect shooting the fuel tank had was an empty tank a few moments later.
    • Hell it was averted a few minutes earlier when Morpheus' Cadillac was shot about 1500 times from all directions during the car chase, which must have hit the fuel tank at least once, and nothing happens to it.
  • Silent Night Deadly Night 2's "Bingo!" scene (which immediately follows the infamous "GARBAGE DAY!").
  • The Bourne Identity: Bourne shoots a propane tank with a shotgun to distract the enemy/provide some smoke cover.
  • Done in Mission Impossible. To a moving vehicle, from a moving motorcycle.
  • Subverted in Last Action Hero. When Jack Slater enters the real world, he chases Benedict until Benedict hops into a taxi. When Slater shoots at the cab, he is surprised to find that it does not explode.
  • Averted in Speed, when the cop trying to defuse the bomb by suspending himself near the undercarriage of the speeding bus accidently stabs the fuel tank with a screwdriver...which only causes the bus to leak fuel.
  • Fully justified however in Lone Wolf McQuade, as the opening scene has Chuck Norris loading his sniper rifle from an ammunition case of 7.62mm Armor-Piercing Incendiary rounds.
  • Kyle Reece crouches down and fires his shotgun at the gas tank underneath a car in a vain effort to slow down The Terminator.
    • A gas tank does explode after a crash in Terminator 2, but that's only because a live wire sparked next to the leaking fuel.
  • In Iron Eagle, Doug Masters blows up an oil refinery as part of his scheme to force the bad guys to release his father. Cluster munitions will make fuel tanks burn quite nicely.
  • Done in Inception, in the infamous "Dream a little bigger" scene. Of course, it was justified in that it was in a dream (oh yeah and that could've been an explosive Eames shot but who really cares).
  • Might have happened in American Psycho; even Patrick seems bewildered at the explosion.
  • At the very beginning of Cars 2, Finn McMissile launches a bomb at several oil barrels while escaping the Lemons' oil rig in order to stave off his archnemeses, the Lemons.

Literature

  • In the Corean Chronicles story Alector's Choice, Mykel detonates a barrel of oil being dropped on a battering ram with a bullet. Subverted in that he had to use magic powers to actually make the barrel explode. His superior (Who didn't know about the magic) later told him that he was extremely lucky: The odds of actually starting a fire with a bullet are low to the point of virtual impossibility.

Live Action TV

  • Happens in almost every episode of Alarm Fuer Cobra 11.
  • Myth Busters busted it until they tried special rounds, and a lot of them.
    • They still didn't get an explosion, just a fire.
    • They also tested the 'explode a gas cylinder with a bullet' variant, and failed completely. They had to detonate explosives under the cylinder to make the gas catch fire.
  • Lost: in "The Variable," Jack fires at a gas tank to escape Dharma security.
    • Averted in season 4, though. The helicopter survives a massive firefight with several leaking holes in the gas tank, but never explodes.
  • Done in Torchwood: Children of Earth, when the bad guys are pursuing, Gwen uses this tactic to buy themselves some time. It works.
  • Subverted in Burn Notice. Turns out that shooting a car's gas tank mostly just results in an empty gas tank. Shooting a gas tank with plastic bags full of acetone peroxide taped to it, on the other hand....
    • In another episode, shooting a propane tank merely results in a cloud of cold gas, unless there happens to be an open flame nearby...
  • In one episode of Hogan's Heroes Carter attempted to shoot a German fuel truck with a flaming arrow as it passed by the camp. He shot the arrow into the wall beside the window instead. Newkirk took the bow from him and did it properly.
  • Averted in It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia when Mac and Charlie attempt to fake their deaths to avoid Charlie's father. They decide to stage a car crash, and destroy the car so that the Police will think their bodies were incinerated in the explosion. First they attempt to blow it up with an Mk 2 Hand Grenade, however the frag grenade fails to do any major damage. Next they attempt to blow it up by shooting it with a pistol, which doesn't have any effect at all.
  • This was the fate of one of Vecchio's Buick Rivieras in Due South.
  • Averted in Breaking Bad when one of The Cousins shoots a parked truck's fuel tank - and it just results in gas spilling from the tank. After a while, however, he tosses a lit cigarette into some nearby dry grass, and after the brush catches fire...

Real Life

  • Aversion: Interestingly, most dangerously pressurized material is kept in cylinders which tend to not only be easier to store, but also tend to burst with a vertically aligned rupture which produces little shrapnel. Spherical containers are more likely to explode. This is due to a principle known as hoop stress.
  • The preferred way for many fire departments to deal with acetylene tanks (and some other compressed gas cylinders) in a fire is in fact to shoot them to keep them from exploding. Shooting them lets the gas out in a semi-controlled manner, and the released gas can be burned off instead of collecting and possibly causing an explosion. Furthermore, if the tank isn't already surrounded by fire, FD manuals state that you need to keep shooting at the gas cloud - with tracer rounds - after you've already put a hole in the tank to ignite the gas.
  • Most definitely Truth in Television, if not for your average gun, nor your average fuel tank. Various military forces often utilize incendiary rounds for the purpose of setting fuel reserves alight, while various vehicles can be surprisingly easy to set aflame, either due to bad design, or a design necessity, such as the highly flammable fuel used by jet aircraft. A hit to a fuel tank with an incendiary, or occasionally even a high explosive round tends to lead to quite the fireworks display--the heat of the blaze is often enough to send ammunition off as well, completely wrecking aforementioned vehicle and usually killing everyone inside.
    • Jet fuel is way less flammable than regular piston-engine fuel. It's more akin to diesel than gasoline.
      • Indeed, the plane with the worst reputation I know of for catching fire when hit was the Zero, Japan's famous WWII fighter. To save weight, the designers forwent the self-sealing fuel tanks that many other warplanes had, making it quite vulnerable to incendiary rounds.
      • Early marks of Me-109 had a similar problem; the internal tanks were properly self-sealing, but the expendable drop-tanks were not. Most Luftwaffe pilots flat-out refused to fly with them attached, which often put them at a marked disadvantage when escorting bombers, as they'd often be perilously close to "bingo fuel"[1] by the time they reached targets in London and the Midlands.
  • Richard Marcinko maintains that it can be done, using special tracer ammunition, but in real life it's more effective if there is something in the vehicle that can spark and blow the fuel tank that way, much like the trick in Terminator 2.
  • Of course the fuel tank doesn't have to explode to kill the occupants of a vehicle. A tank full of holes isn't a tank. A vehicle with no fuel is a dead vehicle. (Excluding heavy tanks which can be a bunker if it ever ran out of fuel.)

Video Games

  • Done toward the start of Final Fantasy X but with a sword.
  • The first Gears of War game has the player shoot propane tanks to light paths to get around the Kryll. The second one has the first battle against Locust take place near a pile of these, shooting these will usually clear the area of any enemy (and you are far enough away from them when this battle happens, anyway...)
  • Grand Theft Auto San Andreas allows you to instantly detonate a car if you aim for the gas cap. Even if you can clearly see the rest of the tank, as on lorries, only the cap will set it off.
  • In Halo 2, shooting a Ghost's gas tank will cause it to explode.
    • Of course, a Ghost's "gas" is pressurized hot plasma.
  • The first Half Life game had a warhead that could be shot to explode and get a Nonstandard Game Over, and at least Half Life 2 and the episodes have Exploding Barrels.
  • Left 4 Dead has fuel canisters and propane tanks that can be set down and shot to create a wall/sea of flames to kill the infected with.
  • In the train level in Star Fox 64, shooting a fuel car will detonate all adjacent train cars.
  • The Boiler of a Steampunk tank in Valkyria Chronicles does this.
  • True Crime has an unlockable feature that allows you to lock on to gas tanks in Bullet Time for easier destruction.
  • Fuel tanks are high-scoring targets in the two River Raid games, and they explode when you shoot them (but won't destroy any nearby enemies).
  • One of the more notorious elements of Modern Warfare and its sequel, albeit it will take several rounds.
  • Seen in the latest Borderlands DLC, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx. Badass Lance Troopers carry fuel tanks on their backs, which explode if you deal enough damage. Also seen in the original game, where Jakobs fuel storage tanks will explode if shot up enough. Strangely enough, you can't do this to the cars.
  • The Red Alert series of Command and Conquer has missions which feature explosive fuel barrels that are often conveniently placed next to key targets.
    • And the second game of the Tiberian series does this with less-explosive ammo crates.
  • Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has a few sequences where Nathan shoots propane tanks in order to cause explosions. One instance where he's hurling them at the enemy and shooting them in the air was a big pain for Nolan North who was performing the motion capture and voice acting at the same time. He had to repeatedly hurl an empty propane tank, which isn't exactly light weight, across the studio to act out the sequence.
  • In Mafia II, shooting the fuel caps causes cars to explode reliably after 2 shots with any weapon. Shooting right next to the fuel cap, or into the fuel tank from any other angle has no effect.
  • Shooting another tank's fuel tank in World of Tanks won't make it explode, unless your gun was actually enough to kill it, but if the enemy doesn' die from it, it will immobilize it until its crew can fix it.
    • This often has he side effect of setting the tank on fire which, with the current patch, will randomly damage modules, injure crew members and possibly cook the ammo For Massive Damage.
  • A viable tactic in both Mass Effect games. In the first, there are little plasma, ion, and cryo tanks all over a ton of different battlefields, and an occasional big one with fuel in it. While facing Blood Pack Pyros in the second game, shoot the (rather obvious) tank with a lower damage weapon and will light then explode. Shoot it with a high powered weapon such as the Widow sniper rifle or zap them with an Overload or Incinerate tech attack and it explodes immediately.

Western Animation

Notes

  1. the point where they must turn back or risk running out of fuel short of their home field
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