Testing Magic Tank, the emergency fuel for when you run out of gas
By Ezra Dyer – June 16, 2014 10:00 AM
I’ve only run out of gas once in my life. And at that point I was pulling off the highway to get gas, with an indicated 30 miles or so of range remaining on an old Cadillac’s digital fuel display. It turned out that the Caddy’s fuel gauge was off by about, oh, that much. We pushed the car to the gas station rather than do the red-can walk of shame, but that experience was traumatic enough that I’ve never come close to repeating it since. I’m a quarter-tank minimum kind of guy.
However, lots of people run out of gas every day. Whether victims of faulty gauges or poor planning, you see these sorry figures trudging along the highway in search of a gallon or two to limp them along to the next station. It’s a bummer at best, potentially dangerous at worst. Electric car drivers aren’t the only ones who can experience range anxiety.
Enter Magic Tank, a half-gallon bottle of which costs $29.90, with shipping (at the moment, it’s only available online). The idea is that you keep a jug of this mysterious liquid in your trunk in case you run out of gas, upon which point you pour it in your tank and hopefully find your way to some real pumps. The company calls the stuff a “patented non-flammable gasoline derivative” and claims that it’ll extinguish a burning match. I didn’t test that. And, caveat: the flash point is 105 degrees, so above that temperature it will burn (although it needs an ignition source, hence the “non-flammable” rating.) That relatively high flash point is why you can’t let your car cool off before you pour in the Magic Tank — you need a warm motor for the Magic Tank to perform its alchemy.
Basically, it sounds like this elixir mixes with whatever gas is left in your tank and fuel lines to form something that your motor can work with. So I decided to give it a try. For the first time in years, I ran out of gas.
I ran this experiment with a Ford Fiesta 1.0 Ecoboost, a car that stubbornly resists running dry. With its punchy little turbo three-cylinder, the Fiesta gets 45 mpg highway, so it takes a few long trips before the fuel warning light appears. But eventually, the range display reads zero. Thirteen miles later, the Fiesta sputters to a halt. Time to find out whether this stuff actually works.
The first challenge, I find, is Ford’s capless filler neck, which has a spring-loaded detent at the top. Magic Tank comes with a little cardboard funnel, but it’s not rigid enough to pry open the filler detent, an issue I discover after I see my precious Magic Tank dripping onto the rear tire via the overflow vent. I go to the spare tire compartment to see if there’s a tire iron I can use to prop open the detent, and there I discover a short plastic funnel that Ford’s included for occasions such as this. I guess I could’ve read the owner’s manual.
Funnel installed, I pour in the whole jug of Magic Tank, which is foul-smelling stuff. It’s got the whiff of turpentine or some kind of solvent. Maybe it’s not flammable, but it’s sure not apple juice. Wasting no time, I climb into the driver’s seat and turn the key. After a momentary burp, the Fiesta fires right up and settles into its customary off-kilter three-cylinder idle.
And then I drive to a gas station and fill up. Drama over. From the driver’s seat, the car doesn’t behave any different than it does on gasoline. So if you’re the type who runs on empty, it might be worth picking up a jug of this stuff to keep on hand just in case you push your luck a little too far. Or, you know, you could just stop for gas before you need to work any magic.