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You might not be familiar with the name, but I promise you you’re familiar with what a fuel cap is. Unless you live in a place where you’re not allowed to pump your own gas, I'm pretty sure you know all about your fuel cap. Your car’s fuel cap is simply the cap on the fuel tank. You unscrew it when you need to put gas in your car, and you screw it back on when you’re done. And then you never think about it again, until your car is running on empty, and it’s time to refuel again. The fuel cap may be incredibly simple, but it’s also quite important. It acts as a lid for your fuel tank, which is important for a few reasons. The cap keeps gasoline from sloshing out of the tank and escaping. Just as importantly, it keeps debris - from big things like leaves and rocks, to small things like dirt and dust - from getting into the fuel tank and contaminating the gasoline. The fuel cap is also a key part of your car’s emissions system, because it traps in the harmful gasoline vapors, and allows the car to reuse them, rather than release them to the atmosphere. Over time, the fuel cap can wear and tear. You take it off and put it on a lot, and that can wear out the seal. That may not seem like a big deal, but the tiniest imperfection in the cap can keep it from acting as a seal, and suddenly vapors can escape the fuel tank. Or, of course, you could damage your fuel cap by dropping it or getting in an accident, or you could do that thing where you take it off and forget to put it back on.
If the fuel cap is at all compromised, it won’t be able to trap all of the vapors in the fuel tank. That will disrupt the car’s evaporative emissions system, which may illuminate the check engine light on your dashboard. Of all the things that can cause your check engine light to come on, this is probably one of the most simple thing. Check to see if it your fuel cap is screwed on tightly. If the light persists, then you might just need a new fuel cap.
Many modern cars have a fuel cap warning light, to alert you when the fuel cap isn’t fastened. Now, if the light is on, chances are you just forgot to put the fuel cap on. But if you did put on the fuel cap, and the light is still on, it’s probably because the cap has lost some threading and isn’t properly secured. That means it’s time for a new one.
Similarly, you may notice the fuel cap failing to fasten correctly. When you go to put your fuel cap back on, it may never feel tight, and it might not make the clicking noise that tells you it’s fastened and secured. If that happens, don’t just ignore it and forget about it. Do something about it.
Look, some people are weird and like the smell of raw fuel. They really enjoy gassing up their car for that reason. No judgement here if that's you. But it shouldn’t happen when the car is driving. If you smell raw gasoline from inside your car, then you may have a fuel cap issue, and it should be addressed.
Your car is still plenty safe to drive with a broken fuel cap, but you’re not doing your car or the environment any favors. So, get it handled. It’s easy. It’s cheap. It’s simple. Just do it.
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