Why Are There Remove-By Dates On Fuel Nozzles?

By Ed Kammerer | Sep 13, 2017

At one time or another, every parent has told an obstinate child who may be questioning the need to do something, “Just do it, it’s good for you!” Which brings us to the reason why remove-by dates are placed on the hanging hardware – fuel nozzles, swivels and breakaways – that are critical components in the fueling process at all retail and commercial fueling sites: it’s good for site operators, their customers and the environment.

Much like that stubborn child, many site operators will respond with a simple, but difficult, question: “Why?” The easy answer to that query is, “It will allow you to better manage the functionality of the equipment at your fueling site,” but, in reality, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The Testing Begins

It was back in 2004 that the manufacturers of fueling nozzles noticed that more and more of their customers were beginning to wonder what the optimum service life of a nozzle was. Or they had a simple question, “How long should my nozzles last?” So, driven by the demands and requests of these customers, the nozzle manufacturers, working in conjunction with various third-party testing organizations, put their heads together and created a testing regimen to try to determine just what the optimal life cycle of an in-the-field nozzle was.

The nozzle manufacturers relied on two specific sets of data when testing the life cycles of the nozzles and their inherent components, such as O-rings, gaskets, springs and diaphragms:

  • Internal
    • Determined a statistical sample size of products
    • Cycle-tested the products in a lab setting until failure
    • Compared this cycle life with real-world cycle rates
  • External
    • Determined a statistical sample size of products
    • Collected nozzles of different ages from service stations
    • Tested the products to determine their current functionality and length of variable service life

The manufacturers then compared the results of the two testing methods and their specific blocks of data and determined that the optimum life cycle for a fueling nozzle was approximately five years.

That’s when it got tricky.

You see, while you can say that a nozzle will work effectively for five years before failing, there’s no true way to know that it will – or won’t. This is because their operation is susceptible to numerous outside conditions, things like fuel formulations, customer use and abuse, weather conditions and the service station’s fuel throughput levels, among others. You can say that nothing lasts forever – think of things like vehicle brakes, light bulbs, faucets, door handles, etc. – but you can never say with any type of certainty when any of those products will fail. Also, other items like milk and eggs may have “best if used by” dates on them. There is no law or regulation that says you can’t use the product after that date, but we all know you would be wise to take the farmer’s advice and not pour that curdled milk onto your breakfast cereal. In other words, he put that date on there for a reason!

While it’s a fact of life that all fuel nozzles will eventually fail, there is no way to put an indicator light on them that will turn red to show that a failure date is approaching. Simply put, fuel nozzles work until they don’t work, and it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint when they will fail.

Further clouding the issue is that unlike a light bulb, which just burns out and has to be replaced, when a fuel nozzle stops working, there is a good chance a negative event will occur, such as a non-shutoff or leak. Keep in mind that nozzles are transferring a highly flammable liquid into a vehicle and that liquid must be reliably contained and monitored at all times. Also, while nozzles were initially targeted as the only pieces of equipment for the inclusion of remove-by dates, the practice has spread over the years to include swivels and breakaways because of their importance in the fueling process.

The ultimate concern is that nozzles, swivels and breakaways may not always “fail safe,” which means that a dangerous situation can be created for the fueling site’s employees and customers, as well as the environment, if a failure results in a hazardous fuel leak, fire or explosion. Therefore, the driving force behind the creation of remove-by dates for hanging hardware was to create a safeguard that would help enhance the safety of the fueling site. In sum, remove-by dates are a preemptive way to generally let site operators know when the component may not work as designed anymore, therefore alerting them that they need to be replaced before a negative event can occur.

Smart fuel-site operators will also come to the conclusion that the risk factor of using fueling components that may be approaching the end of their useful life does not warrant keeping them in operation. Also, the presence of a remove-by date is not intended to, and does not, increase or decrease the station owner’s liability. It is simply a mechanism to make the station owner aware that the product does have a useful service life and should be replaced when that service life is set to expire.

Addressing The Nay-Sayers

Still, some fuel-site operators – think again of that obstinate child – looked upon the creation of the remove-by date as a built-in way for component manufacturers to simply sell more of their products. This could not be further from the truth.

Also, since the inclusion of remove-by dates was not driven by regulations, some hanging-hardware manufacturers have chosen not to include them on their products and actually try to use the lack of a remove-by date as a competitive advantage over responsible manufacturers that include the date. The only thing they are doing in this case is putting the site operator who chooses to use a product with no remove-by date at greater risk of that negative event, which certainly does not sound like a competitive advantage at all. Fuel-site inspectors and regulators need to remember there is no requirement, law or regulation that forces operators to take the equipment out of service after the date.  This is simply a recommendation by the manufacture and the site operator should not be punished if he chooses to continue to use the product after the remove-by date has passed.

So, what is the response of remove-by date devotees to all of these admittedly significant questions and concerns? Simple, if you’re using a nozzle, swivel or breakaway without a remove-by date, how do you know you’re using a safe product?

In the end, those manufacturers who do include remove-by dates have a simple, convincing, even altruistic, response: It just makes sense. And for the wise site operator who chooses to use equipment with remove-by dates, it is a highly visible way to illustrate that this operator is very concerned with protecting the safety of his site personnel, the environment and, most important, his customers.

About the Author:

Ed Kammerer is the Director of Global Product Management for OPW, based in Cincinnati, OH, USA. He can be reached at ed.kammerer@opwglobal.com. OPW is leading the way in fueling solutions and innovations worldwide. OPW delivers product excellence and the most comprehensive line of fueling equipment and services to retail and commercial fueling operations around the globe.