Table of Contents
Can you leave your car on while pumping gas?
While it is possible to leave your car on while pumping gas, doing so involves a risk of an electrical spark that could cause a rapidly building fire. Let’s talk about some risks:
Your vehicle could create a spark at an inopportune moment, like while you are pumping gas, and it could land in the flowing fuel or even in the gas tank. While this is rather unlikely to happen, the results can be disastrous because the gasoline will ignite almost immediately and cause a fire and an explosion.
Static electricity is the same effect that causes your hair to raise after hearing a hat or rubbing a balloon around your head on a dry day. Touching someone else afterward makes them feel a bit of a zap. Now imagine doing this to a highly flammable liquid. The results aren’t good.
To be fair, you are unlikely to create much status electricity just by standing outside of your car. The real danger comes from returning to your vehicle while you are pumping gas. Static electricity can build up in your clothes, especially if your vehicle has cloth upholstery. Many gas stations warn you at the gas pump that you shouldn’t re-enter your vehicle and exit again while the pump is running because simply coming in contact with gasoline - even by accident, has the potential to cause a spark and a fire.
The problem is in the fumes
You are rather unlikely to touch gasoline while pumping gas. The entire pump system is designed to be plugged in all the way which avoids your hands from coming in contact with the actual liquid. The fumes, however, tend to stay in the air for a second or two and are what could ignite while you are pumping gas. Believe me, we’ve seen a video or two where an explosion comes from gas vapors igniting. It’s not a pretty sight, and it happens extremely fast.
Why can’t I use my cell phone while pumping gas?
Using a cell phone while pumping gas is another situation where it may be both illegal and just unwise to use a cell phone while pumping gas. A cell phone has the potential to create a spark, even a small one, that accidentally ignites fumes. While the chances of your cell phone creating a spark or interfering with the flow of gas in any way are not high at all - the results are still bad enough that it’s not worth the risk.
Other safety precautions: your check engine light
If you do attempt to fill up your vehicle with the engine running, you have a higher chance of having the check engine light turn on. To make a bit of a technical story short, having your vehicle on when you fuel up also leaves many of the sensors within the vehicle on. One of these sensors is actively seeking fuel vapors that are in the air. Fuel vapors could be readily detected when inserting and removing the fuel pump from your gas tank.
Turning your vehicle off before beginning to bump significantly reduces the chances of your vehicle detecting gas fumes that are no longer there.
Isn’t there a safety switch if something goes wrong?
A gas station will have more than a few ways to turn off all the fuel pumps automatically if a spark causes a fire to start. But there is a bit of a challenge: The switches are not automatic. A gas station employee generally has to push a button that turns the gas pumps off, and gasoline fires start and spread rather quickly. There are also external buttons near the pumps to turn them off, but if you or your vehicle are on fire, you and even fellow customers are unlikely to locate and use the switches fast enough.
In short, don’t create a scenario in which the gas station and gas station employees have to react.
What other things should I do at the pump?
Turning your vehicle off at the pump is one of several things you can do to ensure pump safety. Let’s talk about some others too:
Smoking a cigarette or even using a cigarette lighter is very dangerous while pumping gas.
Unplug phone chargers
While we don’t even tend to do this ourselves, it’s not a bad idea to unplug your phone charger and anything else in your cigarette lighters while pumping gas. This lowers your chance of creating a spark.
Why would I leave my car on while pumping gas?
People try to be sneaky about leaving their vehicle on - and do things that I have tried once or twice too. In a cold climate, people tend to schedule their gas station visits around when the weather will be the warmest - though I’ll leave what I consider cold up to your imagination. A person with a big vehicle might not want to turn their vehicle off so that they can jump right into an already warmed-up car when they are done. These same people also get irritated when the gas pump asks them if they want a car wash when the temperature is minus 30 in February.
While the chance of igniting gasoline vapors is pretty low, having the engine running increases your chances for big problems.
What are the laws about pumping gas?
You might like to know about at least a couple of laws. First, turning your engine off while pumping gas is indeed the law. You must remain in close attendance to your vehicle, which means that you shouldn’t wander around or come inside the gas station and leave your car unattended while pumping gas. In both scenarios, a gas station employee can shut off your pump from the store.
About The Author
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding