Can You Pump Gas With the Car On?

There are warning signs on gas pumps to turn off your car, stay near the pump, and make sure nothing bad happens while you’re pumping gas. However, is it true? Why is it all so serious? Can you pump gas with the car on or not?

Can You Pump Gas With the Car Still On?

Physically, you can pump gas with the car on. The gasoline will leave the pump and go into the car. However, because of the small chance of fire or explosion, you should never pump gas with the car on.

The risks are small, but the side effects could be huge. While you probably won’t be the person whose car catches on fire and explodes, do you want to take that risk? I’d be willing to bet that the answer is no. Here are some of the risks of pumping gas with the car on, as well as how to pump gas safely. 

What Could Happen If You Pump Gas With the Car On?

There are several risks associated with pumping gas into a running car. Some of these include static electricity, spillage, and the most dangerous: fire. A gas station fire is no joke: videos and pictures reveal the entire station burned down and cars and buildings ruined. Stay safe while you pump gas.

Risk of Fire

The most significant risk when pumping gas with the car on is fire. This is because the combustion of the engine relies on gas. If a spark of electricity hit the gasoline while en route to the tank, the engine, car, and gas station could all catch fire.

Before you swear off pumping gas forever, know that this is a very low risk. However, the results are devastating enough that it’s worth protecting from. Fire and gasoline mix a little too well for human safety, and the presence of a running car engine will only make the problem that much more combustible.

Static Electricity

Gasoline is extremely flammable, meaning that even static electricity can lead to a flash fire. Of course, a flash fire can be put out easily, but if your car is running or there’s more gasoline present, you could be in serious trouble.

Static electricity is generated by almost anything. Getting in and out of your car will generate some static electricity, although the odds of it hitting the gasoline are very low. This is why you shouldn’t leave the pump until it’s done fueling. However, leaving your car on will greatly increase the chances of static electricity around the pump and your risk of fire.

Spillage on Yourself

It may not seem like a big deal, but spilling gasoline on yourself will put you at risk. Gasoline is not good for your skin (we already know it doesn’t smell good), but also can catch a spark and catch fire. You don’t want your clothes or skin catching fire while you’re pumping gas, or ever for that matter.

Spilling on Your Car

Even if the car’s in park, leaving the engine on puts it at a greater risk of settling while you’re pumping gas. Sudden movements, no matter how small, could cause spillage if you’re in the process of putting the gas nozzle in. Nozzles are equipped with splash guards, but there’s no way to eliminate all risks. Getting gas on the outside of your car can increase the risk of fire or, at the very least, cause damage to your paint.

How Dangerous Is It to Pump Gas With the Car On?

When you pump gas or do anything with a car, you take some risk. The odds of your getting hurt while pumping gas are extremely low, but you would be gravely injured. It’s not about the level of risk but the consequences of being on the wrong side of that percentage.

How Many Cars Have Exploded While Pumping Gas?

There’s no precise way of telling how many cars have exploded while pumping gas, the odds of fire are relatively small. In four years, local fire departments reported over 4,100 gas station fires. Some of these were caused by other events, but 56% happened because of unsafe pumping habits.

While this number isn’t exact, and it’s impossible to tell how many fires involved cars exploding, it’s a large enough number to make you think. Even if the odds are small, it only takes a moment to turn off your car and reduce that risk to zero.

Is Pumping Gas With the Car on Illegal?

Another reason to turn your car off: it’s not legal to leave it on. In the United States, it’s illegal to leave your car on while you pump gas. It’s not always enforced (after all, it can be hard to tell), but it is against the law. You are putting yourself and others at risk when you leave your car running while pumping.

How to Safely Pump Gas Step by Step

To pump gas as safely as possible, follow these steps:

  1. Put your car in park at a safe but reachable distance from the pump.
  2. Turn off your vehicle and any auxiliary energy sources, such as phone chargers or plugins.
  3. Get out of your car and close the door. Don’t open the car door again until you are finished.
  4. Follow the instructions to choose your gasoline, remove the nozzle, and place it in your car’s gas hole.
  5. Do not smoke, use your phone, or leave your vehicle unattended. Leave children in the vehicle at all times.
  6. When gas automatically shuts off, don’t top off or overfill your car. Put the nozzle back.
  7. Screw your gas cap back on, make sure there is no gasoline on your clothes or skin, and get back in the car.
  8. Turn on the vehicle and drive away safely.

What to Do if Gas Pump Catches Fire

Despite all our best efforts, we can’t always beat the odds. However, you can take safety steps if the worst does happen. If you are pumping gas and a fire starts, back away from the source of the fire without touching anything and tell the gas station attendant immediately. Leave your car unless there are children in it, and get them out first.

Avatar photo

Author: Dave Johnston

Dave is a hands-on automotive technician with experience in performing service, diagnostics, and repairs on domestic and imported vehicles. He enjoys writing and sharing his knowledge far and wide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *