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Can You Leave Your Car on While Pumping Gas?

A man pumps diesel fuel into his vehicle.

Can you leave your car on while pumping gas? There’s an urban legend that addresses this issue, but it doesn’t supply as clear-cut of an answer as you might expect. However, there are definitely some habits motorists should avoid altogether at a service station, including a few that can result in dangerous situations.

Let’s answer the question at hand and discuss a few other service station safety practices worth mentioning.

Service Station Habits of Motorists: What Were They Thinking?!

Pumping fuel. So, can you leave your car on while pumping gas? Technically the answer is you can. The reason is simple: Directing gas into a fuel tank while a car is running is harmless, provided that there isn’t a spark nearby. Indeed, watch a NASCAR or Formula 1 race, and that is exactly how pit crews refuel — with the race car running. On the other hand, there is one solid reason not to leave your car on: placards on the fuel pumps that direct you to turn off your vehicle while pumping. Consider it a liability issue that the service station prefers not to incur due to the remote possibility that static electricity might lead to an explosion.

Red can for gasoline.Stay put. Fuel pumps happen to be simple to operate. A locking mechanism holds the spigot open during fueling, supplying you with a hands-free experience until you need to disconnect. In theory, the pump should automatically turn off the moment it senses your tank is full, though this isn’t 100% foolproof. Therefore, avoid the temptation to walk away from the vehicle to visit the restroom, find coffee or do anything else. Keep an eye on the pumping process. Stay safe.

No smoking. Speaking of spark, it should be obvious that not smoking while pumping fuel is smart. Again, the placards will remind you of this, and in this case the chances of igniting fuel are great. One flick of cigarette ash too close to the gas tank could cause a conflagration.

Red fuel cans. Did you know that fuel containers are color-coded? Red is for gasoline, blue is for kerosene and yellow is for diesel fuel. Green cans are for holding oil. OSHA regulations mean color-coded containers (or identifying color-coded tags) need to be in place to make it easier to select the right can for holding fuel. What you should not do is choose other containers for storage. Plastic bags, barrels and other containers not designed to hold fuel should never be utilized, as doing so could lead to dangerous spills.

Children and pets. Vacation time is family time, and we often bring our children and pets with us when we go on vacation. Long trips require frequent stops at service stations for fuel and snacks, but youngsters and pets should never hang around outside a vehicle, especially during fueling. Knocking into an active nozzle and spraying fuel everywhere would have you reaching for the station’s panic button to shut off the fuel. Escort your children to the bathroom and your pet to a patch of grass for relief. When you’re done, all should return to the vehicle, buckle up, and resume the journey.

Stay Safe at the Pump

So while the answer to the question “can you leave your car on while pumping gas” is technically yes, the real world answer is a resounding no. When it is time to gas up, turn off the car and remove the keys from the ignition every time. Leave the service station fires to the Hollywood stunt folks, and always take every possible precaution to keep yourself and others safe when you’re fueling your vehicle.

Check out all the fuel and emission system parts available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on the question, “Can you leave your car on while pumping gas?” chat with an expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

Matthew C. Keegan View All

Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.

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