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Is It Illegal to Pump Gas With Your Car Running?

We live in a fast-paced world, and many people want to do everything they can to save time. Unfortunately, there are some situations where it’s unsafe or even illegal to take shortcuts. Some drivers attempt to save a few seconds by leaving their vehicle running while filling their fuel tank. But can you pump gas with the car on? Is it safe or legal to do so?

Today, we’re investigating the safety and legalities of keeping your car running while pumping gas.

Let’s get started!

VERIFY: Can leaving car running while pumping gas start a fire?

Is Pumping Gas Dangerous?

Pumping gas has the potential to be hazardous. Dangers typically arise as gasoline is a highly flammable substance. However, as long as you follow the proper precautions, it’s generally safe. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to ignite gasoline vapors. Something as simple as static electricity or heat can ignite gasoline vapors. Under certain conditions, gasoline can ignite in the blink of an eye and create a hazardous situation.

Another hazard with pumping gasoline is the health hazard associated with the vapors. Gasoline contains a variety of chemicals, including benzene, toluene, and xylene, which are all toxic and can cause a range of health problems. Exposure to gasoline vapors can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, and can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and confusion. Prolonged exposure to gasoline vapors can lead to more serious health effects, including damage to the liver, kidneys, and nervous system, as well as an increased risk of cancer.

Leaving your car on while pumping gas is dangerous, but is it legal? Section three of Title 49 Transportation Subpart F section 392.50 of the Code of Federal Regulations reads, “No driver or any employee of a motor carrier shall: Fuel a commercial motor vehicle with the engine running, except when it is necessary to run the engine to fuel the commercial motor vehicle.”

Now this is specific to OSHA requirements of the commercial operation of vehicles, and we could find no federal level of ruling on personal vehicle fueling. However, every state we researched has a code against it. For example California 3319 and Washington Tile 46. Most have potential fines and even prison time associated with enforcement.

However, have you ever seen or heard of law enforcement citing someone for this? Neither have we. While this is a risky and illegal activity, it’s typically not something you see or hear about law enforcement regularly enforcing.

Full-service gas station
Pumping gas with your car on can be dangerous.

Should You Pump Gas With Your Car On?

It’s best to turn off your vehicle for safety and legal reasons. While the odds of a dangerous situation occurring due to your car running are low, they’re not zero. Why take a completely unnecessary risk that could have such severe consequences?

However, there are some instances where you would want or need to leave your vehicle running. For example, in some locations that experience extreme heat or cold, leaving your car running allows the driver to maintain a comfortable temperature inside their vehicle. This is crucial for when they return to the car and their passengers after pumping gas.

Additionally, it’s also crucial to consider any mechanical concerns with the engine, battery, or other components. Turning off the vehicle may leave it unable to start after filling the tank. This can be common in older or poorly-maintained vehicles.

While there are a handful of instances where a driver may have no choice but to leave their vehicle on, it shouldn’t become the norm. If you’re experiencing issues with your car that requires you not to shut it off, you’ll want to take it to the shop as soon as possible.

filling car gas tank
Power down your car before you start to pump gas.

Just How Flammable Is Gasoline?

Gasoline is a highly flammable liquid due to its chemical composition and properties. Its flashpoint is typically somewhere between -40°F to -45°F. This means it can quickly vaporize and ignite, even in extremely low temperatures.

If that’s not enough, gasoline has an extensive flammable range. The flammable range is the range where concentrations of a gas or vapor can burn or explode. It is between 1.4% and 7.6% by volume, which makes it highly susceptible to ignition over a broad rate of concentrations. It doesn’t take tremendous amounts of air vapors for the gas to ignite.

Because gasoline can ignite so quickly, you must handle it carefully. Sparks, open flames, and static electricity can quickly become ignition sources. You should always follow proper safety precautions when handling it.

Is Diesel Safer Than Gas?

When comparing diesel and gasoline, most people consider diesel the safest option. Gasoline’s flash point is between -40°F to -45°F. However, diesel’s flashpoint is substantially higher, between 125°F to 180°F. For diesel to ignite, it must first heat to a much higher temperature before it can vaporize and become an ignitable mixture.

Additionally, diesel has a much lower flammable range. Its range is between 0.6% and 7.5% by volume. Compared to gasoline, it’s much less likely to ignite when mixed with air. The risks of it spontaneously igniting are extremely low.

For diesel to ignite, it typically requires higher temperatures, compression, or direct flame. While you might lose your eyebrows if you toss a lit match on a puddle of gasoline, doing the same with diesel will extinguish the match. However, take our word for it and don’t try it yourself.

Pro Tip: Time to top up your tank? Find out Should You Put Ethanol Free Gas in Your Tank?

Woman pumping gas
Always touch your car before you start pumping gas to discharge static.

Tips for Pumping Gas Safely

When pumping gas, there are several things you can do to keep yourself, your car, and others at the station safe. Here are some tips you should follow when filling up your gas tank. 

Turn Off Your Engine

You should always turn off your engine unless you have a valid reason. We’ve driven vehicles for years and have yet to experience a situation where we had to leave our car on while filling our fuel tank. If you’re afraid to turn off your vehicle because it might not start after filling your tank, your next stop should be at a mechanic’s shop.

Some people leave their vehicles running at the pump to save time. But how much time are you saving by eliminating the step of turning the key or pushing the button to start your vehicle? Two seconds? If this is your excuse, turn off your engine and maximize safety. If you’re worried about being late, leave a few seconds earlier next time.

Don’t Smoke While Fueling

Smoking is a risky habit that’s bad for your overall health, especially your lungs. However, it’s also a dangerous behavior to do while you’re fueling. If gasoline vapors can ignite with as little as static electricity or heat, a cigarette is more than enough to create a dangerous situation.

You should never have a lit cigarette anywhere near the gas pumps. The risks are too high, and you could quickly cause a dire situation. Most gas stations have strict rules about smoking when pumping gas at your car and will confront anyone they see violating them.

Discharge Static

Friction between two surfaces can generate static electricity. We’ve likely all experienced touching something and getting a shocking surprise. It could be an explosive surprise if you’re reaching to touch a gas pump nozzle.

If you want to reduce the chances of experiencing a dangerous situation from undischarged static, you should touch the outside of your vehicle before pumping. Additionally, avoid getting in and out of your car while pumping to prevent building up static.

Always Touch Your Car Before Pumping Gas

Use Gloves

Wearing gloves while refueling can be beneficial. Some drivers wear gloves when refueling to help protect their skin from gasoline vapors. These vapors can cause skin irritation and dryness. Additionally, your hands will be safe should there be any splashes or spills while filling your tank.

Wearing gloves also reduces the chances of static discharge while refueling. While these risks are relatively low, you further reduce the risk by wearing gloves with anti-static materials. Additionally, wearing gloves helps you to maintain good hygiene and avoid potential exposure to bacteria and viruses from others using the pump.

Don’t Leave the Pump Unattended

You should never walk away from the pump while filling your tank. While many devices have automatic shut-off features, they may not always work. This can result in overfilling, which could cause gasoline to spill out of your vehicle. Not only can this cause a severe fire hazard, but it also is terrible for the environment and a waste of resources.

There are some areas where it is against the law or violates fire codes to leave a gas pump alone while refueling. If you’re pumping gas in one of these locations and law enforcement catches you leaving your car, you could find yourself in a serious legal battle.

Avoid Using Your Phone

We strongly suggest that you avoid using your phone while pumping gas. The risks of your mobile phone creating a spark are relatively low. However, the most significant concern regarding phones while fueling is the distraction they cause. You may lose time scrolling through your social media feed or watching an adorable cat video on YouTube and forget about your gas pump.

If something goes wrong while pumping, you want to respond quickly. Shutting off the pump immediately could reduce the risk of danger in many situations. So keep your phone in the car while pumping your fuel.

Pro Tip: If you spill some gasoline while refilling your tank, these are the 5 Best Ways to Get Rid of Gasoline Smell Fast.

Gas pumps
Avoid smoking and using your phone while pumping gas.

Can You Pump Gas While The Gas Truck Is There?

Yes, you can pump gas while the gas truck is there. However, the better question is, “Should you pump gas while the gas truck is there?” There’s a debate among car enthusiasts that it’s not safe to pump gas when the gas truck is delivering fuel. The idea is that they can stir up sediment and other gunk sitting in the tank. It can then get into your fuel tank and cause issues.

However, many in the debate also state it’s completely fine. They claim that gasoline has undergone several filtration processes, and modern vehicles have sophisticated filtration systems enabling them to filter out potentially harmful sediments.

We play it safe and decide not to fill up when we see the gas truck at the fuel station. We’ll drive to an alternate fueling station to fill up our tank. However, who knows whether a tanker truck just left before we arrived? Thankfully, we haven’t had any issues yet.

You must be safe and adhere to legal guidelines while pumping gas. This helps you, and others stay safe while at the fuel station. Don’t take an unnecessary risk by smoking, not discharging static, or leaving your car running before pumping gas. Know the rules and regulations for where you live, especially if you live in a state that prohibits customers from pumping gas themselves.

Are you familiar with your state’s policies for pumping gas? Tell us in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Silas Longshot

Sunday 7th of May 2023

Not wise to leave the vehicle running OR leave the keys in the ignition because of 'jump in' carjacking. Or if you have one of the fancy new 'keyless' ignition that just needs pushing the button, you should use your key fob to lock the doors of your car while fueling. Those types are by far the most popular for carjacking. Don't use your phone while fueling because you need to be aware of your surroundings at gas stations, a favorite spot for robberies and assaults in 'da hood' type suburbia and big cities.