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Can You Pump Gas While Your Vehicle Is On?

Can you pump gas with your vehicle running? There’s an urban legend about this floating around. However, the answer remained unclear. With so much at stake, many questions need answers.

Additionally, there are some habits motorists should avoid at the service station, including a few that can result in dangerous situations.

We’re answering these questions and examining several other gas station safety practices.

Let’s jump in!

Our first question is, why would people do something that seems both dangerous and counterintuitive? 

Well, it depends on the context. For example, people in Saudi Arabia always refuel with the engine running, even though it’s illegal. They do this to run the air conditioner in the unbearable heat. 

The United States has a Code of Federal Regulations regarding fuel handling and storage. You can find details of these rules under Title 29, section 1917.156, on the government’s eCFR website. 

Section three of this code states that engines shall be stopped during refueling operations. The UK and most other countries worldwide have similar laws.

So while you CAN fill up with the engine running, it’s against the law.

How Else Can Gas Catch Fire at a Fuel Station?

More than 5000 gas station fires are reported in the US each year. Injury, death, and property damage are real dangers we all want to avoid.

For gas or pump to ignite, you need three essential elements. Gasoline is the first thing. Next, you’ll need air. Then, finally, a source of heat or spark of ignition. 

This can happen at a gas station in many ways, so let’s take a quick look at a few.

FYI: This RV caused a gas station fire by making a simple mistake.


Most gas stations have signs to warn that smoking is explicitly forbidden while refilling. Though many smokers obey this rule, some carelessly discard cigarette butts at the station. Even if it‘s extinguished, the slightest ember could cause combustion.

Smoking on a windy day can cause hot ash particles to end up close to the fuel tank. Additionally, one flick of cigarette ash too close to the gas tank could cause a conflagration.

Federal law also states that smoking and open flames are not allowed in areas used for fueling, fuel storage, or enclosed storage of equipment containing fuel.

So please, just don’t smoke at or near the gas pump.

Cell Phones

There have been warnings against using cell phones at gas stations because of the potential for static electricity to start a fire. You’ll even see signs on the pumps now. 

Yes, static electricity is one of the leading causes of fires at gas stations. It’s a fact.

However, research shows that cell phones alone won’t trigger sparks. They may create situations where a static discharge can occur, though. How?

Using cell phones at gas stations can give way to activities that can statically charge customers as they refuel their gas tanks. For example, sitting in your car to use the phone can build up static from the fabric seats or carpet. Pacing on the cement in rubber-soled shoes can create a charge.

To prevent a static spark, simply touch something made of metal, such as the car door itself. Don’t use the pump for this!

What To Do If Someone Leaves Their Car On While Pumping Gas

While minding your own business is typically best in most situations, our safety trumps those good manners. If you see someone fueling with the engine running or smoking near the pump, consider taking some or all of these steps.

You could try talking to the person – calmly. But confronting them could lead to arguments and violence. Judge the situation before taking this step.

If talking doesn’t work or you feel it’s not the way to go, report it to the cashier or attendant. If they don’t respond, leave and don’t return to that station. Notify the nearest fire department if you can. 

If the station takes your complaint seriously, patronize that business. 

Either way, you could also write reviews on sites such as Google, Trip Advisor, or various gas apps. 

Some states, such as Oregon, have attendants at the pumps. The presence of these workers can discourage people from these activities.

Finally, we can only hope auto manufacturers will someday make a gas cap that locks when the engine is on as standard equipment. 

Is Pumping Gas While Your Vehicle is Running Worth It?

So, what‘s the answer to whether or not you should pump gas into a car with the engine running?

Even though most new cars have built-in safety features to address this issue, there’s a real danger due to static electricity and gas vapors. Of course, pumping gas with the car running is just one of many things you should avoid doing at a gas station. Let’s re-cap.

Avoid using cell phones or re-entering a vehicle while fueling at a gas station. Don’t smoke or top off your tank. If the tank overfills during refueling, immediately press the emergency shut-off button on the gas pump.

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