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Does Cold Weather Increase Odds of Gas Pump Explosions?

On July 5, 2005, Derrick Walker was pumping gas into his Ferrari when fire completely enveloped the area. On April 27, 2020, an explosion at Earling Standard gas station sent two people to the hospital. In December 2021, a Florida woman’s gas pump caught fire and pinned her.

These tragedies don’t happen every day, but when they do, they bring to light the severe danger of interacting with gasoline.

We need gasoline in our daily lives. Until every vehicle is electric, Americans will fill up at the fuel stations. But every time we pull up to the pump, there are risks.

Let’s take a look at why we must be extremely cautious during cold weather, as gas pump explosions can increase during this time of year.

What Causes Gas Pumps to Explode?

When you arrive at the gas pump, you open and shut the car door, open the fuel tank cover, touch the buttons on the screen, and grab the pump handle before the gasoline starts flowing. With all of these “touches,” you’ve lost any static electricity that may have been around in the car.

However, the problem is when you decide to get back into your car. Then you regenerate static electricity as your clothes rub against the upholstery. This time, you don’t touch as many things before grabbing the gas pump handle. As a result, any static electricity transfers to the nozzle, which can cause a fire.

Does Cold Weather Increase Odds of Gas Pump Explosions? 

Because the air is drier in the winter, there is a higher risk of gas pump explosions. This dry air leads to more static electricity.

In addition, warmer clothing has fibers prone to static build-up when they come into contact with interior vehicle upholstery.

So if you get back inside your vehicle while pumping gas, your nice winter sweater generates static electricity with the seat fabric.

Most gas pumps compensate for cooler temperatures, but the decrease in temperature does increase the possibility for an explosion.

Do Gas Pumps Compensate for Temperature?

Manufacturers build Automatic Temperature Compensation (ATC) into some fuel pumps and dispensers. This system improves a gas station’s ability to track inventory and detect leaks. ATC pumps recalculate the dispensing volume to the accepted standard temperature of 15°C.

This means gas stations don’t lose out on fuel or profit by contracting or expanding fuel in very hot or frigid temperatures. However, not all gas pumps have ATC technology.

Is It Bad to Keep a Car Running When Pumping Gas?

You should never keep the car running when pumping gas. It doesn’t matter if you have a baby sleeping or other passengers in the car who want heat on a cold January morning. It’s simply not safe to refuel with the engine running. It only takes a few minutes to get fuel.

Give them a blanket and turn off the engine. Don’t risk igniting an explosion because your grandmother’s toes might get cold.

Pro Tip: Avoid an explosion, find out what could happen if you pump your gas with your vehicle on.

Always turn off your engine when refilling your gas tank.

Safety Tips at the Gas Pump

Although these safety tips might seem logical and apparent, some people ignore them. Don’t be one of those people. Adhere to the warning signs at gas stations and keep you and everyone else at the pumps safe.

Turn Off Your Vehicle

Always turn off your vehicle at the gas pump. Leaving the engine running increases the chance gas vapors may ignite with static electricity. In addition, most modern cars operate electronically. Accessories like headlights, infotainment screens, and cameras run on electricity. So if you leave your vehicle running while you’re refueling, there’s a slight chance that the vapors can come in contact with the electricity.

Avoid Spilling Gas

Don’t “top off” your fuel tank. The fuel dispenser will shut off automatically when the tank is full. You don’t want to spill gasoline. First, it’s a terrible mess for the next person who uses that fuel pump. Second, gasoline is toxic, and contact with your skin can cause severe irritation or even burns. Automatic shut-off valves in vehicle tanks are there for a reason. Gasoline needs room to expand, so overfilling your tank can lead to a dangerous leak.

And finally, you must clean up any gasoline you spill at a fuel pump. Especially in the winter, when static electricity is at its highest, no one wants to pull up to a pump and step into a puddle of gasoline.

Do Not Smoke Near the Pump

Never smoke while refueling. One loose piece of cigarette ash can ignite the vapors and set everything on fire. Gasoline is highly flammable, and although many gas stations implement measures to reduce the number of vapors escaping as you pump, they still exist. Keep you and everyone else at the gas station safe by putting away cigarettes and lighters.

Pro Tip: Make sure to never commit any of these 7 Deadly Sins of Gas Stations.

Is It Safe to Get Gas in Cold Weather? 

Any time you refuel at a gas station, there are potential risks. However, these risks are very minimal. You increase your risk when you don’t take the proper precautions, don’t follow the warning signs, and ignore the advice of others. In the winter, it’s especially crucial to touch something before grabbing the gas pump. Tap your car door or something else metal to eliminate the static electricity that builds up while sitting in the car. And then don’t get back into the car until you’re finished refueling and have put back the pump.

As long as you exercise caution and understand static electricity, you’ll be fine gassing up during cold weather. Have you ever been afraid to stop at a gas station because of the risks?

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