Summer is approaching quickly, and the rising temperatures may cause you to think of ways to stay cool. You have errands to run and places to be, and perhaps you have considered leaving your car running while doing these activities.
So, what could it hurt? Is putting gas in a running car ok?
You cannot put gas in a running car. In many states it is written law that you cannot put gas in your running vehicle. And while it may be legal in others, it goes against the International Fire Code that is widely accepted and enforced by most communities.
It is also a major safety concern. Heat from your running engine could ignite gas that has spilled out onto the ground. Your vehicle could also become ignited from gas vapors that escape the tank while fueling.
While these reasons may seem obvious, read on to dig in deeper to why these, as well as other eye-opening possibilities are probable concerns.
It may be illegal
Some things to consider are whether it is legal in your state. You do not want to receive an unsuspected fine for pumping your gas.
The reason it may be illegal, is that it is a major safety concern. The heat from the running car could easily ignite gas vapors and/or spillage at the pump.
Are there any laws for pumping gas into a running car?
The International Fire Code provides guidelines for public safety in regard to fire prevention. These guidelines are widely adopted by most states and used as law in order to protect communities against preventable fires.
In section 2305.4 Sources of Ignition, it specifically states “Smoking and open flames shall be prohibited in areas where fuel is dispensed. The engines of vehicles being fueled shall be shut off during fueling. Electrical equipment shall be in accordance with NFPA 70.”
Check with your State for their specific laws regarding this. While this may not be illegal in your state, it comes highly discouraged from fire prevention experts.
Are there really fire concerns while at the pump?
There are many fire safety concerns with pumping gas. In fact, the pump has written guidelines all over it. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, there were approximately 4,370 fires at gas stations in the United States.
Over 50% of these fires (2,470) were due to vehicle fires.
There is no wonder why there are numerous signs around the pump aiding precaution. Running your engine while pumping gas is one of the warnings posted.
One of the reasons this is so dangerous is because every part of your car gets hot while it is running, and while you are pumping, vapors from the gas escape and could easily ignite from the heat.
Do vapors really escape while at the pump?
The answer to this question is yes. Anytime you take the cap off your fuel tank, gas vapors can escape. This is not only dangerous for a possible fire, but it also is not healthy for our environment.
If gas vapors come into contact with high heat (like your running vehicle), this could cause the vapors to ignite and start a fire. Therefore, it is very important that when you finish pumping your gas, make sure to place the gas cap on securely so as gas vapors don’t escape.
What about vapor recovery units?
It is important to note that most vehicles contain some sort of vapor recovery system in order to keep our environment clean. This was brought about by the Clean Air Act Amendments in 1990.
The vapor recovery system helps to control vapors from escaping while pumping your gas. It is now required in new vehicles to have this installed.
Even with this installed in your vehicle, it does not keep all vapors from escaping and you are still at risk for igniting a fire.
There are many other reasons for making sure gas vapors do not escape. One reason is if the vapors or spillover of excess gas comes into contact with static electricity, it could start a blaze.
What is static?
Static can be caused at the pump by many different things but let us first talk about what static is. Static is an electric charge that gets produced because of friction.
It may cause a spark in some cases, or you may hear a crack when you touch something after you have created that electric charge. Static can be produced in any climate; however, it happens more easily in dry climates such as the desert, or in the winter.
What causes static at the pump?
Static at the pump could most easily be caused when you are getting in and out of your vehicle. You are causing friction against the seat with your clothes.
Your cell phone could also be the culprit of static. While there have not been any documented cases of cell phone static fires at the pump, it is still a potential risk you should be aware of.
How do I prevent static electricity at the pump?
In order to discharge the static, touch something metal, such as the outside of your car, before reaching for the pump. This will ensure that you have successfully discharged the static electricity before you begin to fill up.
The concern with static at the pump, is that if you were to accidentally have a spillover from filling up, the static charge could ignite the fuel that is on the ground.
Take a minute to imagine your car in this scenario. Your car is turned on and idiling. There is an immense amount of the heat that is radiating from the engine. It only takes one small spark to become a fire fury very quickly.
Isn’t there an automatic shutoff to prevent spillage?
Each pump has an automatic shutoff installed in it. It is designed to shut off the discharge of gasoline when it detects your fuel tank is full.
Unfortunately, there have been many instances of them becoming faulty or broken. This causes the automatic shut off to malfunction, causing overflow right at your tank.
If the automatic shutoff is faulty, the gasoline continues to freely flow and potentially spill over if you are not paying attention. When the gasoline spills over, perhaps on you, your car, or the ground, it becomes an easy place to ignite. It catches fire from a heat source or static electricity.
Can I leave my child in the running car while pumping gas?
This would not be a good idea. Despite a possible fire igniting and your child stuck inside, there are a few other dangers to consider about this matter.
If you leave the car running with a child inside, there is the possibility of them climbing out of their seat and putting the car in gear. This unexpected event could lead to injury to you, the child, and other patrons who are standing by. That event could significantly damage your vehicle and surrounding vehicles as well.
What if no one is in the car?
Even if there are no passengers in the car, another risk to consider is the potential theft of your vehicle. A running, unlocked vehicle is a tempting prize for someone who is waiting for the opportunity.
With the keys still in the ignition, it would be easy for someone to sneak in through the passenger side door and take your car. Although it would seem like someone would be very brave to try to do so, it is a possibility.
Will it damage my car if I pump gas while it is running?
Yes, you could potentially damage your vehicle’s vapor recovery system. As mentioned previously, the vapor recovery is now required in all new vehicles in order to protect our environment and control gas vapors from escaping while fueling.
If the car is running while at the pump, this could potentially damage the vapor recovery unit, resulting in an unwelcome car repair bill. In addition, heated seats may get affected, and other electrical components may be damaged as well. It’s essential to turn off the engine and all electronic devices before refueling the car to avoid any potential damages.
More gas safety tips
There are signs posted all over the gas pump for your safety, as well as the safety of others. If you are anything like me, you may have just tuned them out, but it is important to take notice.
Some of the most commonly seen warning signs are no smoking, turn your engine off, turn off your cell phone, and do not get back into your vehicle while fueling.
While these are, for the most part, warnings and may not bear any legal consequences, including airbag warning, they should be taken seriously as they pose a risk to yourself and nearby patrons.
Why do people still leave their car running while pumping gas?
Many people are very busy and are looking to find efficient ways to go about their day, especially when it comes to driving. Perhaps the baby is in the back sleeping, and you don’t want to disturb them, so you left the car running while pumping at the tank. Alternatively, if you have an all-wheel drive car, you might want to keep the engine running to ensure the wheels stay lubricated. However, it’s crucial to consider the potential risks and safety hazards that come with leaving a car running at the gas pump.
While the chances of causing harm may not be high, it is still not worth the risk of starting a combustible fire.