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Myths & Facts About Pumping Gas


There are a lot of areas of life where we need to separate fact from fiction. Who knew that the gas pump would be one of them?

From the best time of day to fill up to what kind of gas you should buy and whether you can use your cell phone while you’re refueling, there are plenty of opinions swirling around. We’re breaking down some of the most common ones out there so you can be informed and stay safe while you’re at the pump.

Myth or Fact? You Shouldn’t Smoke at a Gas Pump.

Findings point to: FACT

The American Petroleum Institute, the Petroleum Equipment Institute and safety officials across the country agree that you shouldn’t smoke while you’re pumping gas.

Gasoline is a flammable liquid, and there’s always a risk when you’re around it. However, the primary danger at the pump is not the gas itself but the gas vapors. Because these vapors are heavier than air, they can combust if they come into contact with anything flammable such as a smoldering cigarette butt, hot pavement or even a static spark. These can all turn into a very dangerous recipe for disaster.

Not only is smoking at a gas pump risky, it also may be against the law depending on where you’re fueling up. States have different fines or penalties for smoking at (or within a specified distance of) a gas pump. So, the next time you’re refueling, pay attention to the safety signs around you.

The takeaway: Drivers should follow the sage advice of the American Petroleum Institute: “Do not smoke, light matches or lighters while refueling at the pump or when using gasoline anywhere else.”

Myth or Fact? You Shouldn’t Use Your Cell Phone at the Pump.

Findings point to: FACT

But it may not be for the reason you’d expect. It is true that static electricity has the potential to cause an unexpected flash fire at the gas pump. And while the likelihood of this danger is low, it’s still a real threat.

However, according to the Petroleum Equipment Institute, there has not been a documented case of a cell phone being the culprit of this type of fire. Rather, the issue here boils down to being distracted. According to the National Association of Convenience and Fuel Retailing, there have been incidents where a driver on their cell phone has driven away with the fuel nozzle still in their vehicle, thereby damaging their car and the pump.

The takeaway: The phone call, text message and scrolling through your Instagram feed can wait while you refuel.

Myth or Fact? You Shouldn’t Go Back Into Your Car When You’re Refueling.

Findings point to: FACT

You build up static electricity when you go in and out of your car. This is especially likely when the weather is cold and dry. And that built-up energy wants to go somewhere. According to the American Petroleum Institute, touching the pump handle without discharging that static could potentially start a flash fire.

The takeaway: Stay outside your vehicle until you’re done filling up. (If the weather is less than ideal, make sure you’re wearing proper clothing to ward off the elements.) If you absolutely have to get into your car while you’re refueling, touch the exterior metal of your car before you grab the pump; doing so will help discharge any static electricity you may have picked up on the car seat.

Myth or Fact? You’ll Get More Gas if You Pump on a Cold Morning.

Findings point to: MYTH

Some believe that you’ll get more gas if you fuel up in the morning because the lower temperature will cause the volume of fuel to drop and its density to increase, which they argue could save you money. This is fair science when dealing with liquids and cold temperatures. But when it comes to the gasoline you pump into your vehicle, the logic isn’t as easily applicable, and it all has to do with the way that gas is stored.

Because the supply tanks for gas pumps sit far underground, gasoline temperatures rarely change. So, you could essentially fill up during an ice storm and it wouldn’t do much to the density of the fuel in the supply tanks.

The takeaway: Don’t bother getting up at 4 or 5 a.m. just to get gas (unless you’re already out and about). Fill up at whatever time is convenient for you. And read more about fuel economy to learn tips and tricks to get better gas mileage.

Myth or Fact? It’s Bad to “Top Off” Your Tank.

Findings point to: FACT

Trying to squeeze in a few extra pumps of gas can cause more damage than you might think. First, you’re paying for more gas than you need. Second, frequently topping off could actually harm your vehicle. According to GasBuddy, when you overfill your fuel tank regularly, it can cause damage to your EVAP system, which helps your vehicle process extra gas vapors. So, in the end, you could wind up with some pretty costly repair bills. Are those few extra pumps worth it?

The takeaway: When you hear the nozzle click and the pump stops, you should stop too.

Myth or Fact? Premium Gas Is Better Than Regular.

Findings point to: IT DEPENDS

Cars are designed to run best with a specific type of fuel. A higher-octane premium gas won’t ignite as quickly, which explains why high-performance cars with high-compression engines often require higher-octane gas. This specialized fuel helps the engine work more efficiently while emitting less exhaust.

It is important to choose the correct type of fuel for your specific car. Using the right octane level can help your car run at its maximum efficiency and can prevent damage to your engine. Read about the differences between premium and regular gas to learn more.

The takeaway: Running a lower-octane fuel than your car requires will cause its performance to suffer, but a higher-octane fuel is unlikely to bring any added benefits. Your owner’s manual will explain what type of gas is best for your car, or you can look inside your fuel door which should have a sticker specifying your car’s fuel requirements.

Myth or Fact? Driving on Empty Is Bad for Your Engine.

Findings point to: FACT

Everyone knows (or should know) that running out of gas will cause your car to stall. But driving on empty can create even more damage below the surface. It can clog your fuel filter, damage your fuel pump and cause your engine to misfire, all of which can lead to a lot more problems down the road.

The takeaway: While every vehicle’s fuel consumption is different (as are each person’s driving habits), it’s recommended to keep your tank at least one-quarter full at all times.

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