Fact or Fiction: Can I Pump Gas With My Car Running?

We answer the age-old question if running your car engine while refueling is safe, and review the potential dangers.

During an exceptionally hot or cold day, you’ve probably thought about escaping the outside elements by sitting in your temperature-controlled car while fueling up at the gas station. Well, running your car engine while fueling might give you some temporary comfort, but it is not the safest idea.

Is There a Fire Risk?

Can you pump gas with your engine running? Yes. But should you? Probably not. While there is a minimal chance of a fire occurring, leaving the engine running increases the chance of gas vapors igniting if they come in contact with static electricity.

“It’s is safest to shut off your vehicle to avoid a fire, static electricity or a check engine light,” says Lauren Fix, an ASE certified technician and sector analyst at The Car Coach. “The fire risk is that the fumes burn, not the liquid. This could lead to an explosion.”

So before you fuel up, shut off the car and leave it off. And unplug anything devices you might be charging. You can plug them back in once you’re back on the road.

gas station fuelingJacobs Stock Photography Ltd/Getty Images

Will it Damage the Car?

That’s unlikely. The danger of causing a fire is more substantial than the potential damage to the vehicle. However, just because it does not damage the vehicle doesn’t mean it won’t cause issues.

“While it’s not necessarily bad for your car, it could turn that pesky check engine light on,” said Jonathan Ganther, COO and Founder of Brakes To Go. “Our cars are designed to detect even the slightest gasoline vapor leaks from the fuel tank, fuel lines, and engine. So why would this leak be detected when filling up? When you stick the nozzle in to fill up, you open the gas tank that is normally sealed, and this allows gasoline vapors to escape. The computer in the vehicle detects a vapor leak and triggers the check engine light.”

Other Safety Precautions to Consider While Fueling Up

Besides shutting off your vehicle, there are other safety measures you can take while fueling up. Fix says never smoke or vape while pumping gas, and stay off your cell phone. “Being on the phone can and has created static electricity,” Fix says. “Leave your phone in the car.” It’s also a good way to concentrate on fueling.

Alex Shoemaker
Alex Shoemaker is the Digital Newsletter Editor of Family Handyman.