I was pumping gas recently when I noticed the warning above posted at the gas station. Apparently, static electricity can, according to Snopes, “touch off refueling fires at gas stations.”
Static electricity is discharged when you make direct contact with a material more conductive than you are, like the ground—or the metal of your car/the gas pump. The concern around reentering your car comes from the fact that the friction between your clothing and your seat—encountered when you slide into your seat—may charge you with static electricity. As written in a Purdue University study:
“This can cause a buildup of static electricity similar to shuffling your feet on the carpet. When you exit and re-enter your vehicle while refueling, there is the potential for sufficient static electricity to build up that a spark can discharge between your body and the fuel nozzle. In rare circumstances, the spark can ignite gasoline vapors around the fill spout, causing a brief flash fire.”
There is ongoing research into the exact risk of this kind of fire, including at the hands of the Petroleum Equipment Institute and the American Petroleum Institute. For now, be aware of static electricity at the pump, and to be safe, touch something metal (like your keys) before pulling the pump out after you’re full.
- Tips for Avoiding Gas Charges With Your Rental Car
- Fill Up Your Rental Car Before You Get to the Airport
- Check With GasBuddy
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