Pumping gas is a task that, for one reason or another, isn’t taught to new drivers. While it’s not complicated, there are a few things that anyone doing it for the first time should know.
In some areas, granted, learning how to pump gas isn’t necessary because service station attendants take care of it for you. There are, however, plenty of reasons why it’s important that you know how to do this on your own, and in some places it’s even mandatory.
In this guide, we’ll teach you all you need to know for that first solo visit to the pumps!
Key Takeaways: How to Pump Your Own Gas
- Diesel or Gas? – This is the most important part of pumping your own fuel. Get it wrong and you’re in for a world of pain (and an expensive repair bill!).
- Location Matters – In the US, laws relating to refueling vary from state to state. In some states, self-service is the norm; in others, it’s illegal.
- Safety First! – Gasoline and diesel are flammable and combustible materials, so extra care is needed when refueling. When doing so, don’t smoke, keep kids away from the pumps, and make sure no fuel gets on your skin or near your eyes.
Skill Level Required to Pump Gas: Moderate
Time to Complete: 5–10 minutes
Tools Needed: A gas pump and a supply of gas.
How to Pump Gas: Step-by-Step Instructions
At stations staffed with attendants, it will not be necessary for drivers to pump gas themselves. They can simply leave this to the attendant, and then pay for your fuel when the attendants are done.
However, at self-service stations, drivers will be required to do things on their own. If you’re not familiar with this process and find it intimidating, follow these steps:
1. Check the Right Fuel to Use
First, you should check which type of fuel to use for your vehicle.
This information can be obtained from your manufacturer, your car manual, or from a mechanic. If you’re not sure about the type of fuel that your vehicle takes, you can use this site to find your vehicle’s fuel type.
To fill your vehicle with the fuel you need, you will need to find a gas station that supplies the particular fuel that your car takes.
2. Park at the Pump
Make sure you know which side of your car the gas cap is on. Next, you will need to park your car so that the gas cap is next to the pump.
Many cars have a picture of a gas pump on the dashboard next to the gas gauge, with an arrow pointing to the gas cap side. If you do not have this feature, you will need to get out of the car to look for the cap.
3. Turn off the Engine
For safety reasons, it’s important to turn off your engine before refueling.
Cars must be stationary at the pump to avoid any spillages and lessen the risk of fire. Opening and closing a car door can build up static electricity and cause a fire. In addition, a car’s sensors may report a leakage due to the change in pressure in the gas tank. This may depend on the design of the car.
4. Select the Fuel & Fuel Grade
Usually, drivers are required to pay for fuel before selecting the type.
Sometimes it’s necessary to prepay in the gas station building, but you can more often than not do this at the pump using a credit or debit card. For this, you will need to swipe or insert your card into the machine and follow the instructions. Gas prices will undoubtedly vary from state to state, so keep that in mind.
There are usually three different types of unleaded gas: regular, plus, and premium. Regular is sufficient for most cars, while premium is better suited to high-performance cars. Diesel fuel will usually be found at a different pump.
5. Pump the Gas
First, you will need to release the door of the gas tank opening. There may be a button to do this near the dashboard on the driver’s side. If not, then this can be physically opened outside of the car.
You will then need to unscrew the gas tank cap. Remove the fuel dispenser, or gas nozzle, from the gas pump and insert it into the fuel tank on your car.
Squeeze the trigger of the pump nozzle and hold it there to keep the gas running. There may be a lock to keep the trigger in place so you can remove your hand.
At the pump, there should be a running counter to show how much gas you’ve drawn and the cost you’ve incurred so far. Most gas pumps turn off automatically thanks to self-stopping mechanisms when the tank is full. Alternatively, you may have the option to fill the tank to a certain amount, which you can specify at the pump.
6. Return the Fuel Pump Handle
Remove the fuel dispenser from the gas tank and return it to the gas pump. Screw the gas cap back tightly on the gas tank and close the gas tank door.
Collect your receipt if you need one, then you’re ready to leave.
Here is an instructional video that shows the normal procedure for pumping fuel.
Why Do We Need to Pump Gas?
Vehicles with internal combustion engines need gasoline to create the power used to drive the vehicle forward.
This type of engine uses gas to create controlled explosions. When these occur in small enclosed spaces, such as in a piston, energy is released as expanding gas. The power in the piston can be used to put the wheels in motion.
The vast majority of road vehicles are currently gasoline powered, so for these, it’s necessary for someone to refill the gas tanks. However, there has been an increasing number of electric cars in recent years, for which gasoline or diesel is not used. Vehicles that are powered by electricity are required to charge at a charging station instead.
When Do We Need to Pump Gas?
Drivers are usually notified of the status of their gas tank by a dial on the dashboard. There is almost always an area that’s red in color. When the dial is pointing to this area, the quantity of fuel is very low and the car should be refueled immediately.
On many modern cars, when the tank is almost empty, a beeping noise will alert the driver to the danger.
Driving cars with a very low amount of fuel in the tank is definitely not advisable. There is a greater risk of breaking down, and it can damage the engine in two different ways.
Without gas, the engine can overheat and cause the car to come to an abrupt stop. Also, sediments will often sink to the bottom of the gas tank, especially with dirty fuel. When the fuel level is low, those sediments can clog the fuel filter, or even block it completely, as detailed in our guide to bad fuel filter symptoms.
The Differences Between States
In the US, the laws and common practices relating to gas stations vary slightly between the different states. In the past, self-service gas stations have not been legal in certain states.
The first self-service gas pump was opened in Los Angeles in 1947. Since then, self-service has been gradually adopted throughout the country.
In 2018, they were legalized in Oregon, with the exception of counties with populations lower than 40,000.
The town of Huntington in New York introduced a ban on self-service gas pumps in the 1980s. This was imposed by the fire department, for the fire risk of these types of pumps.
The law remains in place, but only for this particular town of New York.
New Jersey is the single remaining state of America in which it is illegal to pump your own gas. In other parts of the country, self-service is much more common than full-service.
Differences Throughout the World
In different parts of the world, gas stations may be given a slightly different name, such as a petrol station, filling station, or fuel station.
When it comes to pumping gas, there are no universal standard procedures to follow throughout the world. Those driving in foreign countries should familiarize themselves with the type of fuel they require and local practices for refueling.
Filling stations may be self-service or staffed with attendants. There also may be differences in the range of services they provide.
In some parts of the world, filling stations will only accept payments in cash. They also may be fewer in distribution, so refueling at every possible chance may be advisable.
In China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey, full-service stations are more common – or the usual practice.
In Australia, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Russia, Spain, and the UK, self-service stations are more popular.
In Argentina, Canada, France, Greece, Hungary, Japan, Iceland, Italy, New Zealand, and Portugal, both types of services are equally available.
In Brazil, self-service stations have been made illegal, since a law passed in 2000. In contrast to this, in Japan, self-service stations were only made legal in 1998. Attendants must still be present at all times for safety reasons.
Pumping Gas for Disabled People
People with disabilities may be unable to use self-service pumps at all.
The Americans with Disabilities Act attempted to make refueling easier. It requires stations with self-service to provide equal access to people with disabilities.
When possible, staff should help disabled people with refueling. Driving pumps must also be no higher than 54 inches from the ground to provide access for wheelchair users.
While this has improved access for people with disabilities, it does not guarantee assistance at all times, and further improvements are still required.
Gasoline is highly flammable, so a fire is always a hazard when refilling your tank. For this reason, it is important to follow safety advice very closely.
PEI is the authority for fuel and fluid-handling equipment. It has received reports of almost 200 fires while refueling since the 1990s caused by static electricity.
Static discharge is generated by the movement of drivers exiting their cars. To ground the charge, it’s a good idea to touch the metal body of the car before refueling.
Smoking or using any source of ignition is also strictly prohibited. Be careful to avoid spillages by overfilling the gas tank.
Children should be kept away from pumps, and those refueling should avoid the vapors.
Last but certainly not least, be very careful to keep gas away from your eyes and skin!
Keeping our vehicles tanked up is something no driver can overlook, so refueling is an essential task for all drivers.
You’re not always offered the luxury of someone else refueling your car for you, so it’s really best if you get familiar with this process as soon as possible. It really isn’t too difficult, after all. Ignoring this can cause engine damage, not to mention leave you stranded somewhere waiting for help.
There is a high number of accidents at filling stations every year, so safety should always be a top priority. Gasoline and diesel are potentially lethal, so the safety regulations should be strictly adhered to. The statistics speak for themselves, and these safety regulations were put in place for very good reasons.