Here’s Why You Need to Touch Your Car Before Pumping Gas

This simple action will keep you safe.

When it’s cold outside, a car fire is probably the last thing on your mind. But that’s just the time when fires at the gas pump are more common. The motion you make when you slide across your car to get out can create static electricity. And when you’re about to fill up your vehicle, that can be dangerous—not considering it is one of the potentially dangerous mistakes you make while pumping gas.

“You get that static discharge from your body to that metallic nozzle, and when that occurs, there’s potential for a spark to happen,” says Scott Boorse, director of technical programs and industry affairs for the Petroleum Equipment Institute. “That spark is enough to ignite any of the vapors that are around the tip of the nozzle.”

PEI has gotten reports of about 200 incidents at the gas pump caused by static electricity since the mid-1990s. But Boorse says there are probably a lot more cases that aren’t reported. While quick sparks are common, full-out fires are less so.

So how can you avoid a fire at the pump? Fortunately, there’s an easy solution. When you get out of your vehicle, make sure you touch a metal part of your vehicle before you reach for the nozzle. That will dispel any electric charge you may have created. This is just one of the tips you need to keep your car safe during the winter.

Another easy trick? Touch one of the thin metal strips that runs vertically on the left and right side of most gas dispensers before you fuel up. Now that you’ve mastered this simple way to avoid car fires, read up on these 74 other tips that will extend the life of your car.

Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.