Pump Gas

Whether you're a new driver or live in an area where the law prohibits customers from pumping their own fuel, this is an important skill for driving in the modern world. While this article is aimed at beginners, experienced pumpers might also learn a tip or two.

Note: The term "Gas Pump" is a throw-back to 1940s American culture. The proper term, today, is "Multiple Product Dispenser" or MPD, for short. This term may, or may not, apply in other countries.


  1. Choose the right pump. You should know whether your car needs diesel, ethanol or gasoline. If you don't know, you must find out before you pump gas. Most often the nozzle of a leaded gas hose, an unleaded gas hose, and a diesel fuel hose are different sizes.
    • When you pull up to a gas station, pumps for diesel fuel will sometimes be in a different area but there may be a diesel pump next to a gasoline pump, and sometimes gasoline and diesel are in the very same pump. Always check to make sure. If you fill the tank with the wrong kind of fuel, you could ruin the engine. If you do put in the wrong fuel by accident, even a little, don't start the car. You may need to have the tank drained and rinsed several times to prevent damage.
  2. Find out which side of the car the tank is on before you pull up to the pump. If you are driving a car you haven't driven before, make note of this before you get in the car. If you're already inside the car, the easiest way to determine which side the gas tank is on is to look at the gas gauge; in many cars the gas gauge shows a small arrow pointing to the side of the car the tank is on. While it's not the end of the world if you pull up on the wrong side, it can be frustrating to switch sides at a busy gas station.
  3. It also doesn't hurt to think ahead and look for the latch to open the fuel tank, if there is one. Sometimes these can be hard to find, and it's annoying to everyone if you spend 15 minutes trying to find yours at the pump. Usually it's by the trunk release.
  4. Make sure your car is in "Park" (if automatic) and turn off the engine. In many gas stations, if you're paying cash, you need to go inside. Before you head in, look at the pump and remember the number. When you talk to the clerks, tell them how much money you're paying and at what pump. If the pump can process credit and debit cards, simply swipe your card and follow the instructions. Sometimes you'll be asked for a signature or a PIN.
  5. If you're smoking, put out the cigarette before getting to station and don't light up again until you're done. The spark can easily start a fire. Remember, gasoline vapors are extremely volatile!
  6. Make a habit of following the steps in How to Get out of a Car Without Getting Shocked by Static Electricity to avoid generating sparks.
  7. There's significant debate over whether a cell phone can start a gas station fire. While this was debunked by the TV show Mythbusters,[1] many people avoid using one while pumping gas, just in case. Some states ban cell phone use at the pump areas. Read the warning stickers at the pumps!
  8. Open your gas tank. Put your cap down where you can see it (if it isn't attached to the tank). Never put the gas cap under the nozzle trigger. This will bypass the automatic shut off in case of emergency, and is illegal in some states.
  9. Remove the nozzle from the pump and put it in the tank. If there are multiple nozzles, see "Select a fuel grade" below.
  10. If required, lift the gas pump's lever up. The lever will be where the nozzle was. This is something that can easily stump you at older gas stations if you're not used to it.
  11. Select a fuel grade: 87 (Regular), 89 (Mid-grade), and 93 (Premium) are common, but may vary by state or region. There are different grades of gasoline usually available at a single pump, (hence the name Multiple Product Dispensers) and there is significant debate over whether it makes any difference.
    • Check the car's manual. If the car needs premium gas, it will state that it is "required" or "recommended." If recommended, you have some leeway. For example, a car that calls for mid-grade gasoline will usually run on regular without knocking, but its performance and fuel economy will suffer slightly.
    • If you find that the gas you use causes the engine to knock, switch to something better. That knocking is very bad for your engine!
    • Cars that are older than 15 years are more likely to be damaged by using a lower grade of gas than is recommended.
    • If the car calls for regular gasoline, there is no benefit to using premium.
  12. Press the handle on the gas nozzle to start pumping. Keep your grip. Sometimes there is a small latch in the handle that you can use to keep pumping without having to keep your hand on it. The pump will automatically stop when you've reached the amount of cash you gave to the clerk, or when the tank is full. You can also stop it by releasing the handle. Do not, however, try to pump more gas into the tank after it's clicked off. This is called "topping off" and is not recommended. The extra gas you try to sneak in will end up getting sucked back up by modern handles, spilling, or evaporating into the air, but you'll still have paid for it. All gas tanks are vented. Over filling just means that it's gas, not vapor, that will be vented out. Plus, you need extra room in your gas tank to allow the gasoline to expand or your car won't work as well.[2]
  13. If you keep your hand on the handle so that the gas pumps very slowly, you can minimize evaporation and save a bit of money over time.[3]
  14. Don't tap the gas pump against the gas tank before pulling out. This will only add the last few drops to your tank instead of the side of your vehicle or clothing, but it may generate a static spark if you are not grounded. Tipping the handle upside down and back before pulling it out might be a better option to stop drips.
  15. Put the gas pump back in its holster. You may need to lower the lever first.
  16. Put the gas cap back on immediately and close your gas tank. One click is sufficient. Sometimes people forget to do this and lose the cap. Take your receipt, if there is one. Don't forget to pay inside if you chose that option and didn't have to pay in advance.
  17. One click may be sufficient, but you may also find that your check engine light will come on. Most car manufacturers recommend at least three clicks to tighten the gas cap. There is some connection between emissions systems and the tightness of the gas cap that will trigger the check engine light. The same thing can happen if you don't turn your car off before removing the gas cap.
  18. Finished.


  • If you happen to have an excitable breed of dog in the car, the possibility of getting locked out while getting gas is very real.
  • Squeegee the windows, mirrors, and, if they're really dirty, the headlights. This cleans all of them, and is more effective and thorough on the windshield than washer fluid and wipers.
  • It is best to keep your keys with you while pumping fuel, even if passengers are in the car; this way you offer less temptation to a would-be quick-getaway thief.


  • In the U.S. States of Oregon and New Jersey, it's illegal to pump gas by yourself. This means that by those state laws, only the gas station attendants will pump gas for you, not by yourself. In addition, all gas stations in those states are Full Service, not self service gas stations, since it's illegal in Oregon and NJ. However, in New Jersey, the Full Service laws do not apply to diesel.
  • Do not pump gas when the tanker truck is at the station refueling it's underground gas tanks. Any water or gunk that may exist in the underground tank is stirred up by the force of the new, in-coming gas. This water or gunk can then be pumped into your car, which can cause a great deal of damage to your car.
  • In a number of cities, towns, and regions in the United States and Canada, you won't be able to fuel up without paying first! You could get your driver's license suspended if you do this, so be aware of the rules.
  • Materials on the gas nozzle are non-sparking. That usually means they are non-ferrous, or non-magnetic. It does not necessarily mean they are non-conductive. Be careful about getting in your car while gas is pumping. This generates static sparks, and is the #1 cause of gas station accidents.
  • Be sure to check when you drive off that you've successfully removed the gas pump handle from your car or truck. Driving off with the pump handle can cause a great deal of embarrassment and potentially financial repercussions.
  • If you get gas on you, wipe it off. It can be a skin irritant and the vapors are toxic, but the gas evaporates quickly.
  • If there's an emergency, press the "emergency pump stop" button on the gas station's wall, and dial 911.
  • Some stations charge a fee for debit or credit cards - look for a warning on the pump. It may be cheaper to pay for the gas in cash.

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