Cell Phones Aren’t the Problem, Static Is

You may have seen the warnings on Facebook about staying off your cell phone while pumping gas. The warnings claim the cell phones can generate sparks that ignite the gasoline fumes. Problem is that there isn’t a simple instance of this actually happening. The example used on the Facebook warning references an explosion in Adelaide in Australia. There was, indeed an explosion but it wasn’t caused by a cell phone it was caused by static electricity.


The fact is that static electricity, most often acquired when the person pumping the gas climbed back in the vehicle for some reason, has been credited with at least 150 fires at the gas pump since researchers started tracking this phenomenon.

To protect against static electricity explosions at the pump, here are a few safety tips:

  1. Don’t climb back into your vehicle while pumping gas.
  2. Make sure you touch the metal on your vehicle to dissipate any static electricity you might have built up.
  3. Do not “top off” the tank. Besides the fact that it actually gives you worse mileage instead of more miles per tank, it also creates a lot of extra fumes. Fumes, by the way, is what is flammable.
  4. If you are filling a container make sure it is an approved gas can and make sure it is sitting on the ground when you fill it to keep static electricity from building up. It should NEVER be sitting in the trunk or inside the vehicle.

Understanding how static electricity fires start at the gas pump and understanding how to prevent them is essential for refueling safety.