By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Earth Sense: Beware of static electricity when pumping gas into car
Placeholder Image

Motorcyclists have to stop for fill-ups more frequently than car drivers because most bikes have small tanks. My frequent gas stops allow for observing a lot of mistakes people make when filling up their cars and trucks.

The minutes while the nozzle is in the tank and fuel is flowing aren’t the time for retreating into the car to make phone calls. Stickers on the gas pumps warn against re-entering the vehicle during pumping. This is because static electricity builds up on the body.

The tires insulate the car from the ground. Touching the nozzle again can throw an electric spark, which in turn may ignite the fuel vapors kicking back from the tank, past the nozzle.

Just enter “gas station static fire” in the YouTube search box for dozens of videos that show how this seemingly innocent mistake can turn a nice recent-model car into a burned-out shell. If you must get back into the car for some reason, touch metal on the door upon exit and before handling the pump equipment.

It’s lawn mowing season, and fuel is needed for the tractor, push mower and other landscaping equipment. Carrying the jerry cans on the pickup bed is convenient. But to be filled, they absolutely must sit on the ground next to the pump, not on the truck or in the car trunk. There again, static electricity can produce an instant fireball. YouTube shows plenty of examples about this, too.

Most people have more sense than the Clarkesville resident who playfully flicked a Bic lighter at the tank opening in 2013, setting his wife on fire (YouTube: “Clarkesville wife fire”). But I was amazed recently by having to tell a motorist to put her lit cigarette back into the car.

It’s important to know that a spark, flame or cigarette doesn’t need to touch liquid gasoline to cause a fire. It’s the vapors surrounding it that are explosive. Our engines run on gasoline vapor, not liquid gas.

What if a flame develops around the nozzle during fill-up? Don’t pull the nozzle out, say gas station owners. You’ll just spread more fire around the car. Press the emergency kill switch near the pump. If you don’t see it, notify station personnel. In many cases, the flame will go out again. Removing the nozzle is going to make things worse in a hurry.

Regional events