While I was getting gas at a Medford station on a chilly night, I’m pretty sure I saw exhaust coming out of a newer SUV while the attendant was filling it up. Isn’t that dangerous?
— Sarah M., via email
The state’s fire codes follow the National Fire Prevention Association's codebook for Motor Fuel Dispensing Facilities and Repair Garages, which consider a running vehicle a “source of ignition” in the same category as lighting a cigarette near the fuel pump.
“The motors of all equipment being fueled shall be shut off during the fueling operation except for emergency generators, pumps and so forth, where continuing operation is essential,” the NFPA codebook says.
The NFPA is also behind the warning signs at gas stations that advise against smoking and running the engine.
The American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization representing all facets of the oil and natural gas industry, also recommends shutting the engine off while fueling. The API further warns of static electricity at the pump, saying that in “extremely unusual” cases, static has sparked flash fires — particularly in cold and dry weather.
How dangerous is it? A Quora page on the topic has comments from cashiers, engineers and others who seem to agree that the risk of a fire from fuel vapor igniting is statistically low. It’s also possible your check engine light could go on because the car’s used to a different pressure in the fuel tank.
Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to email@example.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.