The Very Scary Reason You Should Touch Your Car Before Filling It Up
Responsible car owners already turn their engines off, stow their cellphones, and ditch lit cigarettes before filling up at a gas station. But some experts are advising we add yet another step to our safe-fueling routine, one that's especially important in cold weather.
Research has reportedly shown that in rare instances, static electricity—the same thing that shocks you after you drag your feet on the carpet or when you take off a wool sweater—can ignite gasoline vapors at the pump and cause fires.
"You get that static discharge from your body to that metallic nozzle, and when that occurs, there's potential for a spark to happen," Scott Boorse, director of technical programs and industry affairs for the Petroleum Equipment Institute (PEI), explained to Reader's Digest. "That spark is enough to ignite any of the vapors that are around the tip of the nozzle."
Since the 1990s, almost 200 incidents (like this one) have been reported to PEI that appear to be related to static electrical discharge, though Boorse told RD he believes the real number is actually much higher.
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In 2008, fire experts told The New York Times that women are more often involved in static electricity fires than men because they're more likely to return to their cars during fueling to escape the cold. Stockings are also more likely to collect an electrostatic charge.
Luckily, there's an easy way to prevent scary sparks and static fires from occurring at the pump. Because you can never be too safe, the next time you get out of your vehicle, make sure to touch a metal part of your car before reaching for the nozzle. This simple touch should be enough to dispel any electric charge you may have created getting out of your car. It's also best to avoid re-entering your car while refueling, which can build up static in your hair and clothing.