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How to Pump Gas Properly: 5 Steps for Success

The complete guide on how to use the gas pump.

pumping fuel into car

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been behind the wheel; we could all use a refresher course on how to pump gas the right way. Learning how to pump your own gas keeps you safe and is an essential aspect of owning a vehicle. Of course, there are some areas where pumping your own gas is illegal, but there will still be times when you’ll have to venture out on your own to fill up the tank. When that happens, you’ll need to know the right way to pump gas.

In this article, we’ll touch on determining what type of fuel you need, how to fill your tank, and the safest practices when you’re at the gas pump. Whether you are a brand new teenage driver, or have been behind the wheel for forty years, we think you’ll find some useful information to put in play the next time you’re at the gas pump.

Step 1: Pull Into the Fuel Station

You might think this sounds like a silly step when you want to learn how to pump gas, but it’s crucial. As you come into the fuel station, you need to ensure that the fuel tank is on the correct side next to the pump.

Modern cars have the gas tank either on the driver or passenger side of the vehicle, closer to the rear. In classic cars, you might find the fuel tank in the back. Simply look at the fuel gauge on your dashboard. It should feature a small arrow showing you what side the gas tank is located on. This helps when you’re pulling into the gas station and forget which way to go.

Once you’ve pulled into the proper side for fueling, put the car in park and turn your vehicle off. You don’t want to pump fuel while the engine is running.

You’ll also want to make sure you aren’t smoking at the gas pump or using the cell phone. We will talk more about this in the danger section down below.

Step 2: Pay for Your Fuel

Your next step in learning how to pump gas is to decide if you need to pay inside or outside. For the most part, stations require that you pay at your pump when you want to use a debit card or credit card.

If you belong to a loyalty program or can get any discounts off your fuel, now is the time to handle that. Some participating gas stations operate on loyalty points or discounts, so be sure you always know your balance and reward availability.

Paying Cash

If you prefer to pay cash, you’ll have to walk inside. While this seems like a nuisance, it helps prevent the station from having people drive away after pumping.

The tricky part about paying cash is determining how much you’ll need. It’s best to give more than you think the tank will hold because you can get your change back in the end. If you don’t provide enough, the fuel pump will shut off before your tank is full.

Most passenger cars hold between 12 and 15 gallons of fuel, while a good amount of trucks can take more than 20. Examine your fuel gauge to determine how low you are and figure out an estimate for how much fuel you need.

Simply go inside the station and pay the clerk. Tell them how much money you want to put on the pump number you are located at. You can find this number on the front corner of your gas pump.

Paying at the Pump

If you decide paying at the pump is right for you, then you have some further instructions to follow. Start by selecting your payment method on the keypad. Slide your card in the machine to begin. Then, you’ll need to enter your PIN if using debit, and will also be asked for your zip code.

Your car won’t be charged until you’re finished pumping the gas, although some stations put a dollar hold to verify the account. Some machines ask you for the total, but that’s rare. If you are at one, simply estimate the amount you want to put in and the tank will shut off when it reaches that number. If you prefer not to do this step, you can normally hit the skip button to move on.

Step 3: Open Up Your Fuel Tank

It does no good to learn how to pump gas if you don’t have somewhere to put it. On an older vehicle, you should be able to open your tank with a latch located on the exterior of your car. On modern cars, there might be a latch or lever to pull. This would be found under the dashboard. Still some cars utilize a push-button closer to the door.

If you need to release the fuel door, make sure you do that before exiting the vehicle. This saves you some time from having to come back to the car before pumping. Plus, you’ll look like a fool at the gas pump.

Then, you’re ready to remove the fuel cap. Don’t take this step until you’re ready to proceed with pumping. Then, place your cap in a safe area. Some cars have a holder built right into the gas door where you can place it. If not, make sure you put it where it won’t roll away and where you wouldn’t forget about it.

Your gas cap might also feature a plastic ring which allows it to hang while pumping. You won’t believe how many people without these innovations simply leave their gas cap behind.

When your gas cap is removed, your tank is leaking fuel vapors into the atmosphere. This isn’t good for our environment, so make sure you only have the cap off while fueling. If everyone did their part, it would be easier to protect our Earth.

Step 4: Choose the Fuel You Want to Use

When you first learn how to pump gas, you might get confused on the various grades available to you. It’s crucial that you understand the differences before making a selection. The first thing you’ll need to do is determine whether your vehicle runs on gasoline or diesel. Obviously, there are no grades associated with diesel, so that’s an easy choice.

Keep in mind; you don’t ever want to put gasoline in a diesel engine or vice versa. This will cause severe mechanical repercussions and cause you to have your engine plus fuel system replaced. That’s a bill you don’t want to pay.

Since most passenger vehicles run on gasoline, your next step would be determining which grade of gas is best for your needs. Most owner’s manuals offer the fuel you want, and unlike common myths, it doesn’t generally help your car to run at a higher fuel grade than needed.

At most pumps, you’ll find the common choices of Regular (87), Mid-grade gasoline (89), or a Premium octane (typically 91 and/or 93).

You’ll notice each different type of fuel is color-coded differently to help you identify them easier. Once you’ve determined the fuel you wish to use, you’ll push the button that is associated with it. You are ready for the next step on how to pump gas.

Step 5: Begin Pumping

All of the previous steps should occur in no time. Step five is the longest part of learning how to pump gas, so you’ll need some patience with this one. Once you’ve chosen the appropriate grade, you’re ready to fill up.

Many people think that filling up in the morning is best, but we’ve proved that theory wrong in our 25 car myths that most people still believe. The original theory was that the cooler weather causes you to fill up with denser fuel. This was supposed to give you more fuel per gallon, but considering the tanks are stored underground, temperature doesn’t seem to matter much.

Start by taking the fuel nozzle off the pump. You might need to lift the lever as well. Then, insert the nozzle into your gas tank. Make sure it’s all the way inside and rest the handle in place. If you don’t put the nozzle completely in, the automatic shut-off system might not work correctly.

Then, depress the handle of your pump and lock it into place. Most often, there’s a small hook or metal tab that allows you to lock the handle open. You can set this and enable the pump to shut off automatically once the vehicle is full.

Try to avoid resting your arm or hand on the pump nozzle. This causes damage to the nozzle and your gas tank neck.

As you pump, you’ll notice that the machine is recording how much fuel has entered the tank plus the relative cost.

If your pump shuts off before the tank is fuel, it’s an indicator that there’s trouble with the vapor recovery system, most often a clogged carbon canister. You’ll want to have this checked sooner than later.

While You Wait for the Fuel

While your fuel tank is filling, you simply have to wait. This is one of the hardest parts of learning how to pump gas. No matter how tempted you are, you don’t want to walk away from your vehicle while it’s filling. If the fuel overflows or spills, you’ll be liable for the mess.

Instead, you could check your fluids and make sure they don’t need to be topped off. You could also use the window wash tools provided for you to improve your visibility. None of these actions should take you more than a few feet from the pump at any time.

Make sure you don’t overfill your tank. This is a common way to cause fuel spillage on the ground and is frowned upon at the gas station. Once your tank if fuel, the pump will stop pumping automatically.

Don’t attempt to top it off or you could also damage your onboard vapor recovery system. This vital emissions system recovers the vapors from your fuel tank and burns them inside the engine. This is done to avoid venting them out into the atmosphere.

Once the Pump Stops

When the nozzle turns off, you’ll want to pull it out with the tip pointing up so there are no drips. Avoid tapping it on the filler neck. Because it’s constructed of non-ferrous metals, you won’t create sparks, but you might damage the nozzle or the filler neck surface.

Then, return the nozzle back into the holder. If you needed to flip a lever before beginning, you’d have to put that back down at this point.

Your next step in learning how to pump gas is to replace your fuel cap. You’ll want to ensure it’s tight. Listen for three clicks. If yours doesn’t click, then tighten it until it stops abruptly.

If your fuel cap isn’t on properly, you might see a check engine light on your dash. Modern cars even have a Check Gas Cap indicator to help you out.

Once the car is put back together and the nozzle is securely located back at the pump, you are ready to collect your receipt. If you want one, simply take it from the printer. If you don’t need one, there’s an easy way to opt out at the pump.

Many people don’t realize that receipts are often printed on thermal paper. This is activated by a BPA coating, which stands for Bisphenol A. This is a known carcinogen. While holding one receipt might not be an issue, handling many of them might increase the toxicity inside your body.

It’s simple to calculate your gas mileage if you desire. Simply reset the odometer every time you fill up. Then, when you arrive at the gas pump, take note of how many miles you’ve driven. Divide this number by how many gallons your car took before it was full.

Now you’ve successfully learned how to pump gas.

Learning How to Pump Gas Warnings

We do have a few warnings for you when you learn how to pump gas. Follow these for your safety and those around you.

1 – Don’t ever smoke around the gas pumps. Fuel is flammable and it doesn’t take much to create a disaster.

2 – Avoid using your cell phone while fueling. It’s not likely to occur, but there’s a chance that a spark might lead to a fire or even an explosion. Even if this doesn’t lead to an incident, being on your phone is a distraction you don’t need. You might put in the wrong fuel or make an otherwise bad decision. This is even more likely if you’re just learning how to pump gas. On top of that, some states have laws against it.

3 – Never re-enter your vehicle while it’s fueling. If you need to get inside for some reason, then make sure you touch the metal frame of your car to discharge all the static electricity.

4 – Make sure you examine the owner’s manual before fueling to figure out what grade of gasoline you need.

5 – Avoid filling up your tank while the fuel truck is present. During the refilling process, sediment and dirt are often stirred up that would otherwise rest on the bottom of the underground tank. Many systems utilize a filter system to keep this from causing problems, but no system is perfect. There’s a chance that this sediment and dirt might find its way inside your vehicle which only leads to a clogged fuel filter.

What About High Octane Gas? What Is It And Can I Get It?

Are we getting high-octane fuel? If we are to judge by the latest developments in the industry, the more expensive high-octane fuel might become common on gas pumps thus totally phasing out low-octane options such as the regular and even mid-grade fuel.

The thing about the high-octane fuel is simple – it will dramatically reduce emissions, increase the specific power of the engines, provide more range and enable manufacturers to produce engines with higher compression ratio. There is a trick, of course. High-octane fuel is more expensive. That is part of the reason why gas prices in Europe tend to be much higher than what we have here. And in order to paint a picture of what we are talking about, note that European super-premium fuel with about 98 octane increases fuel economy by 10 percent compared to what the US premium fuel (usually 92-94 octanes) can achieve.

One more example too. Remember that latest and baddest Dodge SRT Challenger Demon? Well, with the 100 octane fuel it uses, its engine can develop 840 hp. With premium 91 octane fuel the power drops to 808 hp.

New High-Octane Fuel Is The Green Future?

As it turns out, companies are working hard and behind closed doors trying to develop new high compression ratio engines. These have to use high-octane fuel in order to reduce the knocking and refine the burning process of the engines.

So, in plain English, if we get high-octane fuel on our gas pumps, new cars will come with smaller engines, with more power, better fuel economy, and far fewer emissions. In return, we will have to pay more for the fuel. Not that we know how much.

Interestingly, automotive executives have been talking about this at large, but they usually want to stay undercover. So, two executives of the major manufacturers commented, but wanted to stay anonymous:

“Increasing octane could be the lowest-cost way to raise fuel economy. It costs far less than developing a new transmission, for instance.”

“Ten cents a gallon more is probably palatable. A quarter risks customer acceptance.”

Obviously, there is a lot at play here, so while we are all gasping in the Trumpism of today, car manufacturers, massive oil companies and the U.S. Department of Energy are working together to bring us new fuel and new engines. If we are to predict, the perfect timing for the introduction of higher octane fuel and new engines that will work with it would be sometimes in 2021. At that point, strict emission regulations will come into play.

Does A Higher Octane Fuel Increase Gas Mileage?

When you pull into the gas station, you usually have a choice of regular, super, and premium gasoline. Many motorists believe that super or premium gasoline, which is significantly more expensive than regular gasoline will increase fuel efficiency, and is therefore, worth the higher price. Unfortunately, in most cases, this simply isn’t true. Your automobile will run most efficiently with the gas recommended by the manufacturer or in your owner’s manual. For most cars, this is regular gasoline.Regular gasoline has an octane rating of at least 87, super gasoline has an octane rating of between 88 and 90, and premium gasoline has an octane rating of at least 91. But what, exactly, do those ratings mean for your car and its performance on the highway?  Gasoline undergoes two tests to determine its octane rating, which measures the fuels tendency to knock or “ping” when mixed with air in the hydrolytic cylinder of a car engine. It’s called octane because it is rated against the fuels ability to prevent knock or ping compared to pure hydrocarbon octane, which has a rating of 100.  Basically, the rating compares the “anti-ping” or anti-knock” performance against pure hydrocarbon octane. Please note, that all engines “ping” a bit when operated at full throttled.  If your engine is “knocking” regularly or it is noticeable, make sure you get it checked out so it won’t cause serious damage.

Check with Your Manufacturer

Almost all of the new cars on the road today have fuel-injected engines that need to use a gasoline with a detergent additive. Cars only need high octane gasoline if it is recommended by the manufacturer.  Generally, if your car is designed to run on 87 or regular octane gasoline, it will not run more efficiently or get better gas mileage with a higher grade gasoline. In fact, if switching to a higher octane gas does improve mileage, there may be a problem with the engine, and you should have it looked at by a mechanic.

A higher octane gasoline will not provide your car with more power, either. Your car is designed to run most effectively and efficiently on the gasoline identified in your owner’s manual. While higher rated gasoline may be more refined, that doesn’t mean that it’s a better product. More refinement results in a different blend of hydrocarbon, which burns slower than regular gasoline. These additional steps, and not the quality of the product, are what increase the price.

Tune Up for Better Gas Mileage

You have many choices when you head to the gas station to fill up your gas tank. Unless your car’s owner’s manual specifically identifies super or premium gasoline, neither the mileage efficiency nor the power of your auto will be increased by filling up with the pricier options. Don’t know what the manufacturer recommends and can’t find the owner’s manual? A quick internet search or phone will save you money at the pump.  If you are looking to increase fuel efficiency and the life of your automobile, you will be better served spending the additional gas money on regular tune-ups and maintenance.

Does Using Detergent Gasoline Matter?

Many petrol companies brag about their detergent gasoline grades. Many drivers seem to agree that Shell and Chevron offer gas with the best additives. Is there any truth to these claims or is it all just a sales strategy? We will spend a little time in this article to look at the benefits of, and any misconceptions about, detergent gasoline.

What is Detergent Gasoline?

Six of the world’s top automakers, Toyota, Honda, Audi, BMW, Volkswagen and General Motors, came to the conclusion that optimal engine performance was not adequately supported by the EPA’s current minimum detergent requirements. As a result of their findings, these companies raised the standard of the gasoline that drivers are recommended to use in their cars. This is now known as the TOP TIER Detergent Gasoline, and is considered the premier gas.

Detergents are added to gasoline to help clean your engine. Gasoline that does not contain a certain level of detergents will cause deposits to form in the engine (on fuel injectors, intake valves and in combustion chambers) resulting in the vehicle giving a below par performance. Engine deposits can greatly impact the vehicle’s in-use emissions and the level of satisfaction the driver experiences. These include:

  • Reduced fuel efficiency.
  • Reduced acceleration and power.
  • Increased emissions and rough idling, stalling and surge.

The quality of the gasoline and the additives in it usually affect the rate of the wear on your engine more than it affects the octane rating. Where you purchase your gas will have more to do with how it performs than its actual grade would. Drivers can usually perform a little test to determine which grade gasoline would work best with their vehicle. If they put in 87 gas and the car knocks when they accelerate then they should go for a higher grade.

What are the Benefits of Using a Detergent Gasoline?

The automakers who initiated the upgrade of gasoline to provide cars with added benefits did so with the intention of creating for themselves (automakers), gasoline retailers, and the end user (drivers) a win/win situation. While gasoline with lower levels of additives can impact engine performance and the responsiveness of the vehicle negatively, here are the benefits of using gas with adequate additives.

  • Detergent Gasoline helps keep engines clean so that they yield optimal fuel performance and economy as well as reduced emissions.
  • Detergent Gasoline will also help to reduce concerns about deposits.

Overall, this means that drivers will gain optimum performance from their vehicles as there will be:

  • Reduced to no instances of driving upsets (rough idle, stalling, surge and hesitation).
  • Improved acceleration.
  • More engine power.
  • Reduced emissions.
  • Dirty engines will be cleaned while new engines are kept clean.

There are no omissions or restrictions on which vehicles should use detergent gasoline. It offers the same benefits to all vehicles, but simply requires that drivers find out which grade gasoline offers the best performance for their vehicle. It is recommended that drivers be more concerned about which retailers they purchase from when they experience problems, rather than pointing to the grade gasoline as the causative factor.

Frequently Asked Questions

What states don’t allow you to pump your own gas?

As of January 1, 2018, New Jersey is the only state with laws against pumping your own gas. Prior to that, Oregon was also included, but they did away with those laws. New Jersey residents continue to fight against the law in hopes of lowering gas prices, but supporters claim it creates thousands of jobs. NJ.com also claims that forcing all these adults to learn how to pump gas now would take an emotional toll on them.

Will someone help pump my gas if I’m disabled?

Modern technologies make driving with a disability easier than ever before. What we still need work on it pumping when mobility is hindered. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, self-service fuel stations must provide access to all customers that have disabilities.

To do this, they must either provide assistance fueling at the request of the person themselves. Keep in mind that this does allow them to refuse if they are only operating with a single employee, although they are still encouraged to help if possible. This assistance should be easy to acquire and there are often signs telling drivers how to get help. Normally, it’s by honking the horn or pushing a button at the pump. These services are to be provided at no charge to the customer and make it much easier for them to learn how to pump gas.

How do I lock the fuel nozzle so it continues to pump into my vehicle?

To keep the fuel nozzle flowing freely simply locate the tiny clasp near the handle. This folds down so you can place it in the notches below it. When done properly, this allows the fuel to flow continuously while you remain hands-free.

Final Thoughts

For someone new to filling up, these steps on how to pump gas might seem overwhelming. In reality, they only take a few minutes to accomplish and become second nature once you’ve done them enough. Don’t become overwhelmed and feel free to take things slowly until you get the hang of it. Everyone would prefer you remain safe while learning how to pump gas than do it quickly and risk injury or death.

About Brian Jones

Brian Jones spent over 30-years at various dealerships as an ASE Certified Master Tech. These days he works with those dealerships to create quality automotive content while spending more time with his family near Dallas, TX. In his spare time, you'll still find him playing with tools, cars, and many other "manly" gadgets. Brian's passions include traveling, pickup trucks, and anything related to motorsports.