How to Pump Your Own Gas (in 5 Steps)

Nicole Arata
March 16, 2018

Maybe you're still learning to drive, or maybe you live in a place (we see you, New Jersey) where it's against the law to pump your own gas. Whatever the case, we know there are folks out there who've never had to fill their own tank. So — what do you do when you have no other choice?

Don't worry! Here’s our quick and easy guide to filling up your tank.

Step 1: Park at the pump

Park your car so that your gas tank lid is facing the nozzle. Leave about 2 to 3 feet of space in between them.

Not sure which side of your car the gas cap is on? Look on your dashboard. Many cars have gas pump icon there with an arrow next to it that is either pointing left or right. If you don’t see an icon, you’ll need to get out and look for where the gas cap is on your car before stopping at the pump.

Step 2: Turn off the engine

Pumping gas is safe. But it’s important to turn your car completely off when filling it. In very rare cases, people have driven off during some part of the fueling process, which can cause a gasoline spill or even a fire. While we’re on the topic of safety, a few other basics: Don’t smoke — or do anything using an open flame — while refueling, and try not to get back in the car. Opening and closing the car doors can cause a buildup of static electricity, and you don’t want that spark to discharge near your gas tank.

Step 3: Pay for and select your gas

This can go a few different ways. You may have to prepay in the gas station building, or, more likely, you’ll be able to pay with a credit or debit card at the pump. Swipe or insert your card into the machine and follow the instructions on the pump’s screen and keypad (entering your ZIP code or PIN, deciding if you want a receipt) until it asks you to select your gas and begin fueling.

Unless your car has a diesel engine, you’ll typically have three types of unleaded gasoline to choose from: regular, mid-grade and premium. Regular will usually be just fine, unless you have a high-performance car or have noticed occasional knocking sounds from your engine. If you have a diesel engine, you’ll only have one choice — look for the diesel pump, which usually has a green handle.

Step 4: Pump the gas

First, open your gas tank door — there may be a button by the driver’s seat, or you may have to physically open it outside — and unscrew the cap. Then, remove the nozzle from the pump and insert it into the gas tank opening. The nozzle should rest securely there even if you let go.

Squeeze and hold the “trigger” of the gas nozzle to begin fueling. There usually will be a latch that can lock the trigger in place, so you don’t have to keep squeezing the entire time. If you look at the pump’s screen, you should see a running tab of the cost of your gas, and the amount being dispensed. When the tank is full, the nozzle will automatically shut off. Or, if you only want to spend a certain amount without filling up, you can let go of the trigger when you reach that figure. 

Step 5: Return the gasoline gun

Carefully remove the nozzle from your gas tank and place it back in the pump where it was when you pulled up. Put the cap back on the tank, make sure it’s sealed tightly, and close the gas tank door. Then collect your receipt, if you want one. That’s it — you’re ready to hit the road again.

Nicole Arata

About the Author

Nicole has written about car ownership for multiple media outlets, and her work has been featured in USA Today, Yahoo Finance and the Los Angeles Times.

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