Can I leave my car running while I get petrol?

We’ve all been tempted to keep our car running while filling up for a quicker pit stop, but could it be a risk to public safety? We find out.

If you’re sitting in your car at a petrol station wondering if you can leave your engine on while you refuel, the short answer is you shouldn’t – especially if you can avoid it.

While racing cars don’t have to turn off before a pit crew pumps high-octane fuel into them mid-race, there’s a reason that same pit crew is dressed head-to-toe in fireproof clothing – because occasionally the car will burst into metre-high flames with no warning.

RELATED: Can I leave my child in the car while I pay for petrol?

In fact, Formula One cars sometimes spectacularly catching fire during a pit stop is just one of the reasons mid-race refuelling was banned in 2010, with Grand Prix cars getting bigger fuel tanks instead to last them the entire race.

Back to your road car, if you’re potentially contemplating refuelling with the engine running, you’d do well to also ensure you have full-body fireproof clothing and a squad of closely watching fire-fighters with extinguishers at the ready.

Is it safe to put petrol in a running car?

While technically it’s possible to refuel with the engine running, there’s a minuscule risk that petrol could spill under the car and become ignited by the car itself.

When a car is running, it creates ignition risks like an errant spark – if it’s older and not particularly well maintained – or a red-hot exhaust.

“Turn off your engine before filling up,” said service station giant BP. “If you leave your engine running, electrical leaks from old spark plug leads or other electrical wires can cause a spark. Such sparks can be hazardous, especially if you are filling up with petrol at the time.”

An easy way to effectively eliminate this risk is to switch the engine off.

Is it illegal to keep your car running while you refuel?

Unlike other countries like the US – where in some states it was once an imprisonable offence to leave your car running while filling up – there are no laws in any Australian state or territory that specifically require you to turn your engine off while refuelling.

However, there are laws concerning leaving your car unlocked and unattended. 

In NSW, Victoria and Queensland, it’s illegal to leave your car unlocked if you move more than three metres away from it – like you would have to at a petrol station if you left the engine running and went inside to pay.

“If the driver will be over three metres from the closest part of the vehicle, the driver must switch off the engine before leaving the vehicle,” reads Section 213 of the NSW Road Rules (2014).

There are sound reasons to turn your car off while refuelling that have nothing to do with fire risk. 

For starters, if you habitually leave the engine running with children alone in the car, you never know when one of them might climb into the front and try to imitate mummy or daddy behind the wheel – while you watch aghast from inside the service station. Or, worse, while you have a petrol nozzle pumping highly flammable liquid into the fuel filler neck.

Plenty of cars have also been stolen while the owner left them idling, unlocked and unsupervised – sometimes with kids in the back.

So the takeaway is this: unless you have an incredibly good reason, and there are few, it’s not a bad habit to turn your engine off while refuelling.

Have you ever had an occasion where you needed to refuel without turning your car off? What was it? Let us know in the comments below.

The post Can I leave my car running while I get petrol? appeared first on Drive.

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