There are approximately 287 million cars on the road—and that figure doesn’t even include speciality vehicles like semi trucks and buses. All of those vehicles amount to a lot of people putting in their time at gas pumps every day of the year.
Despite this experience, many people go through life without a clear understanding of how to use a gas pump. It’s particularly problematic for new drivers like teenagers fresh from getting their driver’s license.
If you’ve struggled with using a gas pump, keep reading for our guide on how to pump gas correctly.
First things first, you should find the gas cap on your vehicle and make a note of it. Gas caps can appear on either the driver’s side or the passenger side of a car. Knowing the gas cap location lets you pull up the gas pump with the gas cap next to the pump.
Accessing the gas cap varies from car to car. On some, you simply pop open the gas cap cover. On others, you must depress the cover and flip it open to access the gas cap.
You may also find a gas cap cover released inside the vehicle. If your car has an internal release mechanism, pop it before exiting.
As a general rule, gas caps twist open.
Paying for Gas
There are a couple of options for paying for gas. While you might occasionally find a gas station that will let you fill up first and then pay, these stations are few and far between.
At most stations, you must either prepay or pay at the pump. If you want to prepay for the gas, you go into the store and ask the cashier for a specific dollar amount of gas on a particular pump. The cashier will then activate the pump.
With the pay at the pump option, you must insert a credit or debit card into the designated slot on the pump. The pump may ask you for a debit card PIN or the zip code for a credit card.
Pro tip: when you use a debit card at the pump, gas stations will often put a hold on your account far higher than the actual transaction amount. The amount can exceed $100. It’s typically better to pay inside than deal with the hold.
You may want to explore mobile fleet fueling options if you own a business with multiple vehicles. These options often save money compared to having employees buy gas at the pump.
You can get gas in three different grades. These grades are:
- 87 or regular
- 89 or mid-grade
- 93 or premium
While it might not seem to make much difference aside from cost, the grade does matter. Vehicle manufacturers design engines and exhaust systems to work best with a specific fuel grade.
Most consumer vehicles are designed around running 87 octane or regular fuel. While adding higher octane to an engine designed for 87 won’t hurt your car, it will provide little or no benefit.
The genuine concern is when people use lower-octane fuel in an engine designed for higher-octane fuel. While it’s not a crisis if you do it occasionally, doing it persistently will damage those engines and may damage your emission control.
Your car manual will list the preferred octane for the vehicle, so may you check that when you buy your car.
Selecting a Grade
Different pumps use different methods for selecting a grade of gas. Some pumps have specific hoses and nozzles for different grades. With these, you typically activate the pump by removing the nozzle from the cradle on the pump.
You may also need to flip up a lever in the cradle to activate the nozzle.
Other pumps use a single hose and nozzle assembly for all three grades. With these, you typically select your grade by pressing the grade button or selecting the grade on a digital display.
Many gas pumps also have a specific nozzle for diesel fuel. The handles on diesel nozzles are typically green.
After selecting the grade by choosing the appropriate nozzle or pressing the appropriate button, you’re ready to put gas into the tank. Unscrewing the gas cap gives you an access port to the gas tank. You should insert the nozzle into the tank using the port.
Make sure you seat the nozzle all the way into the tank. There is a grip-activated lever on the nozzle assembly that you can squeeze—squeezing this lever trigger the pump to start pumping the gas into the tank.
If you pay at the pump and plan on filling up, most pumps will automatically stop putting in gas once the tank is full. Once you finish pumping gas, return the nozzle to the cradle on the pump. Then, screw the gas cap back in place and close the cover.
If you prepay, things can get a little more complicated.
If you use up all the money you prepaid, you’ll typically get a receipt at the pump. If you don’t use all the money you prepay, you must go inside to get a refund.
If you paid with cash, you could get a cash refund. If you pay with a card, the clerk will typically need to issue a refund to your card.
How to Use a Gas Pump and You
While the above description of how to use a gas pump may sound a little overwhelming, the steps become very straightforward when you stand at a pump.
The critical thing to remember is that most gas stations require that you either prepay or pay at the pump. Also, once the pump shuts off automatically, don’t try to fill your tank more. Overfilling the tank can lead to spillage at the pump.
Are you looking for more automotive tips? Check out the other posts in our automotive category.