In the Aug. 28 Dr. Gridlock column, an Annandale couple reported seeing a customer gas up with his engine running. The couple asked if there are any laws against this. (There are: up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.) Dr. Gridlock asked for your observations. Some sobering responses:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I think the bigger safety issue is that while you are out pumping gas with the engine on, someone else can drive off in your car. It would be wiser to not only switch off the engine but also remove the keys.

Gary Ruff


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A member of my dad's car pool would refuel with the engine idling. Drove my dad nuts! When my dad asked his fellow car-pooler why he did this, the response was: "Saves wear and tear on the starter motor."

John M. Roman


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Many times I have seen people filling their tank with their engine running (we won't even talk about smoking; that's another story!). I have always thought it was stupid and dangerous but was not aware it was also illegal. I have not heard of any fires caused by this practice, though.

I never had the nerve to approach an offending driver (partly in fear of retaliation) but may now do so, knowing it is illegal.

By the way, it seems that with all the gizmos and gadgets people are happy to pay for in their cars these days, it would be a rather simple matter to include an interlock that would prevent filling the tank with the ignition on. Hello, car makers?

Zolt Levay


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am amazed that you never have seen anyone fueling their car with the engine running. If I had to leave the gas station every time someone pulled this stunt, then I'd never get any gas.

I fill up in the morning on my way to work in Bowie. I haven't seen anyone doing this lately, but they do it often in the winter when it's cold. I guess they want to keep the heat running. I also have seen this when it's very hot and people don't want to turn off their AC.

It makes me extremely nervous when someone pulls up to the pump next to me and starts pumping gas without turning off the engine. Like I said, at first I was extremely shocked, but now it seems to happen with alarming frequency. Maybe we need better driver's education. I was taught to always turn off the engine before pumping gas.

Despite the number of times I've witnessed this stunt, I've never seen any fireballs (thank goodness).

Laura Miller


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I turn my engine off when refueling for economy reasons, not safety reasons. Back in the days when I pumped gas for a gas station, it was common for customers to keep their engines running while their car was being refueled. Never saw a problem.

What should we do when we're refueling and a car pulls up behind or next to us and takes on gas while the engine is running? Why not stop our vehicles 50 to 100 feet from the pump, push it to the pump, refuel, and push it 50 to 100 feet from the pump, only then restart the vehicle and drive away?

Seriously, though, does anyone have data on the chances of gasoline being ignited while a vehicle's being refueled and also how those chances increase by refueling with the engine on?

Donney Bibb


Why not simply turn the engine off and remove the key. Only takes a moment. Please read on.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In response to your request today for information about the dangers of filling a gas tank while the engine is idling, there was a well-publicized incident in July 1998 from Boston.

Joey Kramer, the drummer from the rock group Aerosmith, was badly burned when his Ferrari caught fire while it was being refueled at a Boston area gas station. According to an article from the Boston Globe, dated July 18, 1998:

"Investigators said the car was running while the gasoline tank was being filled, which is illegal and increases the chances of fire. The engine in the Ferrari is in the middle of the car, near the gasoline tank."

Trevor Spradlin


The article also said: "The fumes from the pool of gasoline may have been ignited by the intense, 1,500-degree heat generated by the car's catalytic converters, authorities said.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I, too, am one of those people who sometimes leaves their engine running at the gas station. Your column in The Post has opened my eyes, not only to the penalty for my behavior but also to the real danger I put myself, my family and others in. I guess sometimes, even when you know something is wrong or dangerous, you do it anyway. Not anymore! Thank you for possibly saving my life.

Since I work for a fire protection engineering firm, I sign this only:

Embarrassed in Fairfax County

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I do know of at least one fire that occurred while a car was running at the gas pumps. It happened in Winchester at an Exxon station, right across from the post office. A woman in a minivan was filling up when she decided to turn her car on to see if her gas tank was full. A spark caused an explosion, and her van was destroyed, as well as the gas pump.

Luckily, she was able to get her child out of the van, and no one was hurt. Also, the attendant on duty quickly shut off all the pumps so the fire did not spread.

My parents were living in Winchester at the time and showed me the front page picture in the newspaper of the burned-out van. It convinced me to make sure my car is always turned off at the pump! Hope this helps.

Carol Jackson


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Yes, I have seen someone fueling her car while the engine was running. When I realized what she was doing (she was at the pump behind me), I gently explained that it wasn't a safe procedure.

I'm a gray-haired grandmom and not an intimidating presense. She asked curtly what business it was of mine, and I explained that I was "in the line of fire," but more important, I was concerned about the future problems it could cause. She tossed off the whole idea and continued. To my additional chagrin, a young man joined her and they stood by the pumps, smoking!

Joy Shaver


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Gassing up with the engine running is not uncommon. It is routine in the cold months because these [people] don't want their car interior to cool down while filling the gas tank.

The risk of approaching one of these morons is greater than the risk of an explosion. And, of course, the station "attendant" will never do anything. Maybe the fire marshals should spend more time out on the beat.

Gary Holt


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I read your column regarding individuals who refuel their vehicles while they are still running. I agree that this is quite hazardous, and I have had two quite different encounters with this problem.

The first happened about a year ago on Route 1 in Alexandria. I was refueling our minivan with the whole family inside when a D.C. taxicab pulled up and the driver started filling up without shutting off the engine.

I politely suggested to him that it would be a good idea to shut off his vehicle because it was against the law to refuel while it was running. He started shouting profanities at me (none printable in a family newspaper) and began to verbally threaten me. At this point, not wanting to put my family in harm's way, and already having paid for the gas, I put the cap on my tank and got out of there.

I did, however, have the presence of mind to get his license plate and cab number. When I got home, I called Fairfax County police to report what had happened. I was visited by a officer who was very sympathetic but said that because the vehicle had Maryland plates, it would be very difficult to serve the individual with a warrant, let alone get him to show up at a Fairfax County court.

Although I was not particularly happy about the circumstances, I decided not to press charges.

About a month ago, I had a somewhat different encounter. In this case, a gentleman pulled up behind me and proceeded to refill his vehicle in the same manner. Trying not to repeat the same encounter, I said to him, "Excuse me, sir, I think you may have forgotten to turn off your vehicle." This time, rather than a string of expletives, the man, who was somewhat taken aback, simply said, "Thank you, I forgot," and promptly shut off his vehicle.

Given my first example, I am still somewhat hesitant to say anything to people who are stupid enough to engage in this practice. If they were only putting themselves into danger that would be one thing, but increasing the risk to innocent bystanders is a completely different matter.

Jeff Merrifield


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have seen people on numerous occasions fueling their cars with the engines running.

The first couple of times I encountered this I asked the driver if he knew how dangerous this was.

The response I received is not printable. When I mentioned it to the station attendants their attitude is that they don't want to get the driver mad. It could be that they, too, have encountered the same response I received.

Now, when I encounter this, I will leave as quickly as possible or, if I am just arriving, will leave and go to another station.

Peter Stein


Simply turn off the engine when refueling. It is the law. Now, on to the next filling station hazard: Do you see people smoking while they fill up? What do they say if you mention it? Are you aware of any fires?

Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Lori Fischer, contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Thursday in Southern Maryland Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at The doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county, and day and evening phone numbers. Because of the number of responses, Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.