Mobile phones, shopping and fuel tank sides. Dos and don’ts of filling up

Filling up

Filling up the car with fuel is (sadly) one of the most frequent things we do when driving. But what is the correct fuel station etiquette? We look at some popular dos and don’ts around refilling with petrol or diesel.

Don’t be on a mobile phone

You might remember, or in some cases still see, signs on fuel station forecourts saying you mustn’t use your mobile phone while filling up. There was a legitimate reason for this.

Brian Madderson of the Petrol Retailers Association explains: “There were concerns that using an electrical device such as a mobile phone might lead to explosions by igniting petrol vapour around the pump and car’s open fuel tank area. That has now been scientifically disproved.

“However, the forecourt is a busy, dangerous place and mobile phones can be a distraction, so it’s best to avoid using them when outside your vehicle.”

The UK Petroleum Industry Association adds: “Mobile phones, although not specifically designed to standards as ‘protected equipment’, pose a negligible ignition risk, and one that is far less than other ignition sources on a fuel forecourt.”

Using a mobile phone in the fuel station shop or inside the car while it’s being filled up shouldn’t present any danger.

filling up
Although your motor won’t blow up, it’s still not a good idea to use a mobile while filling up (Picture iStock/lightfieldstudios)

Don’t wait to fill up on the fuel tank side

We’ve all seen a queue of cars waiting to fill up at the fuel pumps on our right-hand side while those on the left are unused. This is because all European-built cars are designed predominantly for left-hand drive markets. That means if they need filling up at the roadside in a country that drives on the right (eg. Europe and the US), whoever’s putting fuel in can do so on the other side of the car to moving traffic. Japanese cars (where they drive on the left side of the road like us) have fuel fillers on the left.

Whatever the nationality of your car, the hoses on all modern petrol pumps should be long enough to reach round to either side. But you need to be careful if filling the car up on the opposite side to the petrol tank because you might be in the way of moving traffic.

HINT: If you forget which side your fuel filler is on, just look at the fuel gauge. There will be a little arrow pointing to the side the fuel tank is on.

Do move from the pump after filling up

An increasing number of fuel stations now allow you to pay at the pump. But what if you need something from the shop too? If you occupy a pump while doing your shopping you risk the wrath of the drivers behind. If you move away to park, the question is: could you be nicked for driving off?

Every fuel station has cameras to monitor the cars at its fuel pumps. But some don’t like drivers moving their car before paying in case they then drive off. However, the Petrol Retailers Association says that fuel stations make more profit on the goods inside their shops than on selling fuel. Garages can’t have it both ways and as long as you don’t drive off the premises, you haven’t committed a crime.

filling up
Most filling stations have small shops attached now (Picture iStock/Flik47)

Don’t worry if you can’t pay

All of us have had a payment card declined at one time or another. If it happens in a shop, you can put what you’re trying to buy back. It’s a tad more difficult with fuel. The first course of action should be to explain what’s happened to the attendant, ring a friend or relative and ask them to pay for you over the phone.

If you can’t do this, some garages might be unwilling to let you go without paying. But they can’t force you to stay or impound your car. What they should do is give you a No Means to Pay form. You can fill this out and return within an agreed timeframe (usually seven days) to pay.

26 comments on “Mobile phones, shopping and fuel tank sides. Dos and don’ts of filling up

  1. John Bolton September 6, 2019 11:45 am

    What is the procedure for “Pay at Pump”. I have Morrisons near me but always pay in shop because I don’t know what to do with Debit Card. Please advise
    Green Flag Member

    • Nerys Collins September 12, 2019 11:13 am

      There’s a slot for cards, it works the same as ATM

    • S Crowther October 14, 2019 4:55 pm

      Insert your debit card and the pump will read it. It will tell you when to insert the card and when to remove once done. The pump will then tell you to fill up – a maximum of £99.00 of fuel is allowed. Then, when you have finished filling up, just replace the pump. Your account will show as an initial debit of £1.00 (they all do this apparently). No, it’s not your lucky day but (I think) it’s the fuel company just checking your account is OK.
      A day or so later, your account will then be debited by the appropriate amount. I too, was a bit wary about paying at the pump but it’s a bit of a doddle, really. Give it a whirl…!!!

  2. Sheila Applefird October 12, 2019 6:47 am

    Your comment on the fuel filler side is something that I have only recently discovered! BUT I have a mini which defies logic as the indication is that it is in the drivers side and it is not, it is on the passenger side. Also some of the hoses are so heavy that to pull it to the opposite side is really difficult. Many thanks for your interesting news.

  3. Patrick Wickham October 12, 2019 8:57 pm

    You can’t move away from the pumps in this town until you have paid or they will call the police!
    I never use a card at any pumps, I always pay in the shop.

  4. David Harris October 13, 2019 10:26 am

    You have forgotten the first basic rule of filling up. Before you do, make sure that you are taking petrol or diesel according to the fuel that your car uses. You will only make this mistake once. If you do make a mistake do not start the engine but push the car away from the pump. You have also probably lost the use of the car for at least two days if you are lucky. I did make the mistake once, filling up while still half asleep. In my defence I add that I had two cars, one of each fuel.

  5. Geoff October 13, 2019 12:57 pm

    Advise not to extra fill your tank after filler gun shuts off as that can result in fuel getting into the vapour recovery system and result in a strong smell of petrol after you leave the filling station leaving you thinking you have a fuel leak.

  6. Terence Bettesworth October 13, 2019 2:17 pm

    Older cars (mine is a “04” reg) do not have an arrow indicating the side of the filler cap. Memory is the best solution or check before your journey.

  7. Geoffrey Chandler October 13, 2019 3:33 pm

    No reference to users of LPG Autogas pumps. This clean and non-polluting fuel gets far too little coverage.

  8. Mark October 13, 2019 7:47 pm

    Driving of after fuelling to park, doesn’t release the pump (If you pay in shop). So the next person still has to wait until you payed.

    • Heidi October 13, 2019 8:17 pm

      Not always: the garage I used to work at would allow two payments to be ‘sitting’ on one pump at any one time…

    • Anthony October 16, 2019 7:09 am

      Not necessarily. The cashier can usually press a button to store your delivery, releasing the pump for the next customer.

    • Anthony October 16, 2019 7:12 am

      Not necessarily. The cashier can usually press a button to store what you’ve had, releasing the pump for the next person.

    • Andy October 17, 2019 8:04 am

      The systems can handle more than 1 user per pump.

  9. Keith October 13, 2019 9:23 pm

    This is all rather stating the obvious. If you’re a driver, you’ll already have filled your fuel tank many many times, so all these ‘tips’ are old hat!

  10. Anthony Farrar October 14, 2019 7:54 am

    Not all vehicles have a little arrow next to the pump symbol on the dash and a long hose is no good if you are filling up a van, specifically a VW T5 etc.

    • Daniel Wheelband October 16, 2019 9:09 am

      I agree as it’s a high box back the pump lead doesn’t fit over or around unless your on the roof pulling it over

  11. K October 14, 2019 8:56 am

    I always used to fill up then repark to allow people behind me to fill up. But one day I got a real public telling off by the local manager of Morrison’s petrol station so I will not do it again.

  12. Louise October 14, 2019 11:29 am

    Neither paying or driving off “releases the pump”! This is done by the pfs staff once they have verified that the person at the pump is eligible obtain fuel (eg over 16 with a car or proper can etc)

  13. Wendy October 14, 2019 5:37 pm

    Be careful paying for your fuel at the pump-more people get cloned that way. I’ve had it happen to me 3 times and all at petrol pumps…Never again. Bank told me they are the worst for cloning because they don’t get checked. I always queue for a left hand fill up; I always find the hoses are filthy and leave horrid marks on my car when I have to go across the car with a hose

  14. P. I. Staker October 14, 2019 10:13 pm

    Mobile phones causing an ignition risk? Was once told by a forecourt attendant not to use mine. I told her I would stop doing so, when every vehicle was pushed onto and off the forecourt without its engine running, as energising a starter motor or alternator causes a far greater ignition risk.

  15. Martin October 15, 2019 1:41 pm

    Don’t use the phone when refuelling is a complete anachronism. Any mobile phone periodicaly pages the nearest base stations to update location to ensure it has an optimum signal. If email is setup then the email App pages the email server at a set interval. Short of completely switching off the phone before going onto the forecourt there is nothing its owner can do to stop this happening.

  16. George October 15, 2019 1:51 pm

    Also, after filling up & paying, just get back in the car, belt up & drive off….don’t sit there like a pratt checking your emails / updating your social media profile / eating your sarnie etc etc !

  17. Daniel Wheelband October 16, 2019 9:06 am

    Hi the thanks for the information but BP has a fuel app that unlocks the pump via your phone so you can re-fuel you choose your pump number and it unlocks it so you have to use your phone to do this..it takes payment straight away so you can drive off after you put the pump back without going in to the shop…looks like your driving off with out paying

  18. E Noble October 17, 2019 5:32 pm

    if you drive away from the pump before going in to the shop surely the pump remains out of use until you go to the check out and pay. If you have lengthy shopping to do, first pay for your petrol, drive away from the pump, then go back to the shop.

  19. Malcolm October 24, 2019 4:13 pm

    It may be blindingly obvious but as there are plenty of idiots about, it would have been a good idea to mention that if you are a smoker, you should not get out of your vehicle with a lit cigarette, when refueling, or indeed, light up whilst in the forecourt area. However, since idiots probably won’t bother to read about forecourt etiquette my message is not likely to be of any use in preventing a fire.

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