Are Mobile Wallets Safe to Use at Gas Pumps?
Have you ever noticed a warning sign at a gas pump telling you to put way your cell phone? These warnings came about years ago because cell phones were thought to spark fires at gas stations.
But in the present day, many of those same gas stations are now encouraging users to pay at the pump via mobile wallet. Hold your phone to the pump, verify the payment, and fill up your tank. This brings up an important question: are mobile wallets safe to use at gas pumps? What potential dangers should you watch out for, if any?
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, several stories emerged about people catching on fire while filling up their gas tanks. The theory at the time was that the fires were caused by static electricity or energy waves emitting from cell phones. Since then, these theories have been debunked numerous times by the Petroleum Equipment Institute and even Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters.
Static electricity was, in fact, the culprit in those gas pump fires, but not because of cell phones. When a person gets inside of a car, he or she collects static energy—typically from the material on the seat. If the person does not ground themselves (touch a piece of metal) when getting out of the car, that static gets carried to the fuel nozzle. It creates a spark and could inevitably start a fire. That fire becomes worse if the person continues to pump fuel over the car out of panic.
There have been no reported static-ignited fuel pump fires since 2010, most likely because vehicles now come with vapor-recovery systems.
If you see a mobile payment at the gas pump, it should be completely safe to use. Take advantage of the convenience, and rest assured your vehicle is well protected. For extra precaution, make sure to tap on your car’s frame if you re-enter during fueling. This will discharge any static electricity you may carry with you.