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Summary
  • When pulling up at a gas station, always make sure that the fuel tank is facing the pump. You can check the dashboard to confirm the tank’s location.
  • You can either pay at the pump with cash or use a card.
  • Vehicles rely on gasoline or diesel fuel. Check your owner’s manual to find the ideal fuel grade and type for your vehicle.

When driving up to get gas at a station for the first time, it can be a little daunting if you don’t know what to do. Pulling up, paying, and filling up the tank yourself seems like a simple set of steps, but each one has some nuance. Whether you’re a teen with a new license topping up the family car or simply unfamiliar with the self-service system, we’ve got you covered.

Pulling Up

Pulling up to the fuel pump is easy enough. Simply make sure your fuel tank is facing the pump. If you aren’t sure where the fuel tank access is, you can always check the dashboard. There’s usually a triangle-shaped arrow near the gas gauge that points toward the side of the car where the tank is located.

Turn off your engine before stepping out, and make sure it stays closed until you finish topping up the tank and closing the hatch.

Payment

Before you fill your tank, you’ll need to choose how to pay. There are two methods: at the pump or prepayment.

At the Pump

In many gas stations, there are payment systems built into the gas pumps themselves. These will usually only take debit or credit cards. There will be a slot for you to insert your card. After you insert your card, the machine will instruct you to input your PIN or zip code. The machine might also ask how much gas you want to purchase. If you enter an amount, say $30, then the pump will only dispense $30 worth of gas. If you’re trying to top up your tank, you can press enter to skip this step so the pump will automatically stop only when the tank is full.

Prepayment

You can also opt to pre-pay for your gas inside the gas station building. This is how to pay for gas with cash. Simply tell the attendant how much gas you want to purchase and hand over the cash or your card for them to process. When paying in cash, you can tell the attendant how much gas you want to pay for, and the number will appear on the pump next to your vehicle. It’ll stop dispensing the gas once it reaches the correct amount. To top up your tank with cash, you’ll need to overpay and return for your change after your tank is full.

Membership Cards

If you have a membership card for the gas station chain you’re using, you can present it during the payment process to avail of any deals or discounts being offered.

Filling Your Tank

Now that you’ve successfully paid for your gas, it’s time to learn how to fill up a gas tank.

Opening the Fuel Tank

The way to open your fuel tank tends to depend on your vehicle. Certain vehicles require you to open it from the outside while others have a button or lever inside the vehicle on the driver’s side. Either way, the metal hatch to your tank should spring open easily, and you can unscrew the cap with ease. Most fuel caps are attached to the tank in some way to prevent loss.

Choosing a Fuel Type

The next step is to choose your fuel. Most pumps have buttons beside the different types of fuel available, so you’ll need to press the one for the fuel you need.

Gas

Gasoline is usually classified according to octane rating. Octane levels indicate the level of fuel stability. The higher the number, the more stable the fuel. The three most common levels found at a gas station are regular (octane level 87), midgrade (octane levels 89-90), and premium (octane levels 91-94).

It’s best to check your vehicle’s manual to find which fuel grade works best for it. On most modern cars, the required fuel is also listed on the inside of the fuel door for quick and easy reference. There are vehicles with engines designed for regular gas, and these vehicles will see little to no improvement if filled with premium gas. On the other hand, turbocharged engines or those using a greater compression ratio might require high-octane fuel.

Diesel

There are two grades of standard diesel fuel: Diesel #1 (also known as 1-D) and Diesel #2 (or 2-D). Diesel fuel ratings indicate how easy it is to ignite and how fast it burns. Distributors do this by measuring its cetane. If the cetane number is high, it indicates a more volatile fuel. 2-D is used for normal driving conditions, but again, it’s best to check your vehicle’s manual to find out if you should be using a specific grade.

Pumping the Fuel

After choosing your fuel, you can pump it into your car. Once you feed the nozzle into your vehicle’s tank, pull the trigger so the pump can fill the tank with gas. Modern pumps have self-stopping mechanisms, which means they can stop pumping fuel themselves when your tank is full or when the amount you’ve prepaid for has been reached.

Finishing Up

Once you’re done pumping gas into your vehicle, you can place the nozzle back in its holder and your gas cap back on your vehicle. Be careful to let the nozzle pump drip into your tank before moving it. Return the holster tab to the “down” position if you raised it. Also make sure your cap clicks a few times to ensure a proper seal. If the cap is loose, it can cause your vehicle to smell like gas. If any gas did spill, you can clean it up with the provided paper towels.

The pump will also beep and ask if you want a receipt. Press to accept or reject the receipt, and you’re all done. Depending on the station, you might need to return to the shop to retrieve your receipt.

Learning how to fill up gas is easier once you have a bit of experience on you. It’s a series of steps you’ll be doing throughout your driving lifetime. Once you’ve got the hang of it, it’ll end up a simple and straightforward routine for sure.

About The Authors
Written By Automotive and Tech Writers

The CarParts.com Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by CarParts.com's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Reviewed By Automotive Features Reviewer at CarParts.com

Lisa Conant grew up in Canada around a solid contingency of gear heads and DIY motor enthusiasts. She is an eclectic writer with a varied repertoire in the automotive industry, including research pieces with a focus on daily drivers and recreational vehicles. Lisa has written for Car Bibles and The Drive.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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