Fact or fiction: Can your mobile phone blow up a petrol station?


In every petrol station there is, without a doubt, always a sign warning against the use of mobile phones. Ever since I first saw this and was told to get off my phone, I’ve believed that using your phone at a petrol station can cause a fire

Image source: Flickr


This claim is total fiction.

This rumour has been floating around since 1999 with statem
ents of incidents surfacing all around the world.

However, there is no evidence what so ever to support these claims.

What are the rumours?

Incident reports have surfaced around the world, where people claim they are injured in explosions or fires as a result of cell phone use at petrol stations. The reports assert an ignition that started when individuals answered a ringing cell phone, which caused an electrical spark.

The studies

This myth was effectively debunked in an episode of “MythBusters” back in 2003 and was once again revisited. Both times their experiments showed that a properly working cell phone poses no danger of igniting petrol. Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman (of “MythBusters”) attempted to ignite a mock petrol station and proved a working cell phone failed to ignite the petrol, even when it was surrounded by petrol vapour with the optimum fuel-air mix for ignition.

If you don’t take the word of “Mythbusters” as gospel, the wireless industry have also done various studies on the potential for mobile phones to create sparks that lead to ignitable fires or explosions. They all conclude that whilst theoretically a spark could result from a cell phone battery and ignite petrol vapour, there are only very precise conditions this can happen under, and hence no true documented incidents. There is no potential threat; all scientific testing has established no dangerous link between mobile phones and fuel vapours.


Image source: Flickr

What are the actual dangers?

  1. Static electricity:
    The cause of these reported fires is actually static electricity. There is an electrostatic discharge between a charged driver and the petrol pump, often resulting from continuous movement in and out of a vehicle. These drivers in fact are responsible for 50% of petrol station fires. As you move across your seat you are creating static electricity, then when you touch the pump you can potentially ignite petrol or its fumes. So if you absolutely need to get back into your car it is suggested you touch a piece of metal as you get out, to safely discharge any static electricity you could have built up.
  1. Turning off your car engine:
    If your engine is still running the parts of your engine are continuously rubbing together. All the electrical systems are working and your car fragments can be generating heat or sparks. In the case that petrol or its vapours come into contact with these moving parts it can cause an ignition.
  2. No smoking:
    We’ve all learnt from the fatal scene in the movie ‘Zoolander’, where the whole petrol station explodes from the lighting of a cigarette. Whilst I do admit in this situation not only have the characters of the movie been recklessly squirting each other with petrol, it is also A MOVIE; smoking is still a very dangerous hazard. If model idiot Derek Zoolander knew this, then you should too.
  3. Try to avoid spilling the petrol:
    This may be to some common sense and to others just an inconvenience of wasted money, however every extra drop of petrol on the floor increases the likelihood of a fire. So to decrease the amount of spillages at a petrol station make sure you don’t overfill your tank, do not try to open a petrol pump if its not in use, and leave the nozzle in place once finished refuelling to allow for any residue petrol to leave the line.


It seems that this whole rumour started as a hoax email that was given accreditation when a Shell employee from Jamaica rebroadcasted it with the Shell Company signature. Despite this, The Australian Transport Safety Bureau insists that a mobile phone has never set off a petrol station fire. We should be more worried about the health problems associated with the use of mobile phones than a false rumour that gained traction. I think its time to take down the mobile phone warnings at petrol stations and stop fuelling an unsubstantiated rumour.




6 Responses to “Fact or fiction: Can your mobile phone blow up a petrol station?”

  1. sgarnish says:

    I wish! What a great career thoigh, spending your time debunking myths!

  2. Nelsongc says:

    It’s good to know this myth is busted! Are you taking over as the new mythbusters person with your blog now Sarah? 😛 Great article 🙂

  3. Sabrina Lewis says:

    I remember watching the MythBusters episode that examined this issue. It’s great to see that further evidence has been found that confirms mobile phone use poses no potential threat to our safety at petrol stations.

  4. Tamara Meehan says:

    I’ve always wondered about this, so thanks! It’s a similar story with using your mobile phone in airplanes – you don’t hear the attendants saying ‘turn off your mobile phone’ anymore because it actually poses no risk to the plane’s instruments as was told for many years..

  5. Joshua Munro says:

    That’s a fantastic topic to talk about sgarnish! I haven’t seen those episodes of Mythbusters, so it’s great to hear its a myth busted from your blog. You’re very right about the focus we need to pay to other health issues associated with mobile phones!