In March 2018, a shocking video showing a car exploding at a gas station was posted to Facebook with the claim claim that the explosion had been caused by “cell and Wi-Fi signals” generated by children texting from the vehicle’s backseat:
URGENT!!!### WARNING!!!!####While the driver was getting gas his kids were using the phone to text and chat until this horrific accident occurred … the cell and Wi-Fi signals cause this explosion … please do not use your phones while pumping gas.
The earliest version of the video we could find was posted by the Ecuadorian news site Al Día in October 2017 and similarly blamed the mishap on the driver’s use of a cell phone while refueling: “While the driver was refueling, the children sitting in the back were using a cell phone to chat. This unthinking act caused the accident. We would appreciate you not using your phone at gas stations.”
In fact, the video captured a car exploding at a gas station in the city of São Gonçalo in southeast Brazil on 8 April 2017. No children were in the vehicle at the time, but a female passenger was killed and the male driver, who appeared to be talking with the passenger, was injured along with a second man, as the newspaper O Globo reported:
Erica Lima Thiengo Siqueira, 27, was inside the car when the explosion occurred. A video from the gas station security camera, which is circulating on social networks, shows the moment of the explosion. In the images it is possible to see the driver of the vehicle, identified as Francisco José Gomes da Costa, outside the car.
Civil Police said an examination is already being carried out on the car, and that it is investigating the causes of the accident.
O Globo also tweeted a second video of the incident, taken from a different angle:
— Casos de Polícia (@CasodePolicia) April 9, 2017
The driver was refuelling the vehicle with compressed natural gas, a popular alternative to gasoline and diesel in Brazil. According to some local news reports, the cause of the explosion was a build-up of pressure inside the natural gas cylinder. None of the news reports we examined asserted that mobile phone use was the cause of (or a factor in) the explosion.
The myth that cellular phone signals can spark explosions during gas station refueling is something we first addressed back in 1999. No reliable evidence has ever been brought forward about a single gas station “flare-up” being caused by a cell phone.
The Petroleum Equipment Institute studied hundreds of fires and explosions occurring during gas station refueling incidents between 1992 and 2010 and found none sparked by mobile phones.