Forgetting which side of the car your fuel tank is on can be one of the most embarrassing automotive faux pas you can make. Making it worse, it's a mistake you have to stew in, blushing as everyone watches you awkwardly return to the driver’s seat, drive around the pumps to reorient your vehicle, then try to get back out and fill up as though nothing happened. It's a Larry David level of awkward.
And don't think it can't happen to you. Sure, you might know your trusty ride by muscle memory, but what about if you're renting a car? Borrowing a buddy's vehicle? Buying a new car? Or what if, hypothetically, you’re a car journalist driving around a new test car every week and never remember to check before you get in the car for the first time?
Making it worse, automakers have never reached of a consensus about which side to use.Manufacturers like Ford or Nissan are tank-side agnostic, an individual vehicle’s packaging to determine which side to fill the fuel on. Volkswagen told Jalopnik that it puts fuel fillers on the right side of passenger cars for safety reasons; it sells mostly left-hand-drive cars, and filling up with a jerry can on the left would leave the owner standing in traffic.
(Some economists have proposed the gas tank side conundrum as a case study for equilibrium. Essentially, if manufacturers tried to standardized the tank on the right side, right-sided pumps at gas stations would be clogged, which would then incentivize some manufacturers to put fuel fillers on the left for a competitive advantage, putting us back at the state of affairs we have now.)
Whatever the reasons are for gas tanks being on different sides, there is a surprisingly easy way to tell which side your tank is on — even easier than looking at it beforehand and remembering, in fact.
Every new combustion car, even those with fancy digital instrument displays, has a fuel gauge. You know it’s the fuel gauge because there’s a little icon of a gas pump.
Naturally, your eyes skim over that little icon to figure out where you are between E and F. But if you look closely at the fuel pump icon, there’s a tiny arrow pointing to the left or right. That arrow tells you what side of the car the tank is on.
Yes, it’s that easy.
Now, you probably feel extra-foolish for not realizing about that arrow all of these years. But, hey, you’ll never make that mistake again. And it's a great knowledge bomb to drop in a sibling if you’re in the car when they park on the wrong side of the pump.