If you’ve ever driven or owned a vehicle for an extended period of time, chances are that you instinctively know which side has the fuel door. The same probably can’t be said about rental cars or other vehicles you’re not all that familiar with. Thankfully there’s a solution. A car’s fuel gauge, located within the gauge cluster, has an arrow that points to the side where the filler cap is located. The useful and oft-forgotten feature traces its roots back to the Ford Motor Company.
The idea came about in April 1986 after Jim Moylan, an interior trim designer at Ford, struggled to find the fuel cap on a company vehicle he was driving. After a thorough soaking while trying to pump gas on the wrong side of the car in the rain, he drafted a design for the fuel gauge arrow and submitted it to his boss.
Moylan subsequently forgot all about the idea, but some seven months later, his boss replied to let him know that his proposal was approved, and that Ford would start adding fuel filler arrows to its 1989 model year vehicles, which were still under development at the time.
Ford initially rolled out the feature only for new vehicles, but it quickly trickled down to all FoMoCo products. That little arrow is an industry standard at this point, and it’s hard to imagine a vehicle without it, but not everyone knows that it’s there, as the video below shows.
Of course, the humorous clip is an extreme example of how annoying it can be when one doesn’t know which side of the car the fuel door is on. In this case, however, the driver could have saved herself time and plenty of embarrassment had she known about that tiny arrow on the fuel gauge.
To that end, the arrow to help the driver identify which side of the vehicle the fuel door is located wouldn’t be necessary if there was a standardized location for it on all vehicles. Alas, that’s not the case, as the side of the fuel filler varies by automaker and by vehicle.
For instance, many European cars have the fuel door located on the passenger side, while many Japanese and American vehicles have the fuel door on the driver side. Both techniques have valid reasons. European automakers place the fuel filler on the passenger side for the sake of safety when a vehicle has run out of fuel and has pulled off onto the shoulder of the road to fill up from a canister. Meanwhile, American OEMs tend to place the fuel door on the driver side of the vehicle for convenience reasons, so that a driver doesn’t have to walk around the vehicle when filling up at a gas station.