How can I figure out which side of the car the gas hatch is on (without getting out)?

105

15

As a longtime New York City resident, I've never owned a car.

I drive fairly regularly, though, thanks to rentals, Zipcars, and the kindness of relatives and other not-quite-strangers.

Since much of my driving is done in cars I've never been in before, I frequently found myself pulling into a gas station with no clue which side of the pump I need to be on. So I'd guess, pick a side, get out, and about half the time, I'd have to get back in and pull around.

Now, I know that most drivers own their cars, and only run into this problem once, but I couldn't help but think:

Is there really no way to determine where the gas cap is before you pull up to the pump?

Jaydles

Posted 2014-12-22T13:53:01.013

Reputation: 2 237

1On most gas stations the hose is usually long enough so that you don't need to care if you should go to the rack on the right or left side. – Micer – 2015-08-17T11:47:24.650

4Also, not quite an answer because this question states that you're already inside the car, but I can't resist leaving the comment: there was a Car Talk puzzler a while ago about this topic, where it was revealed that for about 90% of cars, the muffler/exhaust pipe is on the opposite side of the car as the gas tank door. (Come to think of it, on a cold day -- and you are in New York, after all -- this fact plus your rearview mirror actually has a reasonable chance to solve your problem!) – Pops – 2014-12-22T17:55:04.587

2The need for this hack is limited to wider vehicles such as trucks and RVs, as typical pump hoses are long enough to reach the other side of a standard width car. – Qsigma – 2014-12-24T13:51:26.097

2You could remember to check before you get into the car. – zeel – 2015-01-13T18:16:51.150

Answers

161

Pretty much every car made in the last couple of decades has a gas hatch indicator arrow right on the dashboard:

a gas gauge a fuel gauge

Just look for the arrow next to the pump icon. I'd seen that little triangle thousands of times and never noticed it until a friend told me it indicates the side the gas cap is on.

Jaydles

Posted 2014-12-22T13:53:01.013

Reputation: 2 237

24Meta comment: I posted this as a lifehack only because it's my sense that the vast majority of people have no idea there's any way to know this from the car, since no one I know knew it until someone told us (late in life). If this is common knowledge now, the querstions would be off-topic. This is literally a thing designed to do just this, so it's only a LH if almost no one knows it exists. – Jaydles – 2014-12-22T14:06:14.373

Of course, then you sit there trying to remember if it means you're supposed to pull up on that side of the gas pump, or if it means the gas hatch is on that side. – Sterno – 2014-12-22T14:19:26.853

In my experience, more people who started driving before this was common don't know about it. But that pretty much makes sense when you think about it. – TIO Begs – 2014-12-22T15:28:13.230

10I downvoted because this isn't a hack; it's an indicator made for this exact purpose... and it only works if you're driving a car that has this arrow. Not all of 'em do. – hairboat – 2014-12-22T18:40:19.430

3Before they started to add the arrow, the gauge was usually on the side of the fuel door. – cpt_fink – 2014-12-23T05:16:15.890

22@Jaydles: it's my feeling that this is entirely appropriate as a hack. I do not believe this is common knowledge. I live in a rural area which necessitates huge amounts of driving, and I've never heard it referenced. People tend not to notice such details in the operation of their car; and given the example pictures, it's not surprising. One wouldn't necessarily assume those tiny triangle are even arrows. – chronometric – 2014-12-23T11:23:26.833

What about rear fueling vehicles with the gas cap hidden behind the license plate? Or are those even still produced? This would matter if you have a long vehicle and want to pull forward enough for the nozzle to reach the rear. – dss539 – 2014-12-23T21:33:36.633

@dss539 - I think cars with the rear filler tube behind the license plate are no longer made due to safety concerns, a minor rear end collision can break the filler pipe leading to a large gas leak and fire. I remember one day long ago following my grandparents after they left a gas station and drove up the hill to go home -- they forgot to replace the rear gas cap, and when they accelerated up the hill, left a long trail of gasoline on the road behind them. – Johnny – 2014-12-23T23:03:23.533

My wife's old car didn't have the indicator on the fuel gauge, she kept forgetting which side it was on (my car was the opposite of hers, and we switched cars frequently), so we finally just printed a label and pasted it near the fuel gauge. – Johnny – 2014-12-23T23:09:06.040

I drive a 2005 Japanese-made Honda, and it does not have this triangular symbol. The filler cap is on the left (nearside), but the gauge is on the right (offside) of the instrument panel of this right-hand drive variant. So I upvoted @psorenson's hack instead. – Qsigma – 2014-12-24T13:49:50.260

6I had no idea O.O – Abraxas – 2014-12-24T20:56:23.943

1Kind of a pedantic debate, but something not being common knowledge doesn't make something a hack. If you told the engineer "I used a life-hack to figure out where the gas cap is at" he'd respond "You mean you used the as-designed indicator we put on every car?" The startup sequence to a Kamov Ka-50 is not common knowledge, but for the handful who have it memorized, it certainly is NOT a hack as it is in no way improvised. Johnny's case of printing a label is a life-hack, because they improvised a solution in the absence of this feature. – AaronLS – 2014-12-26T16:57:29.143

2@AaronLS semantically I agree with you 100%. But for defining what should be on topic for the site, it seems like it's not how "clever" the solution is that should matter - finding a feature that's supposed to be known broadly but isn't surely fails there- as much as whether it is much easier than the ones the vast majority of people are aware of and use. For me, we're aiming for 1) unknown or not obvious to most laypersons who face this issue, 2) fairly easy to implement, and 3) easier or more effective than the commonly known way. – Jaydles – 2014-12-26T17:05:36.230

2@Jaydles Agreed, any answer that addresses the question is ontopic. I was commenting more on the life-hack terminology misuse. I can foresee this site will have questions that will have well known as-designed solutions which might be obvious in a topical site such as an automotive SE site, but non-obvious to those outside of that expertise AND that will not be apparent until the question has been answered. The reason for this effect is your 3 criteria for ontopic-ness evaluates the answer rather than the question. So you can't decide if a question is ontopic until you see the answer. – AaronLS – 2014-12-26T17:18:50.773

1This is something that gets hidden in plain sight. While psorenson and abby hairboat have more "hacky" answers, this is not common knowledge among the vast majority of vehicle operators to which it applies (compare to the Ka-50 startup sequence: one hopes most Ka-50 operators know the sequence). A little triangle is only obvious once you know what it means. One could very easily assume it is simply part of the icon for refuelling and bears no special significance beyond that. – Smithers – 2014-12-26T18:23:34.843

TIL that this isn't common knowledge, so I guess that makes it count as a lifehack. – BM5k – 2014-12-27T06:52:24.407

I don't see why people downvoted this. I think this is a great answer, because I had no idea that this existed until just now. – James Lynch – 2015-01-05T21:25:34.790

2I've been driving for 20+ years, and I was a mechanic for 4 of those years and a mechanic in the Army Reserve for 6. I never knew this. This is freaking awesome. – alesplin – 2015-01-13T21:00:33.530

3I signed up for this site just to upvote this answer. My eyes have been opened. – Stephen – 2015-01-21T03:46:12.063

Seems like 2003 Honda Civic doesn't have one.

– kenorb – 2015-02-02T11:39:49.527

52

Pull the fuel cap release lever under the drivers seat then look in your side mirrors.

When you release the outer fuel cap it springs outwards from the car body making it visible in one of the side mirrors.

EDIT: in response to Johnny's comment below - you should probably only do this while the vehicle is stationary, eg after you pull into the fuel stop. Apparently some people have been known to confuse the hood and fuel cover release.

psorenson

Posted 2014-12-22T13:53:01.013

Reputation: 707

12I'm not a huge fan of this question, but I am a huge fan of this answer. I thought about checking the mirrors, and realized it wouldn't work, but popping the fuel door and then checking the mirrors never occurred to me. I mean, you would never want to drive around with the fuel door open normally, but if you're about to pull into a gas station anyways, why not? This is a good example of the kind of creative thinking this site needs. – Pops – 2014-12-23T03:36:00.547

4This would not work on my car. – Mr. Mascaro – 2014-12-23T19:16:14.383

11Not all vehicles have a fuel cap release lever. – dss539 – 2014-12-23T21:27:10.680

3And a lot of people end up pulling the trunk release instead of the filler door release. I've even see people pull the hood release when looking for the fuel door release in a rental car. – Johnny – 2014-12-23T23:06:39.760

1My truck doesn't have a lever. Weird. – James Lynch – 2015-01-05T21:26:32.940

Note: not usable for LPG since they usually don't have a spring in the fuel cap. But since many things are not applicable on LPG, this is a great answer nonetheless.

– Mast – 2015-01-22T09:20:16.660

47

If you're in a car that doesn't have a handy indicator, you can try driving up next to a structure with plate glass windows or another reflective surface.

enter image description here

If you angle it right, you should be able to see all of one side of your car reflected on the windows, and thereby check to see if you can find the gas door. If you can't see it, then it's probably on the other side, though you may want to do a U-Turn to confirm, especially if it's an unfamiliar car or you can't see the reflection very well.

This works best in shopping centers with parking lots, so you can get up pretty close to the glass and drive slowly or stop in front of it without blocking traffic.

hairboat

Posted 2014-12-22T13:53:01.013

Reputation: 1 161

1This is a wonderful answer, I'm not sure why it is not accepted (self answering bias, perhaps?) – GodEmperorDoom – 2014-12-22T20:05:44.377

3>

  • Don't worry so much about what gets accepted.
  • Despite this answer being "hackier", the other answer is much easier so long as your car isn't ancient, and thus many may consider it better.
  • It's only been two hours since it was posted.
  • < – Sterno – 2014-12-22T20:56:22.607

    17Maybe it's just me, but this seems more inconvenient -- and, depending on where you are, potentially hazardous to yourself or others -- than simply getting out of the car and looking. – Pops – 2014-12-23T00:28:34.773

    1@Pops: I agree with you, but I didn't think "get out and look" would qualify as a hack. – hairboat – 2014-12-23T03:24:07.970

    3And I, in turn, agree with that. Might be an indicator that Lifehacks is not the right site for this particular question. On the other hand, I did like psorenson's answer. – Pops – 2014-12-23T03:31:18.390

    So... did you actually ever ever do this? :P – David Mulder – 2014-12-23T09:53:27.677

    @DavidMulder I did. I was a passenger and while my parents were busy trying to remember where it was, I looked out the window and spotted it in a store window. They thought I was omniscient. – hairboat – 2014-12-23T16:52:21.243

    2The only answer I'm going to need for any questions going forward: "utilize omniscience" – Pops – 2014-12-23T19:40:50.353

    The gas filler door in my car sits flush with the car body and is painted in the same color, I'd have to have an awfully good view of the car in a window to see it - I think it'd have to be mirrored glass. – Johnny – 2014-12-23T23:05:25.630

    14

    Most cars will have the fuel cap on the drivers side of the vehicle. in America this is on the left side of the car. Cars made in America will all follow this standard, which means Chrysler, Ford and GM will generally all be on the left side of the vehicle.

    In some other countries you drive on the opposite side of the road and therefore the driver is in the right side of the car, the fuel cap will then be on the right. When the cars are built for markets, such as American ones where we drive on the right side of the road, the cabin is retrofired such that the driver is placed on the left side of the vehicle but the gas cap remains on the right side of the car.

    This of course isnt an exact science but I have found it to hold true for most cases.

    TLDR; American made cars its on the left, foreign imported cars on the right.


    I did a bit more research on the topic and came up with this interesting bit of info https://www.quora.com/How-do-car-makers-decide-what-side-to-put-the-gas-tank-on#ld_lwqreh_45412 . Below is a quote from the website just in case it goes dead.

    Patterns: For single exhaust vehicles, the gas filling opening is on the opposite side of the exhaust, I've heard that this makes engineering the underbody easier: Japanese cars tend to have the exhaust on the right and American+German cars tend to have the exhaust on the left. Possible explanations for placing the filler opposite the driver include emergency fueling while pulled over. This also holds for placing the filler on the left for Japanese cars since Japan drives on the left [1]

    .. then further down

    Patterns for individual automakers (with a few exceptions, not all listed): It would be neat to see an infographic organizing this.

    Japanese (90%+ left): Japanese cars are consistent within their model lines and even parent companies. The rate of exceptions is probably under 10% of vehicles produced in a given time period.

    Honda/Acura: Left Toyota/Lexus: Left Nissan: Left (right: 350Z/G35 and 370Z/G37) Mazda: Left (Mazda3 right due to Ford influence) Mitsubishi: Left Subaru: Right

    German: German automarkers tend to place the filler on the right, more consistently than American cars.

    BMW: Right
    Mercedes-Benz: Right
    VW/Audi: Right

    American: My knowledge of American cars is less, but they tend to be less consistent within their model lines and as a whole. Also, the relationship between parent companies is murkier.

    Ford: Right (new Mustang is left, old Mustangs are right, Probe is left probably due to Mazda influence)
    Chevrolet cars: Left.
    Chevrolet Trucks/SUVs: Right
    Dodge: Left (Viper is right)

    Korean:
    Kia: Left
    Hyundai: Left

    ug_

    Posted 2014-12-22T13:53:01.013

    Reputation: 257

    3not sure that this is true for Japanese cars my Toyota has it's fuel filler on the left, as they drive on the left in Japan, you'd expect it to be right hand drive thus the opposite of what you say. My Peaugot and vauxhall, French and American (GM) had it on the right (drivers side on my UK version) however in the country of origin they would be on the passenger side. – Nick J Adams – 2014-12-23T15:49:57.363

    5Unfortunately there are too many cases where this information is not accurate for me to go by it. For example, my Chevy Cruze pumps on the right. – Thebluefish – 2014-12-23T20:14:00.917

    3@Thebluefish ditto for my Chevy Aveo. Also, "most other countries" don't drive with left-hand traffic. There are 75 LH countries and 161 RH countries, according to wikipedia. – Brian S – 2014-12-23T20:38:42.210

    1Every car I've ever owned (several) has had the fuel cap on the opposite side from the driver's door. – Dawood ibn Kareem – 2014-12-23T21:51:31.013

    1My '02 Dodge Neon has the filler on the right. My wife's Mercury Sable is on the right. Our Ford Taurus is on the right. It's been many years (decades?) since I've had an American car with filler on the left. (Hmmm... '69 El Camino?) – user2338816 – 2014-12-24T03:13:28.710

    How 'bout volvo? (you forgot sweden) :D – J. Musser – 2014-12-24T17:27:01.993

    There are a few rule-of-thumbs and most make do stick to a standard so that's not an entirely nonsensical idea but you seem to confuse the rest of the world with Japan. – Relaxed – 2014-12-26T01:03:54.743

    Don't forget Pontiac! My TransAm has identical exhaust pipes on both sides. – JDługosz – 2015-01-15T08:16:26.750

    Another data point against this list above: I drive a Nissan with the filler on the right, and it's not one of the two exception models listed. – hairboat – 2015-02-18T23:51:53.163

    7

    Before the little arrow, here's what I was told:

    If the gas gauge is on the right side of the instrument panel, then the gas cap is on the right. And vice versa - if the gas gauge is on the left side of the driver's instrument panel, then the gas cap is on the left.

    It held true when I would drive the occasional rental car.

    Doug S

    Posted 2014-12-22T13:53:01.013

    Reputation: 71

    I'm sad to say that this is untrue on my 2003 Chevy Cavalier. The gas gauge is on the left with no indicator arrow. The fuel door is on the right. :( – goodguy5 – 2016-04-07T13:07:14.140

    1This doesn't appear to be true today, at least not reliably so. (My sample is only two at the moment, but both of em have the gas gauge on the right, but the cap on the left. – Jaydles – 2014-12-26T15:48:23.350

    1@Jaydles, do you also have the little arrow indicator? Or is it just the gas icon near the gas gauge? I'm curious if my recommendation is simply outdated and superseded by the arrow. – Doug S – 2014-12-26T19:01:44.530

    interesting question. They're both newer cars that DO have the little arrow, so it's possible you're right that this used to be an indicator. – Jaydles – 2014-12-26T21:09:17.903

    3

    About the auto maker origin, American, Asian, European, you are partially right, the point is that Japanese drive on the left so they have the pump on the left and the Europeans drive on the right so they have the cap on the right. The exceptions came from joint ventures where the side of the cap depends on the origin of the car designer. For example: Asian designed cars like the toyota aygo that will also be also sold as the Citroën c2 in Europe. In Japan the same car branded toyota will have the wheel on the right and the cap on the left but if branded Citroën you will have the wheel on the left and the cap on the left side also as it is the same car, they just change the wheel side and sell it under different brands.

    Uno que pasaba

    Posted 2014-12-22T13:53:01.013

    Reputation: 31

    This seems to be approximately the same answer as ug_'s – Zach Saucier – 2014-12-29T14:27:12.407

    3

    If there are no indicators, most people keep their car's manual in the car. The manual should tell you where the gas cap is, though it may be easier to just get out and check than to look through the book.

    zeel

    Posted 2014-12-22T13:53:01.013

    Reputation: 139