Car Doctor Q&A: Why Can’t Gas Caps All Be on One Side?

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Our Q&A man John Paul takes a letter from somebody who’s questioning just why in the Wide World of Sports the auto manufacturers can’t settle on putting the fuel filler on one side or the other.

Q. For many months, (maybe many years), I have wondered why so many cars made and driven in the United States, have their gasoline filler pipes on the right side of the cars. So many countries, like the USA, and most of the world, drive on the right, like us, that I’m surprised that so many manufacturers install the filler on the side of the cars away from gas pumps at filling stations. Unlike years ago, when gas pumps all had longer filling hoses, today’s pumps force drivers to approach pumps ‘against the traffic’ making it difficult for that driver, and inconvenient for other drivers who have their filler caps on the left.
I drive a 1997 Toyota Corolla, and even though it’s a ‘foreign’ car, and Japan drivers drive on the left, I think most Japanese manufacturers put their filler caps on the left. On this side side of the world, my daughter drives a 2 year old Ford, and that car also has the filler cap on the right side. When I do pay attention, it seems that possibly 25% to 30% of the cars I see have the filler on the ‘wrong’ side! I hope that if I were to buy another car, I remember to shop only for a vehicle with the filler pipe on the left! Thanks for listening, and if there is a reason for this trend, can you please explain it to me?

A.This comes up from time to time and after a little investigation there seems to be no real answer. At one time it was thought to put the fuel fill opposite the exhaust pipe, to prevent any chance of fuel and hot exhaust coming together. In some cases it is design and perceived safety.

To me it would make sense to put the fuel fill on the right side, since if your car ran out of gas and you needed to use a gas can to add fuel you would be furthest from traffic and a bit safer at the roadside. What does seem to be the standard is there is no standard, no regulation or even consistency from vehicle manufactures. The good news it that car manufactures have moved fuel fill from the dangerous places they were in the 1960’s such as under the license plate or on the rear trunk deck where they would be damaged and leak in a collision.

John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England. A certified mechanic, Paul tests dozens of new cars each year and also hosts a radio show on AM 950 and 550.