Gas tank icon mystery solved?
April 1, 2010 6:32 PM   Subscribe

On which side of the car is the gas tank?

Mr. CT was driving my car to Chicago (from Michigan) last weekend with a friend of his. They needed to stop for gas, and he remarked that he could never remember which side the gas tank was on. This friend told him that it was on the dashboard. If the icon is on the left side of the dash, the tank is on the left. And vice versa.

We are both shocked that we never knew this, and between us we have a lot of driving years. Is this common knowledge? I feel really stupid, but amazed to find this out. So do you all know this or is it arcanum?
posted by chocolatetiara to Travel & Transportation (56 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've never heard this. It's true on my vehicle, though.
posted by Atreides at 6:34 PM on April 1, 2010


I've never heard that exactly. The few different cars I've driven have had an arrow by the fuel gauge.
posted by chndrcks at 6:35 PM on April 1, 2010


Yes, there's a little arrow that points to which side the gas tank is on. I would say this is relatively common knowledge, but a search shows many are still amazed by this.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 6:36 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the dashboard? You mean around the gauges? There's usually a little icon next to the gas tank indicator. The arrow next to the little gas pump icon points to the gas-tank side of the car. I would call this somewhat common knowledge. I rent cars fairly frequently and they always have them. Maybe it's recent though?
posted by parkerjackson at 6:36 PM on April 1, 2010


Here's an article about this topic from a Snopes-like site.
posted by mullacc at 6:36 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Someone pointed out to me several years ago that it's signified by a little arrow next to the gas pump symbol on the dash. Whichever side the arrow is on, points to the side the gas tank is on. It has held true in every case I've checked since that moment (when I was shocked as you to find out I'd been missing it all these years). For my car, the whole gas-indicator icon is on the right of the dash but the tank on the left of the car, but the arrow is definitely to the left of the gas pump symbol.
posted by vytae at 6:36 PM on April 1, 2010


The fuel gauge on my car (Smart Fortwo) is on the left, the fuel cap is on the right. This is a RHD car though, I don't know if that makes any difference.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:37 PM on April 1, 2010


Not true.
posted by devinemissk at 6:37 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lots of cars have a little arrow on the dashboard that points to the left or right to tell you which side the gas tank is on.

Like you, I didn't even notice the arrow until a year or so ago when a friend pointed it out to me.
posted by rancidchickn at 6:37 PM on April 1, 2010


Not true as noted above.
posted by fixedgear at 6:38 PM on April 1, 2010


I've never heard this, and it doesn't seem to be true for my current car (Honda Fit). I fill the gas tank on the driver (left side). The gauge is on the right side of the dash, along with the "you need to fill me now" icon. I believe the actual gas tank is located in the middle under the front seats.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 6:40 PM on April 1, 2010


I have a '98 Honda Civic and the gas tank is on the left, yet the fuel indicator is on the right side of my dash.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:40 PM on April 1, 2010


No. But my GLI has a little arrow next to the gas pump icon pointing to the side of the car that has the fuel door.
posted by birdherder at 6:40 PM on April 1, 2010


Nonsense. Empirical evidence! The 2004 Subaru Forester and the 2010 Subaru Forester have gas gauges on opposite sides of the panel (they reversed gas gauge and tachometer in the intervening years) but the gas tank is on the same side (right, if you care).
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:41 PM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not true for all cars. Kia Soul+ here, tank is on the drivers-side but the icon is on the right.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:44 PM on April 1, 2010


On a Ford Taurus the icon is on the left and the tank cap is on the right. On a Honda accord the icon is on the right and the fuel tank cap is on the left.

At least on a Taurus, there is a little arrow that shows you on which side the gas cap is located.

These are two of the more common cars in America, and would seem to disprove this notion, as has been stated above.
posted by 517 at 6:44 PM on April 1, 2010


Okay, seems I misunderstood, but in any case the icon and the fuel gauge are on the opposite side of the car from the gas tank.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:46 PM on April 1, 2010


Huh. Okay, but my gas gauge does have a little arrow pointing towards the drivers-side, ostensibly to say "hey, dummy, the gas tank is on the left!"

I have never had this problem, FWIW.
posted by InsanePenguin at 6:47 PM on April 1, 2010


Late 90s Honda, cap is on the left, gas gauge on the right, no arrow. At least now I know what the little arrow means when I drive a rental.
posted by jamaro at 6:52 PM on April 1, 2010


Not on either of the cars I've driven on a daily basis.
posted by strixus at 6:52 PM on April 1, 2010


People seem to be conflating the false assertion that the handle of the pump on the icon dictates the side of the fuel filler cap - this is a false indicator and has been around for a while.

However, the little triangle arrow next to this icon does tell you which side the filler is on.
posted by Brockles at 6:59 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


In addition (and I forgot this bit) there is no definite correlation between which side of the dash the entire gauge is and which side the filler is. The arrow is the only definite indication I have seen that is a standard that has been maintained.
posted by Brockles at 7:02 PM on April 1, 2010


I only heard of the little arrow at the fuel meter last year and was completely amazed by it. It's proved true in every car I've ridden in since then, but I'm guessing it's a relatively modern (and brilliant!) invention.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 7:04 PM on April 1, 2010


That isn't true all the time. My Mazda pickup is true but my brother's Ford Escape is the opposite.
posted by govtdrone at 7:08 PM on April 1, 2010


I got a similar "mind blown" moment when I learned there was a lever on rear view mirrors that you can pull and it dims the car headlights behind you
posted by ShootTheMoon at 7:18 PM on April 1, 2010


You can also look at the exhaust pipe. The fuel filler is on the opposite side of the car.
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 7:21 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Neither of our Hondas (2005 & 2006) have an arrow next to the gas gauge icon. Neither my wife nor I had ever heard of it, so obviously, it's not common knowledge :)
posted by puritycontrol at 7:23 PM on April 1, 2010


You can also look at the exhaust pipe. The fuel filler is on the opposite side of the car.

Again not true. Dual exhaust, OK?
posted by fixedgear at 7:26 PM on April 1, 2010


puritycontrol: "Neither of our Hondas (2005 & 2006) have an arrow next to the gas gauge icon. Neither my wife nor I had ever heard of it, so obviously, it's not common knowledge :)"

I knew about the arrow, but I rarely see one in a car, and I've driven quite a few rentals. I have a 2005 Honda Accord and it doesn't have one. I don't think they are as common as people think.
posted by peep at 7:28 PM on April 1, 2010


Well, I'll be dipped. I had to run right out and look at our car's dashboard after reading this discussion. Sure enough, in our 2009 Toyota Deathtrap, I mean Matrix, there's a triangle above the gas icon that points to the left, where the filler is located. Never noticed. Will definitely check it out when I rent cars.
posted by Sublimity at 7:30 PM on April 1, 2010


The little arrow is certainly not on all cars. Does anyone know if this is a new thing? I have seen it on rental cars.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:41 PM on April 1, 2010


My car is over 10 years old and it has the arrow.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 9:00 PM on April 1, 2010


The little arrow is certainly not on all cars.

I'm pretty sure that our 2000 Saturn is the first car I ever saw this on, and I thought it was just a Saturn thing. Then again, prior to that I'd never owned a car that had been made later than 1980. I could of missed it, but I think it is one of those "should have thought of it" simple innovations that somebody came up with and ends up getting adopted by everyone.

When you think about it, it doesn't make much sense that automakers would adopt some sort of subtle convention like which side the fuel handle hangs on the icon or which side of the dash the fuel icon is placed, but not put it in the manual or tell anyone about it.
posted by nanojath at 9:00 PM on April 1, 2010


Huh, I guess my car is over 10 years old too.
posted by nanojath at 9:02 PM on April 1, 2010


I rent a lot of cars, different makes and models. So far, the arrow had always been there. Relatively new cars, although my 2005 Explorer has it too.
posted by tamitang at 9:43 PM on April 1, 2010


blew my mind...
posted by xammerboy at 9:59 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


In order to verify your assertion I would look for an ISO standard which mentions the mapping. The most likely candidate for that, I think, would be ISO 76395: 1985 which refers to graphical symbols used as part of the diagnostic systems in road vehicles. There are also some other ISO standards relating to fuel filling systems - but nothing that looks like a perfect match. My link, above, gets you as far as an abstract and a request to pay to see the full document - maybe there is somebody with access to a copy who could verify?
posted by rongorongo at 10:45 PM on April 1, 2010


Huh? My car doesn't even have a gas pump icon. The "fuel me now!" indicator is just an orange, circular light.

Also, the gauge is on the right side and light is on the right of that. The gas cap is on the left. There is no arrow anywhere on the dash. (This is a 2002 Mazda Millenia.)
posted by Silly Ashles at 1:29 AM on April 2, 2010


The hose which the petrol comes out of is long enough to reach either side, right? So it doesn't matter whether your car is a rightie or a leftie, just go to the first one available.
Also, some Jaguars (XJ?) have fuel caps on both sides of the car.
posted by mjg123 at 2:54 AM on April 2, 2010


There's a distinction here, though - the little arrow shows you which side of the car the filler neck is. The tank itself is usually right in the middle of the car to provide adequate collision protection.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:51 AM on April 2, 2010


I learned this a little while back, and it seems to prove true for most newer cars. And as mentioned above, it is all about the little tiny arrow that appears next to the little gas pump icon. It has nothing to do with where the gas pump icon is on the dashboard. And as backseatpilot says, it indicates where to the filler neck is, or more importantly, what side to go to pump your gas. Who cares where the tank is?
posted by jasondigitized at 6:11 AM on April 2, 2010


Goddamn every single "graphic designer" with their "concepts" and "universal symbols" that you need a degree in Egyptology to understand. I loathe every stupid incomprehensible symbol on every piece of equipment you buy now. Important information should be WRITTEN, in WORDS, in a CLEAR TYPEFACE, in a LOGICAL PLACE, on an auto dashboard. Imagine if an aircraft instrument panel had all that useless crap all over it and the flight crew had to guess what and where the hell the controls were.
posted by Nicholas West at 6:54 AM on April 2, 2010


Important information should be WRITTEN, in WORDS, in a CLEAR TYPEFACE, in a LOGICAL PLACE, on an auto dashboard.

Graphical indicators transcend language barriers. An arrow to the left of a fuel pump icon says, "fuel goes on that side" in English, French, Spanish, Japanese, German, etc.

Similarly, audio equipment with the standard forward/back, play, pause, stop and record icons (double right-arrow, double left-arrow, right-arrow, vertical bars, square, red circle, respectively) can be manufactured and exported anywhere without concern for translation issues.

A statement such as yours assumes that everyone speaks the same language, but fails to address additional concerns. At a glance, you can identify an icon faster than read a sentence. "Fuel on right" takes more time to parse than a right-arrow next to a pump. Furthermore, you can quickly pick out a thermometer or fuel pump icon among the gauges. If everything were in words (in multiple languages!) it'd get hard to read quickly.

We'll not even get into what you mean by "logical," because different people have different ideas of "logical."
posted by explosion at 7:43 AM on April 2, 2010


I went out in my jammies to check. 2009 Audi A4, no arrow.
posted by HotToddy at 7:57 AM on April 2, 2010


I don't give a damn about transcending language barriers. I want to know what switch operates the headlights or where the gas filler cap is. And I don't want to have to go read a manual to tell me what a particular symbol means; complete waste of time when you could have written the function right on the dash. And because there is little attempt to standardize both symbols and things like gas filler cap placement, and because there is an increasing attempt to cram "unsymbolizable" concepts into absurd and maddening glyphs that make no sense to anybody, I think the whole practice should be thrown out the window, the sooner the better. If they can make clear instrument panels for aircraft piloted by people worldwide, then they can do it with cars. If the auto makers are too cheap to language-customize their dashboards for the various world markets, that's a separate issue.
posted by Nicholas West at 7:58 AM on April 2, 2010


Well, you mentioned aircraft twice already (once more and Beetlejuice gets summoned) so I'll chime in.

1) Aircraft have PLENTY of strange symbology, and pilots get trained on how to read them. You get stuff like this nowadays - does that look simple to you?

2) Language is important! Flying, by international treaty, has established English as the Official Language. Placards are all in English, air traffic controllers and pilots speak English to each other. There aren't "language customizable" control panels because pilots are all expected to understand English.

3) There is quite a lot of effort that goes into determining symbols and colors. It's called "human factors engineering". I have spent several maddening hours in meetings trying to determine what shade of yellow is proper for "caution" indications for some new symbology. The FAA actually dictates colors and symbols for a lot of the more common alerts that a pilot might face.

4) Replacing simple pictograms with words turns your whole dashboard into a cluttered mess. Trying writing "WINDSHIELD WIPER SPEED FASTER/SLOWER" on the stalk coming out of your steering wheel.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:12 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


"1) Aircraft have PLENTY of strange symbology, and pilots get trained on how to read them. You get stuff like this nowadays - does that look simple to you?"

God help me......I know what all the stuff on that picture means. But you will notice....that EVERY SINGLE SWITCH on that screen has a WRITTEN label. There are actually no symbols on that panel, just numbers, a pictorial representation of the horizon, and LABELED controls.

Not only that, on an aircraft instrument panel, the actual placement of the vital instruments such as altitude, airspeed, horizon, vertical speed etc is completely standardized, has been for decades and is the same on every single aircraft regardless of manufacture.
posted by Nicholas West at 8:18 AM on April 2, 2010


Just checked my '01 VW GTI. There's no little fuel pump icon at all. Just the gauge. No arrow, either (unless you count the right turn signal arrow, which is next to the gas gauge, which could act as a bit of a subliminal cue) It IS, however, on the right-side of the gauge cluster, which coincides with the side of the car with the filler cap.

As to "How would you even know it's the gas gauge, then?", the gauge features the admonition "UNLEADED FUEL ONLY". That's enough of a clue for me.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:01 AM on April 2, 2010


I was surprised that not all new cars have the arrow in their fuel gauges. Dodge has had these indicators on at least some dashes since the 80s. My 96 Dakota had the words fuel door written next to the arrow.

Nicholas West writes "Goddamn every single 'graphic designer' with their 'concepts' and 'universal symbols' that you need a degree in Egyptology to understand. I loathe every stupid incomprehensible symbol on every piece of equipment you buy now. Important information should be WRITTEN, in WORDS, in a CLEAR TYPEFACE, in a LOGICAL PLACE, on an auto dashboard. Imagine if an aircraft instrument panel had all that useless crap all over it and the flight crew had to guess what and where the hell the controls were."

Imagine the dashboard of an Indian car with support for their 22 official languages. Or the UK with 7. Wheeee.

Nicholas West writes "I know what all the stuff on that picture means. But you will notice....that EVERY SINGLE SWITCH on that screen has a WRITTEN label. There are actually no symbols on that panel, just numbers, a pictorial representation of the horizon, and LABELED controls. "

XPDR, DME, FPL, ENT etc. might as well be symbols for how untrained human readable they are. And a single large symbol is easier to read than several letters squished into the same space.
posted by Mitheral at 9:12 AM on April 2, 2010


A pilot getting into a strange aircraft has a far easier time placing and identifying all his controls than we do getting various brands of cars from a rental agency. A complete absurdity. Not only that but operating a car requires easily the level of responsibility and seriousness of attitude as an airplane, yet you have to play infantile guessing games trying to figure out what the Playskool symbols on your rental car dashboard means. You can go nuts trying to figure out how to open the trunk or how to open the filler cap lid. The worst.
posted by Nicholas West at 9:36 AM on April 2, 2010


A pilot getting into a strange aircraft has a far easier time

Gotta disagree with you again. Try going from this to this - a very reasonable (for some values of reasonable) switch if you're a private owner that's come into some extra cash. There are some immediate problems here - the 182 has three knobs but the Cirrus has two levers! Which does what? Where did the third control go?*

I wouldn't go flying in an unfamiliar aircraft without at least a couple hours of instruction. I can go to the car rental at the airport and drive off in five minutes.

*The blue knob controls the propeller angle; Cirrus built a cog system into the throttle control that automatically adjusts the prop based on the engine output.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:52 AM on April 2, 2010


The hose which the petrol comes out of is long enough to reach either side, right?

Nope. Not at every gas station in the US. Some, yes. All? No. And now that I think about, none of the gas stations within several miles of my house have hoses that are long enough to reach the other side of my Honda Odyssey or my Volkswagon Passat.
posted by cooker girl at 10:00 AM on April 2, 2010


Despite all arguments attempting to convince me to the contrary, I maintain that it's harder to find the damn trunk release or understand the headlight settings of an unfamiliar rental car than it is (if you're familiar with aircraft to begin with) to understand the instrument layout of any aircraft in the world, and it's too bad that car users are subjected to such idiotic design. That's my story and I'm stickin' with it !
posted by Nicholas West at 10:50 AM on April 2, 2010


Well being as you are erroneously of the opinion that the skills required to operate a car are equivalent to that of an aircraft - despite the several orders of magnitude higher training hours required to operate a plane - that isn't surprising.

Standardised icons are far more useful than text. Language quirks even between companies of shared language ("Gas tank" means nothing to an English person, for example) never mind the oddities of direct translation and language complexity (clearly you've never had to label anything in German if you think you can fit that on any sort of dash layout) means that written instructions are nonsensical and impractical.

I can operate and perfectly understand a car in Mexico, Brazil, Malaysia, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain, France and England/US within seconds without even looking once at the manual (for any manufacturer of car) purely because of the icons on the dash all being the same. It requires zero thought to transfer between these cars and countries - I've done it many times but would have no hope understanding even a little of the written descriptions of most of those countries.

It isn't possible to seamlessly switch between two aircraft even from the same country (as mentioned) without either additional training or familiarisation time. It is, in fact, often mandated that this extra training between different aircraft be undertaken.

I find it hard to believe you have ever flown a plane if you think it is easier to switch between them than it is a car.
posted by Brockles at 11:26 AM on April 2, 2010


You can also look at the exhaust pipe. The fuel filler is on the opposite side of the car.
How the hell would I do this from inside the car, which is the only place I ever am when I care what side the fill is on?

This is also the first I have heard of the arrow icon. I will have to take a peek for this the next time I get the car started.
posted by whatzit at 12:58 PM on April 2, 2010


Nowhere did I say that the skills necessary to fly a plane were the same as those used to drive a car. I said the attitude towards the seriousness of the endeavor were similar. They certainly should be. Nor did I ever say that a pilot transferring between different types of aircraft does not need familiarization or type training. All erroneous interpretations of my point on your part.

ALL I said is that it is easier to find the vertical speed indicator or flap switch on any aircraft than it is to find the trunk release or know from the inside what side the gas filler cap is on or get the window buttons right when jumping into a strange car at a rental agency. Because they are LABELED.

That's ALL I said.
posted by Nicholas West at 1:03 PM on April 2, 2010


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