Quick: On which side is your vehicle’s fuel door?
Must you look at the little diamond-shaped arrow on the fuel gauge EVERY time you fill up to know which side holds the fuel filler? Have you ever pulled to the fuel island to discover you’re on the wrong side? Did you utter bad words before or after you said, “Why don’t they put fuel doors on the same side of every car?!?”
The answer to that question is complicated, if not convoluted.
Based on my research into the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, I came to the conclusion (a conclusion later supported by my contacts at both the Ford Motor Company and Nissan North America) that no U.S. government regulation concerns which side on which the fuel door must be positioned. Much to the chagrin of many motorists, the fuel door can be on either side.
With no legal or marketing motivation, and scant ownership enjoyment implications, car-company engineers are free to place fuel doors on whichever side offers the easiest packaging, according to Ford spokesman Mark Schirmer. He added that there’s not enough room — and no demand — for dual fuel doors.
Americans prefer left-mounted fuel doors, said Schirmer, referencing a Ford study. A driver’s-side fuel door makes it easier for drivers to place the car’s left fender close to fuel pump. Still, fuel door location is typically not part of the buying decision, added Schirmer.
Those in Japan, India, the United Kingdom, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and countries in southern Africa drive on the left side of the road and sit on the right side of the car, and it appears they prefer right-mounted fuel doors, given the tendencies of cra manufacturers. For at least 25 years, the conventional wisdom among auto writers has been that Europeans like right-side doors. However, when I posed this to my industry co-horts, no car company would speculate if or why that might be true.
Nissan, like most automakers, produces some vehicles with left fuel doors and some with right doors.
“The placement of the fuel door is mainly a factor of fuel tank design, location and underbody packaging,” Nissan’s Steve Yaeger wrote in an email. “With all of the structure and components located underneath the vehicle, (engineers) would quickly encounter restrictions in trying to route the filler tube to the same side on every vehicle.”
If mechanisms such as a “big, honkin’ speaker” must be placed on the left side, engineers put the fuel door on the right, notes Schirmer.
The bottom line: Fuel door position is not a random choice, but if engineers have a good reason to place fuel doors on the right, that’s where they go.
If you can’t remember the location of your fuel door, don’t be ashamed to look at the little diamond-arrow on your fuel gauge … BEFORE you pull up to the pump.