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Why aren't all gas caps on the same side?

Gas cap locations fuel confusion, pump rage

  • Car queue in the bad traffic road. Selective focus.

Gas bar line-ups get chaotic when the cost of fuel dips or a price hike is predicted.

Impatient motorists turn around and back up blocking others trying to enter or leave. It has been known to spark pump rage — all because gas caps on cars, trucks and vans aren’t on the same side.

“If they were all on the same side, then everybody would just roll through in the same direction on either side of the pump and there would be no need to turn around and back up,” says Brian Patterson, president of the Ontario Safety League.

“Because they’re on either side, we have people taking all kinds of risks in positioning themselves to get ahead of someone else. I think we need to have a re-think about it.”

Related: A foolproof way to always know which side your gas cap is on

Formed in 1913 by a group of business and community leaders responding to the increased threat to public safety brought about by the automobile, the Ontario Safety League’s mission is to reduce preventable death, injuries and destruction on Ontario roads through education and safety awareness.

Education programs range from Elmer the Safety Elephant for school children to safety courses and services for Ontario’s transportation industry, including instructor training for private and commercial vehicles, driver improvement training, fleet safety and management, collision investigation, analysis and prevention.

In countries where vehicles drive on the right side of the road, the safest side for the gas cap to be is on the passenger side. It’s especially evident in situations where motorists run out of gas and need to pull onto the shoulder.

Using a gas can on the driver’s side, close to traffic, can be dangerous.

“We’ve even had tow truck operators killed or badly injured with their vehicle’s emergency lights flashing,” says Patterson.

He said most service employees who provide emergency roadside assistance prefer to tow cars to a safer location off the roadway before adding fuel or changing tires.

For safety reasons, automotive design engineers tend to locate the fuel tanks, pipes and filler ports on the opposite side from the car’s exhaust system, except in the case of vehicles with dual exhausts.

There was a time when gas caps were hidden behind the rear license plate, but gas tanks were moved further ahead over concerns the location could be dangerous in rear-end collisions.

Most people know which side their gas cap is on until they rent a car or drive someone else’s to a gas station and many aren’t aware most fuel gauges have an arrow beside the gas pump icon indicating which side the filler cap is on.

The gas cap position can differ not only from one auto maker to another, but also among models built by the same manufacturer.

“We’ve had so many accidents here with people trying to turn around and back up,” said Paul Koskinas, of Top Valu service station on Kingston Rd. east of Victoria Park Ave.

The independently owned and family run east end Toronto gas bar draws huge car line ups because they sell gas cheaper than all their competitors.

“There is chaos here, especially during rush hour on a Friday afternoon and it’s why we put in longer hoses — to reach the other side so people don’t have to turn around,” Koskinas said.

As a regular Top Valu customer, Lara Blanch has experienced some of the gas pump pandemonium of the past.

“I haven’t seen rage, but I’ve seen annoyance with people trying to get ahead by backing up, which usually happened when prices dropped, but they’ve solved that with the long hoses,” she said as her car tank was being filled.

“The cars I’ve driven have always had gas caps on the right side, so I’ve never thought about it but when you consider the safety aspect it makes sense to have it on the right side,” Blanch added.

There are no universal rules or regulations governing where gas ports should be, although the general trend in Europe was to put it on the passenger side, while North American auto engineers favoured the left side.

Some foreign car builders began putting them on the left in models designed for the North American market.

While focusing on various features and options the gas cap location is one of the few things people think about when buying a car and rarely does the salesperson mention it.

“There are a number of factors that determine whether the gas cap is located on the left or passenger side of the vehicle,” said Faye Roberts, communications director with GM Canada. “In many cases it comes down to how best to integrate all systems into the available ‘real estate’ on a vehicle.”

GM positions an arrow next to the fuel gauge pointing to the side the gas cap is located in all its new cars and trucks.

“The body type or style of the vehicle determines the amount and configuration of the space available for passenger use in the cabin as well as the various systems that are needed with a vehicle – including the fuel system,” Roberts added.

“Then, decisions about the type of power train and drive-line affect the way that the available space in the vehicle is used – for example where there is sufficient space for the fuel tank itself.”

“Additionally, when designing the layout, engineers make it a priority that the fuel filler be located as close as possible to the fuel tank,” she said.

It all makes perfect sense until things get hairy at the pumps again with news of a possible gas price hike or oil shortage.

  • Why aren't all gas caps on the same side?
  • Why aren't all gas caps on the same side? Hurricaine Rita caused chaos in Toronto. September 22, 2005. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star) sjr
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