We’ve all pulled up to the wrong side of the fuel pump at least once. And if you’re like many drivers, you’ve probably wondered why cars don’t always come with fuel doors on the same side.

Why isn’t there a universal rule? Welcome to one of the road’s greatest unsolved mysteries. Here are a few explanations behind this mind-boggler.

Fuel door solutions that fail

To begin, let’s rule out the places fuel doors can’t go. As a great mystery-solver once said, when you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains must be the truth. With that in mind, here are fuel door solutions you won’t see.

  • Dual fuel doors: Why not solve the problem with fuel doors on both sides of the car? Dual fuel doors aren’t possible for most cars because — besides the added expense — there simply isn’t enough room in the vehicle’s inner structure for a gas tank that spans the car’s width.
  • Centered fuel door: If dual fuel doors are out, then it would seem the next logical solution would be to split the difference, right? Alas, this fix is out too — a fuel tank centered on the rear end of the vehicle could easily turn a minor fender bender into a roadside bonfire.

To keep drivers safe, a number of REGULATIONS dictate acceptable fuel door placement. To be compliant, fuel doors must be at the widest part of a car, inboard of any crumple zones and safe from dripping onto electrical wiring or into hot exhaust.

Factors of fuel door placement

Automakers are free to choose either the left or right side for a vehicle’s fuel door. While every manufacturer has a unique situation, a few general factors can weigh on the decision.

  • Design: With many complex parts that need to fit inside a limited space, designing a car is like playing a giant game of Tetris®. Sometimes the fuel door can end up on one side or the other simply because of the needs of the car’s overall design. For example, if a large component like a speaker needs to be installed on the left, an engineer may decide to put the fuel tank and door on the right.
  • Convenience: Often, pulling up close to the pump is easier when it’s on the driver’s side of the vehicle. And when it comes to filling up, a driver’s-side fuel door also saves a walk around to the other side of the car. Because of this added convenience, some automakers opt for left-side fuel doors.
  • Safety: If you ever run out of gas and have no choice but to fill up on the side of the road, it’s safer to be on the right side of your vehicle, away from traffic. This buffer zone is one reason some automakers opt for right-side fuel doors. Remember, a roadside fill-up should only be a last resort, and you should never carry a filled gas can in your vehicle.

If you ever forget which side your fuel door is on, there’s an easy way to tell. Just refer to your fuel gauge on your dashboard. Pro tip: Most vehicles will display an icon on the fuel gage indicating left or right. But be sure to check this indicator before pulling up to the pump. And if you’re looking for somewhere to fill up, find a CENEX® STATION NEAR YOU.

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