As a longtime New York City resident, I've never owned a car.

I drive fairly regularly, though, thanks to rentals, Zipcars, and the kindness of relatives and other not-quite-strangers.

Since much of my driving is done in cars I've never been in before, I frequently found myself pulling into a gas station with no clue which side of the pump I need to be on. So I'd guess, pick a side, get out, and about half the time, I'd have to get back in and pull around.

Now, I know that most drivers own their cars, and only run into this problem once, but I couldn't help but think:

Is there really no way to determine where the gas cap is before you pull up to the pump?

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    Also, not quite an answer because this question states that you're already inside the car, but I can't resist leaving the comment: there was a Car Talk puzzler a while ago about this topic, where it was revealed that for about 90% of cars, the muffler/exhaust pipe is on the opposite side of the car as the gas tank door. (Come to think of it, on a cold day -- and you are in New York, after all -- this fact plus your rearview mirror actually has a reasonable chance to solve your problem!) – Pops Dec 22 '14 at 17:55
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    The need for this hack is limited to wider vehicles such as trucks and RVs, as typical pump hoses are long enough to reach the other side of a standard width car. – Qsigma Dec 24 '14 at 13:51
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    You could remember to check before you get into the car. – zeel Jan 13 '15 at 18:16
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    On most gas stations the hose is usually long enough so that you don't need to care if you should go to the rack on the right or left side. – Micer Aug 17 '15 at 11:47

Pretty much every car made in the last couple of decades has a gas hatch indicator arrow right on the dashboard:

a gas gauge a fuel gauge

Just look for the arrow next to the pump icon. I'd seen that little triangle thousands of times and never noticed it until a friend told me it indicates the side the gas cap is on.

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    Meta comment: I posted this as a lifehack only because it's my sense that the vast majority of people have no idea there's any way to know this from the car, since no one I know knew it until someone told us (late in life). If this is common knowledge now, the querstions would be off-topic. This is literally a thing designed to do just this, so it's only a LH if almost no one knows it exists. – Jaydles Dec 22 '14 at 14:06
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    I downvoted because this isn't a hack; it's an indicator made for this exact purpose... and it only works if you're driving a car that has this arrow. Not all of 'em do. – hairboat Dec 22 '14 at 18:40
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    Before they started to add the arrow, the gauge was usually on the side of the fuel door. – cpt_fink Dec 23 '14 at 5:16
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    @Jaydles: it's my feeling that this is entirely appropriate as a hack. I do not believe this is common knowledge. I live in a rural area which necessitates huge amounts of driving, and I've never heard it referenced. People tend not to notice such details in the operation of their car; and given the example pictures, it's not surprising. One wouldn't necessarily assume those tiny triangle are even arrows. – chronometric Dec 23 '14 at 11:23
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    I had no idea O.O – Abraxas Dec 24 '14 at 20:56

Pull the fuel cap release lever under the drivers seat then look in your side mirrors.

When you release the outer fuel cap it springs outwards from the car body making it visible in one of the side mirrors.

EDIT: in response to Johnny's comment below - you should probably only do this while the vehicle is stationary, eg after you pull into the fuel stop. Apparently some people have been known to confuse the hood and fuel cover release.

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    I'm not a huge fan of this question, but I am a huge fan of this answer. I thought about checking the mirrors, and realized it wouldn't work, but popping the fuel door and then checking the mirrors never occurred to me. I mean, you would never want to drive around with the fuel door open normally, but if you're about to pull into a gas station anyways, why not? This is a good example of the kind of creative thinking this site needs. – Pops Dec 23 '14 at 3:36
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    This would not work on my car. – Mr. Mascaro Dec 23 '14 at 19:16
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    Not all vehicles have a fuel cap release lever. – dss539 Dec 23 '14 at 21:27
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    And a lot of people end up pulling the trunk release instead of the filler door release. I've even see people pull the hood release when looking for the fuel door release in a rental car. – Johnny Dec 23 '14 at 23:06
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    My truck doesn't have a lever. Weird. – James Lynch Jan 5 '15 at 21:26

If you're in a car that doesn't have a handy indicator, you can try driving up next to a structure with plate glass windows or another reflective surface.

enter image description here

If you angle it right, you should be able to see all of one side of your car reflected on the windows, and thereby check to see if you can find the gas door. If you can't see it, then it's probably on the other side, though you may want to do a U-Turn to confirm, especially if it's an unfamiliar car or you can't see the reflection very well.

This works best in shopping centers with parking lots, so you can get up pretty close to the glass and drive slowly or stop in front of it without blocking traffic.

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    This is a wonderful answer, I'm not sure why it is not accepted (self answering bias, perhaps?) – GodEmperorDoom Dec 22 '14 at 20:05
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    1. Don't worry so much about what gets accepted. 2. Despite this answer being "hackier", the other answer is much easier so long as your car isn't ancient, and thus many may consider it better. 3. It's only been two hours since it was posted. – Sterno Dec 22 '14 at 20:56
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    Maybe it's just me, but this seems more inconvenient -- and, depending on where you are, potentially hazardous to yourself or others -- than simply getting out of the car and looking. – Pops Dec 23 '14 at 0:28
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    And I, in turn, agree with that. Might be an indicator that Lifehacks is not the right site for this particular question. On the other hand, I did like psorenson's answer. – Pops Dec 23 '14 at 3:31
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    The only answer I'm going to need for any questions going forward: "utilize omniscience" – Pops Dec 23 '14 at 19:40

Most cars will have the fuel cap on the drivers side of the vehicle. in America this is on the left side of the car. Cars made in America will all follow this standard, which means Chrysler, Ford and GM will generally all be on the left side of the vehicle.

In some other countries you drive on the opposite side of the road and therefore the driver is in the right side of the car, the fuel cap will then be on the right. When the cars are built for markets, such as American ones where we drive on the right side of the road, the cabin is retrofired such that the driver is placed on the left side of the vehicle but the gas cap remains on the right side of the car.

This of course isnt an exact science but I have found it to hold true for most cases.

TLDR; American made cars its on the left, foreign imported cars on the right.


I did a bit more research on the topic and came up with this interesting bit of info https://www.quora.com/How-do-car-makers-decide-what-side-to-put-the-gas-tank-on#ld_lwqreh_45412 . Below is a quote from the website just in case it goes dead.

Patterns: For single exhaust vehicles, the gas filling opening is on the opposite side of the exhaust, I've heard that this makes engineering the underbody easier: Japanese cars tend to have the exhaust on the right and American+German cars tend to have the exhaust on the left. Possible explanations for placing the filler opposite the driver include emergency fueling while pulled over. This also holds for placing the filler on the left for Japanese cars since Japan drives on the left [1]

.. then further down

Patterns for individual automakers (with a few exceptions, not all listed): It would be neat to see an infographic organizing this.

Japanese (90%+ left): Japanese cars are consistent within their model lines and even parent companies. The rate of exceptions is probably under 10% of vehicles produced in a given time period.

Honda/Acura: Left Toyota/Lexus: Left Nissan: Left (right: 350Z/G35 and 370Z/G37) Mazda: Left (Mazda3 right due to Ford influence) Mitsubishi: Left Subaru: Right

German: German automarkers tend to place the filler on the right, more consistently than American cars.

BMW: Right
Mercedes-Benz: Right
VW/Audi: Right

American: My knowledge of American cars is less, but they tend to be less consistent within their model lines and as a whole. Also, the relationship between parent companies is murkier.

Ford: Right (new Mustang is left, old Mustangs are right, Probe is left probably due to Mazda influence)
Chevrolet cars: Left.
Chevrolet Trucks/SUVs: Right
Dodge: Left (Viper is right)

Korean:
Kia: Left
Hyundai: Left

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    not sure that this is true for Japanese cars my Toyota has it's fuel filler on the left, as they drive on the left in Japan, you'd expect it to be right hand drive thus the opposite of what you say. My Peaugot and vauxhall, French and American (GM) had it on the right (drivers side on my UK version) however in the country of origin they would be on the passenger side. – Nick J Adams Dec 23 '14 at 15:49
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    Unfortunately there are too many cases where this information is not accurate for me to go by it. For example, my Chevy Cruze pumps on the right. – Thebluefish Dec 23 '14 at 20:14
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    @Thebluefish ditto for my Chevy Aveo. Also, "most other countries" don't drive with left-hand traffic. There are 75 LH countries and 161 RH countries, according to wikipedia. – Brian S Dec 23 '14 at 20:38
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    Every car I've ever owned (several) has had the fuel cap on the opposite side from the driver's door. – Dawood ibn Kareem Dec 23 '14 at 21:51
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    My '02 Dodge Neon has the filler on the right. My wife's Mercury Sable is on the right. Our Ford Taurus is on the right. It's been many years (decades?) since I've had an American car with filler on the left. (Hmmm... '69 El Camino?) – user2338816 Dec 24 '14 at 3:13

Before the little arrow, here's what I was told:

If the gas gauge is on the right side of the instrument panel, then the gas cap is on the right. And vice versa - if the gas gauge is on the left side of the driver's instrument panel, then the gas cap is on the left.

It held true when I would drive the occasional rental car.

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    This doesn't appear to be true today, at least not reliably so. (My sample is only two at the moment, but both of em have the gas gauge on the right, but the cap on the left. – Jaydles Dec 26 '14 at 15:48
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    @Jaydles, do you also have the little arrow indicator? Or is it just the gas icon near the gas gauge? I'm curious if my recommendation is simply outdated and superseded by the arrow. – Doug S Dec 26 '14 at 19:01
  • interesting question. They're both newer cars that DO have the little arrow, so it's possible you're right that this used to be an indicator. – Jaydles Dec 26 '14 at 21:09
  • I'm sad to say that this is untrue on my 2003 Chevy Cavalier. The gas gauge is on the left with no indicator arrow. The fuel door is on the right. :( – goodguy5 Apr 7 '16 at 13:07

About the auto maker origin, American, Asian, European, you are partially right, the point is that Japanese drive on the left so they have the pump on the left and the Europeans drive on the right so they have the cap on the right. The exceptions came from joint ventures where the side of the cap depends on the origin of the car designer. For example: Asian designed cars like the toyota aygo that will also be also sold as the Citroën c2 in Europe. In Japan the same car branded toyota will have the wheel on the right and the cap on the left but if branded Citroën you will have the wheel on the left and the cap on the left side also as it is the same car, they just change the wheel side and sell it under different brands.

  • This seems to be approximately the same answer as ug_'s – Zach Saucier Dec 29 '14 at 14:27

If there are no indicators, most people keep their car's manual in the car. The manual should tell you where the gas cap is, though it may be easier to just get out and check than to look through the book.

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