Many cars, such as the BMW M3 pictured below, have their fuel door on the passenger's side of the car.


I do not understand the reasoning behind placing the fuel door opposite the driver; placing it on the driver's side seems more logical to me, as the driver is then closer to the fuel door and does not need to walk around his/her car in order to refuel.

How does placing the fuel door on the passenger side improve the experience of the cars' users?

  • Note: I am aware that the BMW M3's fuel door is on the driver's side in countries that drive on the left. In these countries, many cars still have the fuel door on the passenger's side, albeit on the opposite physical side of the car pictured above. – Vulcan Feb 25 '14 at 3:34
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    No sources, so it doesn't qualify as an answer: I think it is actually easier. You usually pull up quite close to the actual pump installation, especially in narrow-layed out stations. That means that if you have the pump on the same side as the driver seat, you will have very little space to get out of your car. Getting out on the other side would give you more space, I think. Just a guess though. – André Feb 27 '14 at 9:29
  • From the perspective of user experience I'd say that question should actually be: "Why are there no cars that have fuel doors on both sides?". Ok, the cheap cars don't have this because its more expensive, but luxury cars? – yankee May 2 '14 at 21:19
  • @yankee That would take away from the aesthetic of the car, and is highly unnecessary in this day and age when people can always pull up their fuel door to a pump regardless of which side the fuel door is on. – Anindya Basu Jun 12 '14 at 16:47

I asked my father just this question forty years ago. His answer then was that it was a hangover from early designs, particularly when petrol stations looked like this:

Store and petrol station

Most drivers pulled in at a pump on their side of the road, which means that most arrivals would have the passenger side of the car adjacent to the pumps. It was all attended service, so the driver didn't have to get out at all.

There is a lot of inertia in physical design. It took a very long time for steering-column stalks on British cars to be set up the same way as other countries' cars with the indicators and lights on the left and wipers on the right — and that change was arguably rather more important. Flash the headlights or squirt the windscreen?

These days, with self-service and different petrol station design, and cars being imported from all over the world, it's less important to cater for the particular instance illustrated. But then again, because cars can pull up at either side of pumps nowadays, there's not really much necessity for each manufacturer to change their own practice.

Illustration: Dan Lockton

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    And yet, that change you refer to in British cars annoys the hell out of me on a regular basis. It effectively makes it impossible to reach for the gear-stick AND turn on your indicators at the same time. Which is something I want to do almost every single time I've come to a complete stop at a round-about where I want to leave in one of the first two junctions. I guess that's OK though, since around 70% of people here seem to never use the damned things anyway. </rant> – Thor84no Dec 8 '14 at 16:02

From: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/why-do-cars-have-fuel-doors-on/

Putting fuel filler doors on different sides of different cars thus means that some cars can access pumps from the left. And this makes it less likely that drivers will have to wait in line for gas. That benefit greatly outweighs the cost of occasionally pulling up to the wrong side of the pump in a rental car.”

From: http://www.wheels.ca/news/why-arent-all-gas-caps-on-the-same-side/

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.

From: http://www.wheels.ca/why-are-fuel-filler-doors-not-always-on-drivers-side/

Why don’t all cars have the fuel filler door on the same side? The driver’s side would seem to make the most sense.

This might explain why most Japanese cars have it on ‘our’ passenger’s side — it’s ‘their’ driver’s side.

Doesn’t explain why most German cars have it on ‘our’ (and ‘their’) passenger’s side. Since I’ve largely owned German cars, this seems perfectly natural to me.

TL;DR: There are multiple reasons why gas intakes are on one side versus the other, but it has nothing to do with "user experience". The Google search I did yields much more information on - Why is the gas on the other side of the car; or Why are fuel doors on different sides.

To make your life easier, on most (perhaps all) newer model cars, there is a little arrow next to the fuel icon to tell you where it is: http://boingboing.net/2011/03/28/how-to-tell-which-si.html

  • Some great research here, and I'd give you an extra upvote for the 'the google search I did yields much more information' comment - makes it seem like the OP didn't actually do any research before posting the question in the first place. – JonW Feb 28 '14 at 15:39
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    @JonW Before asking the question, I did do research and one source I read was the PBS article linked in this answer. While that article addresses ux-related topics the most, I didn't value it's argument that having gas tanks on the opposite side allows more drivers to refuel simultaneously, as it isn't particularly difficult to go around a pump in order to reach the opposite side, and the cyclical approach to having all fuel doors on one side when refueling seems quite natural (see image). – Vulcan Mar 1 '14 at 3:03
  • Otherwise, I read several articles about the fuel door being opposite the exhaust system or the car originating in a country that drives on the opposite side, but both have counter-arguments. The exhaust system can be moved to the passenger's side to allow the fuel door on the driver's side, and many cars are designed with fuel doors on the passenger sides in their native countries (see: Germany). After concluding that each resource I found wasn't helpful, I assumed (possibly incorrectly) that there may be a user-experience factor I was unaware of, so I asked a question here. – Vulcan Mar 1 '14 at 3:14
  • I have blown some people's minds showing them the little arrow on the fuel gauge as OP mentioned. :) – Max Jun 11 '14 at 23:23
  • "some cars can access pumps from the left" - I don't understand that ... obviously, you park your car in such a way that the fuel filler door is on the side where the pump is located, which means that if you need the other side, you simply park your car the other way round. – O. R. Mapper Jun 27 '17 at 8:39

This was discussed on Car Talks this past weekend. One of the brothers (forgot which) mentioned that German engineers have, for years, considered that placing it on the passenger side was superior for emergency situations when you have run out of gas and you need road-side fill-up.

By placing it on the passenger side there is less chance of being hit by a car on the highway. Both brothers laughed at this arguing that the utility of having it on the driver side outweighed the few times (if ever) that one was dangerously parked on the side of the road due to running out of gas.

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    Very good (and new!) point, Car Talks is one of my favorites. +1 – Vulcan Dec 8 '14 at 20:27
  • A car might be manufactured to be used in countries that have different passenger and driver sides, but it is not trivial to move exhaust system, etc around. Dashboard controls are easier to swap. So this means, that there is no real "passenger side" when the car could be made either way. It's like: your face is symmetrical (two eyes, ears and so on) but the stomach, heart etc are always oriented just one way. Why is that? – user67695 Aug 31 '16 at 20:23

The fuel door isn't on the drivers side because they park very close to the fuel pump. If the fuel door is on the same side with the driver door, then you can't get out of the car... fuel pump border

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    My fuel door is on my drivers side. The question is "why aren't they always on the same side", not "what side is yours on" or "what do you think is best". There are a multitude of cars in either category. – Evil Closet Monkey Jun 12 '14 at 16:53

Many cars are now constructed so that they can trivially be made either right-hand or left-hand drive, just by swapping same-sized pods in the dashboard. It is less trivial to swap the fuel filler and exhaust systems, which as someone said, try to be on opposite sides. In other words, there is no reason, and it is "same side" or "other side" depending on the location that the car was assembled to be used in. People DO care which side they drive on, but they really don't care which side the fuel filler is on, except that they have to keep remembering, especially when they own two cars with it on different sides. I find the tiny arrow on the gauge to be confusing. You know, the fuel filler used to be smack in the middle. Why was that changed? Why did the high beam switch get removed from the floor? Why did only one car I ever drove have a "bump to the next radio station" button on the floor? It was the best idea I ever saw. I have only seen one wristwatch with a ring instead of buttons. This is definitely not survival of the fittest, more like trial by inertia.


The vast majority of people enter a gas station from only one direction already; people have a very strong statistical tendency to enter a gas station by turning right (rather than crossing traffic turning left). This leads most people to be entering from the same direction. They can only access one side of the pumps without turning around on the station's lot.

If you have all the fuel doors on the same side of every car, then everyone will have to use the pumps on one side, or turn around.

Pumps on only one side, or fuel doors on only one standardized side, would lead to more maneuvering and a less efficient fueling experience.

It should be noted that more efficient traffic patterns at the gas station are only a symptom of fuel doors being on either side, not the cause of it. No one decided that they could improve traffic by putting fuel doors on different sides of different cars. It's just an unexpected benefit.

  • Can you point to the studies showing this "statistical tendency"? It doesn't matter if you turn left or right into a gas station, your car is always pointing the same way when you enter the station from a given entrance. Since gas stations are commonly built on corners, with an entrance on both intersecting streets, making a right turn (or left turn) doesn't mean anything when two people enter from different entrances -- they're still pointing different directions. – Evil Closet Monkey Jan 5 '15 at 23:02

In the USA all vehicles should have the gas entry on the drivers side. Placing the gas entry on the passenger side is not safe and is a obvious inconvenience. Think of the disable, elderly and injured veterans that must maneuver twice as for around the vehicle to reach the entry. Comparing both sides at the gas station indicates just how unsafe it becomes. Drivers side you pull up to gas pump being able to judge the distance from the pump and can where the pump lines up with you entry position. When opening your door the pump island is stationary and provides protection. Moving approximately three steps you and access the entry and pump. After fueling hanging up the nozzle and replacing the gas is within arms reach. Looking in the rear view mirror also shows the gas lid is closed. Gas cap on passenger side when pulling up pump you must guess distance and pump location though the window across vehicle. When opening you must be aware of passing vehicles (no pump protection). After exiting vehicle you must take numerous steps to pass between your bumper and the next cars bumper to reach the entry. When filling is complete you must retrace your steps while this may be done in bad weather. Try doing this when pulling a trailer !!! This one instance only proves how the drivers side gas entry should be mandatory. This will save many injuries, dents and upset drivers just getting gas that you may do weekly.

  • While you bring up good points, this doesn't really answer the question of why the fuel door is on the passenger side for many vehicles. – Vulcan Feb 11 '16 at 20:38
  • @Vulcan Well, the answer to why it is on the passenger side is: "It is obviously wrong for so many reasons!" – user67695 Aug 31 '16 at 20:21
  • "Placing the gas entry on the passenger side is not safe" - Mayo's answer mentions a situation where it is actually safer. "that must maneuver twice as for around the vehicle" - "maneuvering" around the vehicle is a negligible distance compared to entering the gas station shop in order to pay. "while this may be done in bad weather" - I have never encountered a gas station without a large roof covering all pumps, but that may be different in some places. – O. R. Mapper Jun 27 '17 at 8:47

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