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driving concerns

A woman fills up her with gas in Toronto, on April 1, 2019.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Why don’t all vehicles fill up with gas on the same side? My husband’s SUV doesn’t have that arrow next to the fuel gauge, so I never remember which side it fills up on. At gas stations, cars drive every which way – often in the wrong direction – so they can line up their gas caps to the pumps. Aren’t there regulations? – Suraya, Ottawa

Had your fill of having to figure out which side to fill up on? The regulations won’t help – automakers are allowed to put the gas cap on either side.

“The location of the fuel filler door on either side of the car is a vehicle design choice as there is no evidence indicating that one side has a safety advantage over the other,” Annie Joannette, Transport Canada spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. “There are crash testing requirements in place that have a significant influence on the location of the fuel filler.”

Basically, after cars go through front-, rear- and side-impact crash tests, the amount of fuel that leaks out gets measured, and only a “small amount” is allowed, Joannette said. The tests started in the seventies and the regulations became increasingly tough.

Up until the early nineties, some North American cars hid the gas cap under the rear licence plate (some earlier cars, such as the 1956 Chevy Bel Air, hid it under the driver’s side taillight).

Taking sides?

Most cars now have arrows telling you which side to fill up on. That arrow is usually in, or next to, the gas gauge, but not always. For instance, on the previous-generation BMW X3, it was next to the display that shows the number of kilometres to empty.

So is there a pattern? It depends on the automaker.

On German cars, including Volkswagens and BMWs, the gas cap is usually on the right side – that’s the passenger side in North America and most of Europe, where people drive on the right.

“That is the side that faces the curb – so that if you ever run out of fuel and need to add some from a gas canister, you will not be standing in traffic,” said Thomas Tetzlaff, Volkswagen Canada spokesman.

But some Japanese brands, such as Toyota and Honda, generally put the gas cap on the left side. Toyota said only two of its cars – the Subaru-made Toyota 86 and the Magna Steyr-made Toyota Supra – have gas caps on the right.

Nissan said it aims to keep gas caps on the driver’s side – but that can depend on the main markets the car is intended for. For North American-made cars, the gas caps are usually on the left. But for the Nissan Rogue, which is “built all over the place” and sold worldwide, the gas cap is on the right.

Ford, Fiat-Chrysler and General Motors say the gas cap location varies on their models, but they’re aiming to put more of them on the driver’s side – the left. All three companies said that was “for convenience.”

Fuelling controversy?

So can you pull up to the pump in any direction so your gas cap is directly next to it?

We checked with police from a few forces across Canada – they said they were not aware of any specific laws governing which side you stick to at the pumps.

“It’s not something that police could or should enforce,” said Captain Paul Leduc, Sûreté du Québec spokesman. “It’s on private property. However, there is a law in Quebec against driving through a gas station to avoid a red light.”

In all the provinces except Ontario, provincial traffic laws apply on private property (although, in Quebec some do and others don’t) – but police say charges are unlikely unless there’s a crash or an “egregious” incident.

“Remember, CCTV is installed at every gas station and actions are captured for easy review by police if needed,” Sergeant Brett Moore, with Toronto Police traffic services, said in an e-mail. “People should always take it easy and make their intentions known when operating their vehicle.”

Stopping in the same direction as the other cars stopped at a row of pumps might help limit confusion. So will using turn signals.

“I’d suggest you know which side your gas cap is on and then circle around to pull forward rather than back in,” said, Angelo DiCicco, director of operations at Young Drivers of Canada’s advanced driving centre “Backing in is quite dangerous and you’re a lot less predictable.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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