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It’s one of the most useful features found in cars and trucks, and many drivers don’t even realize what it’s for.
It’s the little triangle right next to the fuel gauge in most vehicles, at least the newer ones.
British actor Stephen Fry recently revealed to his 12.4 million Twitter followers that he only recently learned what it’s purpose is.
“Well, simmer me in prune juice and call me Daisy. I never knew till now that you can tell which side of a car the filler cap is on by a little arrow next to the petrol pump icon. 64 years on the planet shrouded in ignorance. My life is changed forever,” Fry tweeted.
Fry’s message came to the attention of Ford CEO Jim Farley, who responded by noting that the icon was proposed by a Ford engineer in 1986 and first used in the brand’s cars.
Farley posted an image of the original letter that interior engineer Jim Moylan wrote to a supervisor suggesting the idea, which was inspired by his frequent use of a variety of company pool cars.
“The indicator or symbol I have in mind would be located near the fuel gauge and simply describe to the driver on which side of the vehicle the fuel filler door is located,” Moylan wrote, including a sketch illustrating the idea.
Moylan added that the low-cost investment would pay benefits to two-car families and rental customers.
The design was first employed in the 1989 Ford Escort and Mercury Tracer and later adopted by other automakers, despite there being no regulation requiring it.
However, one rival may have actually beaten Ford to market with it without even knowing it.
THE FORD F-150 LIGHTNING MIGHT TURN LIKE A TANK
According to Jalopnik, the 1976 Mercedes-Benz W123 had a low fuel light shaped like a triangle next to the gauge that pointed to the side of the car the filler is on, but the automaker has not been able to confirm the directional aspect was its intent. The brand’s first documented use of the symbol didn’t come until 1997.
And it may not go away in the era of electric vehicles. Although Ford’s battery-powered Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightning don’t have it on their instrument panels, several vehicles, including the Mercedes-Benz EQS, feature the icon next to the battery level gauge to show which side the charge port is on.
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The only hitch is that some vehicles have the port near the front and others in the rear, which could affect which way it needs to park to be plugged-in.
There are also a few electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Kia Niro EV with ports in the nose, and in neither is the symbol pointing forward, which might actually lead some people to look on the roof.