What’s The Most Obvious Tip You’ve Ever Shared With Someone?

Filed Under: Advice, Rental Cars

Although most of my travel is with my family, I still do a small amount of travel for work. As I suspect is true for most of us, my business travel is rarely glamorous — recently I wrote about my flight on a United Q400 propeller plane from Denver to Salt Lake City, for example.

For better or worse, most of my business trips involve traveling with colleagues. This provides a chance to see how other people do things, specifically people you would never dream of traveling with otherwise. If you’re lucky, you pick up a tip or trick from a veteran road warrior that can make your own travel a bit smoother.

Or you provide such a tip, even when it’s so flat-out obvious that your team of colleagues get a chuckle out of the guy who didn’t know about it. That was the case on a recent trip to San Diego.

Where’s The Gas Tank?

This trip involved renting a car to drive out to visit a client, which is pretty typical for us. I don’t know about you, but I either want to be driving (and getting the points off the car rental) or sitting in the backseat watching the world go by — that way nobody can blame me for entering the wrong address into Waze, failing to call out our exit, keeping the driver awake, or just about anything else for that matter.


On our way back to the airport the next day, we rolled into a gas station to top off the tank. All of a sudden, Tom — our driver — rolled the window down, craned his neck out, and peered back along the side of the car. We were all like “what the heck are you doing?”

It turns out he was trying to figure out what side of the car the fuel tank was on. 

The rest of us sort of laughed and pointed to the indicator on the fuel gauge that tells you which side of the car to refuel on. You know, that little triangle next to the fuel pump symbol that points to the right or the left, indicating which side the gas tank is on.

That arrow means the fuel tank is on the left.
That arrow isn’t just for decoration….

Mind -> Blown

Tom’s an easygoing sort of guy, so the ribbing was all in good fun. He said that he had never noticed that arrow before despite being in his 40’s and having driven cars all his life. We all assured him that pretty much every vehicle has this nowadays. He couldn’t believe it.

Now he’s taken to polling our entire office to determine if he was the only one who didn’t know this. And in fact, he claims he isn’t. He claims multiple people in our office, in addition to various of his family members, didn’t know about this. I find that hard to believe, but who knows.

I, of course, had to go home and read about the history of the fuel tank arrow.

The Late 90’s Was Full Of Innovation

As best I can tell based on my empirical observations, the fuel arrow showed up in the late 90’s. My 1996 Jeep Cherokee does not have one, but my wife’s 2000 Jeep Cherokee does. (Yes, we like classic Jeeps.) So I’m guessing that it was somewhere around that time that the auto industry realized that this was a very low-cost, but somewhat useful feature. And it became a thing.

Fuel gauge with indicator arrow on our 2000 Jeep
Fuel gauge with indicator arrow on our 2000 Jeep

Of course, if you go back far enough, you’ll find a Pinto or two with the gas filler under the rear license plate. Kind of makes you wonder how that would have been depicted?

Apparently, there is even some speculation about whether the handle on the fuel pump diagram has meaning as well. For those that are curious, there’s a Snopes article about it.


Traveling with work colleagues is always interesting. Sometimes you learn some tricks about travel, and other times you share a tip that can save someone from getting a pain in the neck. Occasionally you’ll even get a laugh while doing so.

Now I’m wondering what obvious tricks I don’t know about. Hopefully I’ll be as gracious as Tom when I somebody points them out to me.

What’s the most obvious tip you’ve shared with someone?

  1. this is a pretty good one. on a related note, i rented a car in san diego a few years ago and i could not for the life of me figure out how to open the gas panel. i searched all over for a lever or a button (this was a push button ignition nissan maxima so i figured they might have some weird high-tech way of doing it) and spent about ten minutes combing over the car (no owner’s manual, too, go figure). finally i googled it on my iphone. you simply push the panel door inwards and it pops open. i would never have figured that out on my own. smartphones to the rescue.

    probably the most obvious tip i’ve shared is hipping people to the seatmaps on expertflyer. even some grizzled road warriors at my company had no idea.

  2. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, but I’m 38 and had made it well into my 30’s before this “tip” was shared with me (by my girlfriend at the time who was equally amused that I didn’t know). At the time I was traveling and renting cars a LOT. Initially I denied it and accused her of pulling my leg, which only served to bolster her amusement.

    I may not be car

  3. …I may not be car smart, but I had the good sense to marry her a year later. She still gives me a hard time about the fuel gauge though 🙂

    (Not sure how previous comment posted mis-sentence)

  4. On my 2014 BMW X5 the hose on the gas pump icon is on the same Side as the tank. After realizing this, I found that my dad and moms BMWs both had this as well.

  5. You know you’re a road warrior when you need that arrow to remind you what side the gas cap is on … in your own car,

  6. When I am on a long trip at many different hotels, I forget my room number all the time. All those hallways start to look the same. I take a picture of the room number outside the door with my phone so I remember what room I am in. (I used to have to tear off the little envelope the key came in).

  7. I’m with Tom! I’m 40 years old, been driving since 16, I’ve read every owner’s manual I’ve ever had and this is completely news to me!

  8. I’ve travelled a plenty over the last 15 years. Hired cars all over. It was not until July this year that my non-travelling cousin pointed this out to me.

    Anyway, at least I know the difference between a ‘fuel tank’ and a ‘fuel cap’! Pmsl 😉

  9. LOL- Let Tom know he isn’t alone, it’s also the first time I heard/learned about this..

    but it’s not as bad as discovering on Facebook, that I have been peeling bananas from the wrong end all these years.

  10. Martina — My wife still makes fun of me for pealing the banana from the wrong end. I argue that the stem is a handle…. seems obvious to me.

  11. And I’m glad that this has been useful to a few folks because let’s just say that a few members of Team OMAAT thought it was so obvious to not be worth writing about…..

  12. I only recently learned that tip! Another, not necessarily obvious and very US- centric but major freeways are numbered so that odd numbered freeways go north/south while even #s go east/west. Can be useful if you like to take road trips and get lost.

  13. I didn’t know about the gauge direction until this post. I rather enjoy sticking my head out to look in rental cars. I will have to remember to look at the fuel gauge in our 1999 Camry the next time I’m in it to see if there’s an arrow.

    I’m a student and a bunch of us were off to a conference (many of whom hadn’t flown, at least Domestically clearly in while), we had a long email chain about checking in and check in times (mainly metelling everyone to show up at least 90 minutes instead of just 60 minutes early for the huge monstrosity of walking that is Delta’s JFK Terminal 4, and telling one classmate that Delta Air Lines charges for checked bags domestically (like all of the “Big 3” carriers since 2008, guess now with JetBlue going it’s everyone EXCEPT Southwest) and to just go carry-on since were only going away for three days. Luckily everyone did except one person who almost missed the plane dealing with the Shuttle Bus was litterally the last one on and got gate checked so we had to stop at the baggage claim.

  14. I was shocked to learn that some people wear underwear under cycling bibs. You are not supposed to do that. It doesn’t make any sense.

  15. Being based in Europe (Germany, to be specific), I never heard of this before (and didn’t notice it when using a rental car in the US). Gas tanks usually are on the car’s right side here, unless it’s an imported car from a country which has left-handed traffic (mostly Japan) or a model of which most of the production is exported to countrys where gas tanks on the left are the norm.

  16. Found out about the gas tank arrow a few years back (definite A-HA moment). I didn’t know about the highway exit location until today – thanks!

  17. I’d never heard of this either until a couple of months ago when a friend pointed it out on a rental car in Australia – I’d occasionally seen the arrow bit given it happened to be pointing towards the gauge itself I had just assumed it was telling you which dial was for petrol, not which side the tank was on!

    I still find a surprising number of folk amazed when I use Alt-Tab to switch windows on a computer, or Alt-F4 to close them!

  18. He is not the only one…I did not know that till in my late 20s..then I became a road warrior.

    Just a month ago I was on. Biz trip with my boss..who is in his 60s and has been a road warrior for a long time…ie…millions and millions of points that made me drool…we were in his rental car and he said..jeff..did you notice which side is the gas tank at?…I just said look at the fuel gauge..he replied..what do you mean? …he was amazed that he never noticed that before.

    Also another tip if you drive a lot of rental cars in different city..ditch the GPS unit and stop trying to hold your phone and look down for direction….get one of those grip that hold your phone and insert into the air vent so you don’t have to hold your smart phone or stick it behind the wheels trying to find where you are going…they work wonders and really really help you to drive safe..it’s a small gadget you can just throw in your backpack…we all love it without worrying the driver keeps looking down at the phone..it’s almost worst than text and drive.

  19. @pavel When I was in Maui, I couldn’t figure out how to open the gas panel on the Malibu we rented. Spent long enough looking for the lever that a good samaritan came over to help me look and as a last resort, he pushed the panel and voila! So simple and yet, I never would’ve thought.

  20. Had to show my little brother how to open the gas door on his Mercedes ( push in on the front ,same as a Peugeot) .

  21. Years ago I worked as a valet in Austin and I drove a bunch of different cars. One time I went to the garage to pick up the car for a customer (another valet parked it), this car was an old Audi, stick shift. I didn’t find the hole for the key at front and it didn’t have a push-button start as well. After a while I saw that the hole to insert the key was between the two seats !

  22. HOW could people have not known about this?? The arrow is right there on your gas gauge. You’ve seen it a thousand times. What else could it possibly be for?

  23. I haven’t owned a car in 30 years and never knew this about the location of the gas tank, so thanks for sharing this story. On a related note, a couple of years ago I was driving a rental car north of San Francisco and decided to stop for gas. Once at the gas station, I could not figure out how to open the gas tank. I finally asked a nearby customer who acted as if I was either the biggest idiot in the world or was flirting with him. Neither is true. He showed me where to find the release at the side of the driver’s seat and I now know to look there during my search with each rental experience (why is it always in a different location with every car?)

  24. 1996 and 2000 Jeeps are more “classic” than classic, I think – perhaps that is what you meant. My 1999 Japanese car didn’t have the fuel side indicator but seems to be pretty standard 2000 and beyond.

  25. Best tips I have picked up recently are to take photos of left luggage tags and coat check tags in cas you lose them.

    Oh and did you guys know that the arrow on the gas gauge points to the fuel door? 🙂

  26. I am 47. I have been driving for just over 30 years. Last year, I found myself in a similar situation in a rental car in a gas station. I ask my family if anyone had noticed which side of the car I should fill the tank on. My son, who is 12, pipes up from the back seat and says, “Dad, it’s on the right. Look at the arrow.” I had never noticed it before. I asked him how he had. His answer, “Dad, it’s called the internet. I know stuff.”

  27. Learned the gas thing last year!

    My tip: Leaving Los Angeles? Use the BURbank Airport if it works for your destination. Avoiding LAX will add years to your life.

  28. Actually, I’ll give you a pass on this one — Nissan puts gas caps on BOTH the left AND right sides of the car depending on the model. I’ve always known it as German/European-made cars have it on the right, Japanese on the left, Americans put it wherever they please, but usually on the left.

    As for obvious tips, empty your carry-on bags out completely when packing for a flight if you’ve not been in the air in awhile. My dad “surrendered” his Gerber multi-tool to TSA because he didn’t do this.

    When renting a car, ask what the locale’s regulations on mobile phone use are in the car (some states allow anything, others require hands-free, no texting, etc.). Same goes for making right turns on red lights. Most of North America allows it (except Montreal & NYC), Brazil doesn’t, Costa Rica does, etc.

    When packing liquids in checked luggage, zip-lock them before putting them in the suitcase.

    Use unique/special colored zip ties to secure your luggage instead of locks. That way TSA/ramp rats won’t be able to get into your luggage undetected. Seems to also deter them exploring your luggage after false positives. I keep the replacement ties with me in my carry-on. I also keep a pair of nail clippers in the outside pocket of my checked bags for easy removal of the zip ties at my destination. The special zip ties (I use hot pink) also make your bag easier to spot on the conveyor belt.

    Domestically, take a look at Fedex’ing your luggage instead of checking it on a plane. Often it’s cheaper than the airline’s bag fees and you KNOW FedEx won’t lose/mess with it. Most hotels will gladly handle the hand-off with FedEx for you.

    Dirty nasty underwear/gym clothes will deter people from pawing through your luggage. Hotel maids, bellhops, TSA, etc. Note: customs agents don’t seem to be as timid. YMMV. Amazon even sells a pair of fake skid-mark’d undies with a hidden pouch to store money in your suitcase. (search for underwear safe) Makes a great gag gift as well.

    Walking through / an item making contact with grass will make the TSA’s explosives detectors go off due to the nitrogen in fertilizers (both synthetic and …ahem…natural fertilizer from your neighbor’s dog).

    Find out if the water in the locale is safe to drink by foreigners. Maybe this doesn’t apply to where Lucky normally travels, but I’m often out in the sticks. This *IS* a question you even need to ask in the USA if you’re out far enough. They may have running water, but it might not be drinkable. Also, throw out/deface water bottles from hotels after you use them. Some unscrupulous hotel staffers have been known to just refill bottles from the tap and put the caps back on. A small Sawyer water filter’s only $15. Well worth the peace of mind. Note: Ice is made of water. I can’t count the number of friends who went to 3rd world countries and got sick even though they didn’t “drink” the water. Did they have ice in their drinks? yep. Did they get La Turista? Si, señor.

  29. No worries, arrows are not definitive standard just yet – 2012 Audi A6 still has no arrow… Not exactly a rental car option, but quite a cofusion in two-car household. On flip side, puny Hond Fit has an arrow.

  30. @Marija :
    exactly what I hinted at in an earlier comment: German cars usually don’t have the feature while Japanese ones often do

  31. Ah, that might explain why u haven’t noticed it before, mainly BMW/Mercedes/Audi in our household over the last few years.

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