A few weeks ago, The Economist, via guest blogger Bryan Caplan, ran this item on its blog quoting economics author Robert Frank:-

Why are some gas tanks on the left side of the car, and others on the right? Here’s Frank’s super-clever answer:

  • In the United States and other countries in which motorists drive on the right hand side of the road, it is easier to turn right than to turn left across oncoming traffic. A majority of drivers will thus buy gas at stations they can enter by turning right. Suppose tanks were always on the driver’s side of the car. Drivers would then have to park on the right side of an open pump in order to fill their tanks. During crowded hours, all spots on the right sides of pumps would be filled even while most spots on the left sides of pumps remained empty.
  • Putting the 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.

I’m convinced [says Caplan]. How about you?”

Well the above picture, taken last week, indicates that at least in Sainsbury’s petrol station in Bath they’ve done some thinking to cater for economists when they try and fill up, by telling them that (as they always have been) the hoses are long enough to reach both sides of your car. I believe the truth of filler-cap location is largely determined by nation of manufacture. So European and US cars have them on the right. Japanese- and UK-designed cars on the left.

The picture above is providing me with a quiet sense of vindication, after I left my snarky comment over there for all posterity. I may not have taken Economics 101, but it now seems that I’m a whizz on the petrol station forecourt. Of course, I suspect that Bryan Caplan might have been pulling our legs on this one, because they are a funny old lot over there at George Mason University and you never quite know when they are being serious ;-) .

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