July 27, 2008

Detroit Free Press Auto Review Column: Capless Fuel System so Easy Almost Anyone Can Use It

By Mark Phelan, Detroit Free Press

Jul. 27--I STOPPED TRAFFIC -- not in a good way -- the first time I had to refuel a car with Ford's nifty new capless gas filler.

The ensuing traffic backup was because of my ineptitude rather than any problem with the system, which makes its North American debut on the 2009 Lincoln MKS luxury sedan and Ford Flex wagon.

It was a rainy night in Belfast. That sounds like a Pogues song, but it just happened to be when I needed to top up the Ford Mondeo I was testing in December in Ireland.

The fuel door popped open, and I saw a sheet of stainless steel covering the pipe that led to the tank.

The steel seal replaces the conventional screw-top fuel cap. It offers several obvious advantages: reduced emissions, no cap to lose, and it closes automatically so you'll never drive off with the fuel tank dangerously open and venting expensive and toxic gasoline fumes.

Aha, I thought at the fuel station. I know all about the capless fuel filler: I read about it in the news release.

But how to open it? I looked for a button to release the seal. No. I tried sliding the steel plate to the side. I tried pushing it back with my finger.

The line of delivery trucks waiting to get into the gas station behind me began to lengthen.

The Mondeo's a hit, I thought. Somebody in the gas station will know how to refuel a Mondeo.

Phil behind the cash register looked skeptical that anybody could be asking such a stupid question, but he came out to help.

"There must be a button," he said. No buttons.

"Bridget!" he called out. "Come help this fella. He doesn't know how to fill his car."

Neither do you, pal, and you're the one who works in the gas station, I thought uncharitably.

Bridget left the chips stand in the station to help. "Sure, there's a button someplace," she said, looking around the interior. Still no buttons.

The line of trucks waiting for fuel now stretched out of sight in the rain. Scores of other vehicles that didn't need fuel couldn't get past on the two-lane road. I had effectively closed one of the main crossings back home into the Republic of Ireland because I couldn't refuel my car.

"Liam'll know," said Bridget, running into the repair shop and returning with a guy in white coveralls carrying a steaming cup of tea.

"Is it broken?" Liam asked. "They say these are foolproof."

They may say that, but they never met me.

Liam pulled the nozzle from the pump and put it in the filler neck, just like you would with any car. The steel cover flipped back, allowing the nozzle into the pipe.

"That's all," Liam said. "It's lovely simple. Just put the nozzle in and pump."

Ford's capless fuel filler is the best kind of new feature: it saves time, makes the car easier to use, reduces emissions and is so simple that you have to overthink it to screw up.

No buttons, no latches, no caps to lose or leave open. Just fill it up and drive home to Dublin.

Contact MARK PHELAN at 313-222-6731 or [email protected]


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