A Full Tank
I filled my car up with gasoline recently. You wouldn’t think that I could get a blog post out of this, but then perhaps you have never thought about how you feel with a full tank of gas.
First, I love cars and I Love driving them. And there are the other times, days of drudgery where there are errands to run and places to be where I may not feel like being there, but have to go anyway. A full gas tank helps.
A few months ago I filled up in the middle of an emergency trip brought on by a forgotten article of clothing before a family wedding. The person (who shall remain unidentified) located the necessary things – an hour away. I volunteered to meet the one at the other end of this transaction at roughly the halfway point.
As I began, my fuel gauge was at the 1/4 line. I have had this car for quite awhile and understand that 1/4 tank in this car is not the same thing as taking its fuel capacity and dividing by four. Automotive fuel tanks are sometimes oddly shaped in order to fit into oddly shaped places. And the device that sends its signal does not measure actual fuel flow, but the fuel level in one particular spot of the tank. This is a long way of saying that the bottom quarter of the tank in this car is probably more like an actual 1/8 than it is 1/4.
I knew I could make it to my meeting place, but also knew that I would need to stop for gas somewhere on the way back. A mid-trip adjustment in our meeting place – a gas station, as luck would have it – solved that problem for me. We met and made the clothing exchange (my that sounds a lot more daring than it actually was) while a fueling hose dangled from my car’s fender. Thank goodness for automatic shut-offs on modern gas pumps.
As I began my return trip I looked at that fuel gauge on “F” and was reminded of how good this has always made me feel. Because it is something that never fails to make me feel like the world is fresh and full of possibility.
When my car is full of gasoline the panoply of options in my life is limitless. I can go where I want to when I want to, and it is at least one thing in my life that is absolutely, totally perfect. I mean – how can a fuel tank be more than full? It cannot, so “FULL” is a kind of perfection that we rarely get anywhere else in life.
My car may be old, it may need washed, it may have dents and scratches and other imperfections that come from use, but with a tank full of petrol (I love that British term) my car is just as full of fuel as the brand new Mercedes or Range Rover that brings so much pride to its owner. A full tank is a full tank no matter the value or condition of your car.
How often have we said that everything can always be better? We could have more money in the bank, more food in the fridge, tip the scale at slightly less than we do or serve a meal that could have been just a little bit better if only we had done that one little thing differently.
In the practice of law there is almost always something more that could have been done. In an adversarial case, it doesn’t matter so much when you come out on top, but if you don’t there is the tendency to second guess your many decisions – even when they were good ones. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose no matter how much you do.
But a full gas tank is not like that. When you get down to the “E” there is no second-guessing how much you had put in at the last fueling. A full tank is a full tank, and there is no more that could have been done. So long as you are a “fill it up” person and not a “$5 on pump number 3” person, anyway.
There are certainly things that are more important in life – quite a few of them. A family that is all healthy and present at a holiday meal, a home that is warm and dry when a storm rages outside or being able to end the day with the one you love.
A full tank of gas, however, can approximate a similar feeling. It doesn’t matter if you have pumped 35 gallons into it or 10.9 (as with my little Honda) as long as it is full the world is your oyster. That little needle on the “F” is a powerful force for personal satisfaction and fulfillment.
I have had cars where this feeling eluded me. One car, for example, was old and would leak fuel if the car was filled above 3/4 on the gauge. And another had a defective gauge that would never read above 3/4 no matter if you filled the tank to the point of overflow. The first car robbed me of that uniquely fulfilling feeling and the second provided the feeling but withheld the visual reminder of just how grand life was in that one moment and in that one way.
I think one of the secrets to a happy life is to savor and appreciate the small things. And for me a full tank of gas is one of those things that is not appreciated often enough.
Cropped and re-sized photograph of fuel gauge on “full” from the Flickr page of Pete, one marked as being in the public domain. Thank you, Pete, for saving me from the need to fill the tank on one of my cars in order to have a picture ready in time for publication. Other peoples’ full tanks can stoke my sense of well-being too, it appears.
You’ve tapped into something so true here. It provides a feeling of limitless potential and some (small) degree of invincibility. It’s even better in a vehicle that doesn’t need fuel nearly as often as the opportunities seem even more expansive.
Imagine the feeling in one of those VW Rabbit diesels from the early 80s which boasted of a 7 or 800 mile range from a full tank.
We drove home from Florida non stop a week ago. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the gauge go from F to E four times in the same day. Full wasn’t particularly satisfying for the first three times because we knew it wouldn’t get us home. But the 4th one was definitely full of petrol, and full of hope.
I think that even the first three fills would work for me, at least for the first 50 miles. The really sweet spot is where the needle is actually beyond the “F”, which feels like a bit of a windfall. Once you hit the actual “F” life gets ordinary again.
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Also, getting a passing inspection sticker slapped on your windshield, good for 2 years! (Especially if you failed before).
We have not had inspections here since 1979. Not having them is a good feeling too!
I believe the top half of the tank is always bigger, correct me if I’m wrong, but I love it when the needle is past Full too. Mostly because I go out of my way to find a gas station that still pumps for you, which is harder and harder to find, so it’s always a nice feeling of security knowing it’s beyond full!
I can’t remember the last full service station I saw in my area. Except for those with disabilities who require accommodations.
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Come to New Jersey–Full service all the time! Some attendants will even clean your windshield! (Believe it or not). Nobody here pumps his/her own gas–how barbaric!
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Once my tank goes to the quarter mark or below, I start palpitating and watching for the next gas station. I nervously dart my eyes to and fro, I turn off any spurious devices in the car, anxiously worried lest they contribute to higher than expected fuel consumption. Ahh though but when that fuel nozzle hits the fuel neck, all wordly worries are past, and the car can solider on another 400+ kilometers. It’s especially gratifying if the next gas station you pass has a price that is 0.1 cent of a litre higher, and you realize you struck a great bargain at your stop!
I play it more aggressively. I only get nervous with a new car as I take each tank farther and farther down to the “E” and beyond, noting how much was actually left when I fill it (which requires me to know the capacity down to the 1/10th of a gallon. A fill after getting down to the last 1/2 gallon is a real thrill.
I think I have run out only twice – both times with new-to-me cars with wonky gauges.
So which is better?
Modern cars where the gauge snaps to attention when you turn it on, giving you instant feedback
Vintage gauges with the dramatic slow-motion response. Kind of like a drum roll for your gas tank.
The worst one I had was the ’74 Dart. Much of the time I had it there was crud in the tank, so if you got much below half way it would stall on the highway. That was annoying but ok until it developed a pinhole that would leak if it was over 3/4. This meant for one winter I had to constantly keep it between 8 and 12 gallons all the time.
That would be bad. I could never fill my 59 Plymouth because the rubber hose that connected the filler pipe to the tank leaked.
And I think I liked the slo-mo of the old ones.
What a great perspective!
A great post, J.P. It made me remember an article, I think it might have been in Road & Track, perhaps 35 years back, whose title run somewhat like “My car has something most others lack-it’s paid for”. The car in question was a probably 5 year old Subaru, which was much older then than now. The feeling that something you own is really yours, that you have paid for it and nobody can deny it (in Spanish we call it “Oposición frente a terceros”, I’d like to know the legal term in English which I’m sure you’ll be able to explain to me). That happened when I finished my mortgage payments, and I never, ever, bought a car I couldn’t pay cash, even though it meant owning a 16 year old smoking Fiat. As a very risk averse individual, I avoid credit like the plague.
Bottom line, feeling safe is a great feeling in my life also….I couldn’t possible be a lawyer 🙂
Thanks Rafael. Yes, a paid-for car is a great feeling, one that I am enjoying now too. It makes the well-being from a full fuel tank feel even better!
Well, leave it to JP to write an entire post about filling his car’s gas tank—and to draw some life lessons therefrom.
But Ay! Caramba! What will my poor friend do when he’ll have no choice but to buy an electric car? Will reaching full voltage yield a similar thrill?
It already does – on my cell phone. 😀 It may surprise you that I would find some appeal in the right electric car. Wider availability and a deeper charging infrastructure could put one in play for me.
I love surprises!