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The Gas Gauge Says Full, But That's Not Quite True


Mr. Pierron, thanks so much for being with us.

PHIL PIERRON: Oh, you're welcome.

SIMON: Can you get into trouble spilling beans on this?

PIERRON: Well, I don't know that we're really spilling beans on anything. I think what we're actually doing is trying to convert our customers' wants and needs into, you know, an engineering requirement.


SIMON: How does not telling somebody how much gas they have left in their tanks serve their requirements? I mean because even if you want them to be hopeful and optimistic, at some point it runs out.

PIERRON: So what we do is we need to assure that the gauge will read full at that first click, and also stays on full for an amount of time that the customer feels comfortable with.

SIMON: In other words, a gauge that would read full when it's not really. And, for that matter, empty when it's not really.

PIERRON: Yeah, the gauge will get to full at something a little less than the rated capacity of the tank. Now, you've probably seen in gauges also that the gauge typically can travel slightly past the full mark, as well.

SIMON: So why can we drive for a couple of days and it won't register?

PIERRON: Well, a couple of days might be a little exaggeration.


PIERRON: But again, it depends on the customer's usage patterns. We usually try and target, you know, probably around 20 or 30 miles, something in that range so that the gauge will make sure it updates.

SIMON: Is this in any way analogous as there is in the, let's say, the dress industry to size eights that are marked size four?

PIERRON: I don't think so because I think, you know, what we do print in the owner's manual is what the fuel tank actually can hold. You know, we'll tell what the actual usable capacity of the tank is.

SIMON: Mr. Pierron, you must be a real revelation to go on a road trip with.


PIERRON: Why would you say that?

SIMON: Well, I mean, you know, all - you know everything about the car. You know all the little tricks and all the little nuances.

PIERRON: Well, I don't know that it's such a revelation. I mean I think if you talk to a general customer, you can have him know that he'll say when he gets to empty, he knows he can drive still a little farther. And he knows that when his gauge is on full it's going to stay there for a bit. I mean there's even been Seinfeld episode where Kramer is driving and, you know, he's talking about how long he can drive on empty. So...


SIMON: Phil Pierron, an engineer at Ford, speaking with us from Detroit, thanks so much.

PIERRON: Oh, you're welcome.

SIMON: Fill yourself up, WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.