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How dual fuel lines protected Volkswagen drivers from running out of fuel?

Posted October 29, 2018

Have you ever run out of fuel in the middle of a road? That is embarrassing experience and you feel so stupid just because of how easy it is to prevent such a failure. You just have to keep your eye on the fuel gauge and you‘ll be fine. However, older cars, made around the middle of the previous century didn‘t have a fuel gauge. Older Volkswagens used to have a different solution to save their drivers from some embarrassing calls for help.

Older Volkswagen’s used to have dual fuel lines to protect the drivers from the embarrassing calls for help due to running out of fuel. Image credit: Sicnag via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Fuel gauge, whether it’s an electronic readout or an actual needle that moves down when you are burning fuel, is a relatively simple device. It takes advantage of a floater in the fuel tank and some way of measuring how high it is relative to the tanks bottom. However, despite its simplicity back in the day it was just too expensive for Volkswagen. This German manufacturer prioritized affordability and simplicity. Adding a fuel gauge, which was definitely invented already, would mean extra costs in a form of man hours.

And so the first Volkswagen models didn’t have fuel gauges. This, of course, is a big issue because sometimes you can forget the last time you filled up your tank, especially if you do a lot of short journeys throughout the week. A responsible thing to do is to open the tank and take a look at the fuel level once in a while or just simply keep a track on your kilometres you do after filling up. It is not an ideal solution though, because older air-cooled engines fluctuated in the amount of fuel they consumed depending on the temperature, humidity, driving environment and so on. But Volkswagen had an interesting solution.

Although first Volkswagen cars used to have engines in the rear, fuel lines came right to the front, where the driver was situated. In fact, there were two main fuel lines – one came out from the very bottom of the tank and the second one – a bit above that. You probably already see the ingenious solution to the problem of running out of fuel. On a normal drive you would use the main fuel line, which did not come from the bottom of the tank. Once the engine starts to cough you turn the valve switch to the second position engaging the emergency fuel line, which came right from the bottom of the tank. This gave you additional couple of litres of fuel carrying you to the nearest petrol station.

Once filled up drivers had to remember to put the valve switch back in its normal position so that the system would be ready for the next time. This was very simple and yet clever solution. It only disappeared in 1960’s once the actual fuel gauge became popular in Volkswagen vehicles. However, don’t think that we don’t have anything similar in modern cars – when the needle shows completely empty you definitely still have some kilometres of range left.

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