The low fuel warning light can feel a little ominous. We never mean to let our vehicle nearly run out of gas, yet it happens nonetheless. It’s common knowledge to pay a visit to the petrol station before the gas tank wavers below the ¼ mark, but still, we’re all guilty of running on fumes occasionally.
Since this has surely happened to you, and will probably happen again, it’s important to know how far you can drive when your vehicle is nearly out of gas. The low fuel warning light illuminates at various times for different cars, so it can be helpful to know exactly how much fuel is actually left in your gas tank, and how many kilometers you can travel before your car sputters to a halt in the middle of the road.
Part 1 of 3: Are there any dangers in driving with an illuminated low fuel warning light?
When the low fuel warning light comes on, we tend to only think about the fear of running out of gas before we make it to the gas station. The thought of having your car come to a halt on a busy road, or in the middle of nowhere is justifiably scary. But it’s not the only thing you should be worried about when driving your vehicle on fumes.
The reality is, driving your car when it is nearly out of fuel can cause damage to the vehicle. Harmful contamination, such as debris and metal shavings, tend to sink to the bottom of the gas tank, and can be sucked into the engine when you’re driving on empty. This can cause damage and wear and tear to the engine. Furthermore, if you do happen to run out of gas while the engine is running, you run the risk of causing irreparable damage to your catalytic converter.
Your biggest concern with driving on empty should be running out of fuel in a dangerous position, but the potential damage to your car is also important to note.
Part 2 of 3: How much can you trust your vehicle’s distance to empty gauge?
The distance to empty gauge (often called the range indicator) is a feature on almost every modern vehicle, that gives you an approximation of how many miles you can drive before you run out of fuel. For many drivers, the distance to empty gauge is referred to instead of the fuel gauge, as it presents the amount of gas in the tank in terms of practical use, rather than simply a level of fullness.
However, the distance to empty gauge is only able to give a rough approximation of how many miles remain in the gas tank, because the calculation for the number is based on your average MPG. Every car gets different fuel economy depending on the conditions, as highway versus city, traffic versus open roads, and aggressive driving versus leisurely driving will all notably impact the fuel efficiency. So if a vehicle says that 50 miles remain in the gas tank, that estimation is based on the average MPG over the life of the vehicle (or in some cases, over a certain number of recently driven miles), not on the MPG that the car is currently getting.
Because of this, the distance to empty gauge is a great tool when your tank is nearly full, or even half full, but should not be relied on for accuracy when your fuel tank is nearly empty.
Part 3 of 3: So, how far can you drive on empty?
Many factors play into how far your car can drive on empty. Most importantly, the figure changes from vehicle to vehicle, but your driving style and the road and weather conditions can play a role as well. That said, most people are more than a little surprised to find out just how few miles their car can go once the low fuel warning light chimes and illuminates.
Here is a list of when the check engine warning light will come on, and how many miles you can drive after it comes on, for the 50 best-selling vehicles in the United Kingdom in 2015.
- Note: The point at which the low fuel warning light comes on is listed as “Not Available” for some models. For these vehicles, the light is triggered based only on the distance to empty gauge, not on a specific amount of fuel remaining in the tank.
Like all drivers, you’ll probably find yourself driving with the low fuel warning light on sometime in the future, searching frantically for the nearest petrol station. When that time comes, it’s important to know how much further you can drive. Make sure to check for your vehicle on the table above so that you’re adequately prepared for a low fuel situation, and if you feel like your car is burning gas more quickly than it should, then you should definitely schedule an inspection with a trustworthy mechanic.