How Far Can You Drive Your Vehicle on Empty?

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Every driver occasionally lets their gas tank get low enough to trigger the low fuel warning light. Even though we all know it's best to keep your gas tank ¼ full, we still let it run low from time to time. Knowing how far you can drive on an empty gas tank will help keep you from getting stuck on the side of the road.

Before letting your car run on empty again, it’s worth knowing just how many – or how few – miles you can actually drive after the light comes on. It’s also smart to know what else is at stake when you let your gas tank run to near depletion.

Part 1 of 2: Is it dangerous to drive with the low fuel warning light illuminated?

The primary concern when driving on empty is the possibility of running out of gas and getting stuck on the road, which is not only a hassle, but also a potentially dangerous situation. You may break down on the freeway, where the surrounding cars are traveling upwards of 70 MPH, or you may break down on a blind turn on the highway, where a vehicle could rear end you. Or you could run out of fuel in the middle of a desert, like what surrounds Tucson, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada, or on a frigid snowy road outside Chicago, Illinois, or Cleveland, Ohio.

That said, driving on empty can also do damage to your vehicle. If you do run out of gas, you can do damage to your catalytic converter, which may then need to be repaired or replaced as a result. Even the simple act of driving with a low amount of fuel in your tank can damage your fuel pump, as any debris or contamination in the gas (which naturally settles at the bottom of the tank), will be sent through your fuel pump when the tank is nearly empty. You’re not going to ruin your car the first time you drive it with the low fuel warning light on, but it’s a harmful practice to do regularly.

Part 2 of 2: How trustworthy is the distance to empty gauge?

Most modern vehicles have a distance to empty gauge on their instrument cluster, which provides an approximation of how many miles can be driven before the car runs out of gas. Many people prefer to use this feature in lieu of the low fuel warning light, figuring that if the gauge says there are 20 miles left, then they have 20 miles before they run out of gas.

However, this is a dangerous practice, as the distance to empty gauge only offers a rough approximation. This approximation is based on the average mileage that you have attained while driving your vehicle, which means that it may not be very accurate relative to your current driving conditions.

For instance, if most of your driving is done on the highway, then your distance to empty meter is probably not very accurate when you’re stuck in traffic. So while the gauge provides a fairly accurate approximation when your tank is relatively full, it shouldn’t be used to figure out your exact number of miles remaining in the tank when you’re running on empty.

Part 2 of 2: How far can you drive on empty?

Exactly how far you can drive on empty depends on your vehicle, your driving habits, and road conditions. However, you may be surprised to see how few miles you actually can drive once the low fuel warning light comes on.

Here is the range for how many miles you can drive – as well as the point at which the warning light illuminates – for the top 50 best-selling vehicles in the United States in 2015.

  • Note: For vehicles with “Not available” listed for the point at which the warning light comes on, the light is triggered based on the distance to empty calculator having the listed number of miles remaining.

How Far Can You Drive Your Vehicle on Empty?
Make Model Fuel remaining when low fuel warning light is triggered Miles remaining when low fuel warning light is illuminated
Ford F-150 1/16th of a tank 25-80
Chevrolet Silverado Not available 25
Ram 1500 2 gallons 62-87
Toyota Camry 2.6 gallons 65-91
Toyota Corolla 2 gallons 60-84
Nissan Altima 2 gallons 81-114
Honda Accord 2.6 gallons 70-92
Honda CR-V 2.2 gallons 62-78
Honda Civic 1.9 gallons 59-80
Ford Fusion 1/16th of a tank 25-80
Ford Escape 1/16th of a tank 25-80
Toyota RAV4 2.4 gallons 57-74
Chevrolet Equinox Not available 50
Nissan Rogue 2 gallons 78-99
Hyundai Elantra Not available 20
Ford Explorer 1/16th of a tank 25-80
Chevrolet Cruze 2 gallons 56-84
Ford Focus 1/16th of a tank 25-80
GMC Sierra Denali 4 gallons 64-92
Hyundai Sonata Not available 40
Jeep Cherokee 2 gallons 66-92
Nissan Sentra 2 gallons 60-80
Jeep Wrangler 2.8 gallons 47-58
Chrysler 200 2 gallons 69-108
Chevrolet Malibu 2 gallons 50-72
Jeep Grand Cherokee 2 gallons 66-90
Toyota Tacoma 2 gallons 62-75
Subaru Forester 2.6 gallons 62-82
Kia Optima Not available 20
Toyota Highlander 2.9 gallons 58-72
Kia Soul Not available 20
Toyota Sienna 2 gallons 54-75
Subaru Outback 2.6 gallons 65-85
Nissan Versa 2.6 gallons 65-85
Volkswagen Jetta 1.85 gallons 57-85
Honda Odyssey 2 gallons 57-84
Honda Pilot 2.5 gallons 45-62
Ford Mustang 1/16th of a tank 25-80
Ford Edge 1/16th of a tank 25-80
Chevrolet Traverse 2.5 gallons 42-60
Toyota Tundra 4 gallons 60-72
Jeep Patriot 2 gallons 46-60
Toyota Prius 1.6 gallons 76-81
Hyundai Santa Fe Not available 40
Kia Sorento Not available 40
Chevrolet Impala 2 gallons 44-62
Ford Transit 1/16th of a tank 25-80
Mazda 2 2.2 gallons 69-94
Mazda CX-5 2.6 gallons 67-91
GMC Terrain Not available 50

Driving on empty is sometimes a necessity, and when you find yourself in that situation, it is important for you to know exactly how many miles of range you have left. Figuring this out beforehand is a good way to be prepared when the tank gets really low, and to avoid a breakdown. If you notice that you are reaching empty unusually quickly or have leaking fuel, be sure to have an inspection performed as soon as possible.


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Robert

18 years of experience
625 reviews
Robert
18 years of experience
Mazda 6 - Car is getting worse gas mileage - Denver, Colorado
Robert is amazing at diagnosing issues in my car; this time I made a bad choice of gas stations when I filled up my tank, and the watered down fuel was causing bad gas mileage and stutters when idling. The peace of mind to have him take me through the whole process of finding the source of the problem is priceless, and Robert is the one my husband and I always call when our cars need any service.
Honda Civic - Clutch pedal goes all the way to the floor - Denver, Colorado
Very nice guy, was on time and explained things that I have no idea about!

Raymond

35 years of experience
89 reviews
Raymond
35 years of experience
GMC Terrain - Car is getting worse gas mileage Inspection - Las Vegas, Nevada
He pointed me in the right direction. But the diagnoses is still uncertain. Although the gas tank appears to be leaking, the leak could still be something else. The inspection was incomplete.

Khoa

18 years of experience
362 reviews
Khoa
18 years of experience
BMW 335i - Car is getting worse gas mileage - Santa Clara, California
Khoa is great. Give me a lot of recommendations on car mechanics.

Kenneth

18 years of experience
495 reviews
Kenneth
18 years of experience
Toyota Solara - Car is getting worse gas mileage Inspection - Los Angeles, California
Such a nice honest guy and good talk on Prince and Michael Jackson

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