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How long can a car drive on low?

When the low-fuel warning light comes on, how much farther can you drive?

If your car engine reaches its fuel reserve, what distance can you drive until you’re “running on fumes?” We have the answer for the most popular vehicles in North America, and a few tips to stop the worst from happening.

Low-fuel warning light illuminated on the dashboard

The U.S.-based website YourMechanic went to the trouble of reading the owner’s manuals of the 50 top-selling automobiles in North America. They found that once the warning light comes on, there is usually about 10 litres (2.6 U.S. gallons) of fuel left in the tank.

In other words, with some exceptions (Korean-made models, for example), most vehicles can go another approximately 90 to 130 kilometres before the engine sputters and dies, forcing the driver to walk all the way to the nearest gas station or call a roadside assistance service.

Which vehicles offer the best fuel economy when the low-fuel warning light comes on?

The leeway distance varies a lot from one vehicle to another. Some models are very generous, like the Nissan Altima sedan (2013–2018), which can be driven up to around 185 kilometres on its fuel reserve. The Nissan Rogue SUV, meanwhile, is also among the most accommodating models, able to travel up to 160 kilometres after the light comes on.

The fuel economy winner, though, is the Toyota Prius hybrid: it has the smallest fuel reserve of the vehicles studied, at about 6 litres, but will run another 130 kilometres or so on “empty.”

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At the other end of the spectrum among the 50 models studied, the vehicle that will leave you stranded fastest of all is the Chevrolet Silverado pickup (2014–2018), with a listed reserve of barely 40 kilometres.

And if you drive a Hyundai or a Kia, best not to chance it! Their fuel reserve autonomy is between about 50 and 65 kilometres, depending on the model.

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Three factors that influence fuel consumption

While it’s useful to know how many litres your fuel tank contains, you shouldn’t put too much stock in the numbers once the low-fuel indicator kicks on, just as you shouldn’t rely on your instrument cluster’s “kilometres remaining” display: these readings are approximate.

Fuel economy is anything but an infallible science. It is influenced by multiple factors:

  1. Driving style. Heavy on the gas pedal obviously equals heavy on gas.
  2. Type of route. City driving uses more fuel than highway driving.
  3. Weather conditions. Tires biting into snow mean up to one-third greater fuel consumption than tires rolling on dry pavement.

Avoid running out of fuel and damaging your vehicle

What’s the best way to avoid the stress of running out of gas, having to call for a tow, putting your life or that of others in danger, or having to pay for costly repairs? It’s simple: “Make sure your fuel gauge reads at least one-quarter full at all times,” says Sylvain Légaré, a research analyst with CAA-Quebec Automotive Advisory Services.

Our mechanics expert reminds readers that driving near empty can damage vehicle components, starting with the fuel pump: “To work properly, the pump needs to be lubricated by the fuel itself,” cautions Légaré.

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Moreover, the bottom of your fuel tank contains contaminants and debris that you don’t want transferred to the car’s other components. If you’re running near empty, your catalytic converter is vulnerable to damage from an improper air-fuel mixture. Once in a while won’t kill it, but repeated occurrences could well cause this emission control component to exact revenge—on your wallet.

In addition, Mr. Légaré concludes, “with our yo-yo-ing weather conditions and temperatures below zero almost six months a year in Quebec, there’s the danger that gas or condensation in the tank or fuel line will freeze if the tank isn’t sufficiently filled.”

If you own an electric vehicle, you should take similar precautions. Don’t wait until the available battery power gets too low, as this can make recharging more difficult. Forewarned is forearmed!

Got questions about this topic or any other car-related issue?

If you are a CAA-Quebec member, call our Mobility Advisory Services .They can help you in making informed and objective choices, no matter what your concern is. Do so as often as you like, it’s included with your membership.

To contact them, call 1-888-471-2424 or write to them at automobile@caaquebec.com.

How Many Miles Can a Car Go on Empty?

Trips to the gas station aren’t exactly fun, so it’s tempting to put off refilling your car. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, after all. The gas light is more of a suggestion, and everyone knows you have a few miles before you have to refuel. Right? Actually, no. There are several reasons why it’s a bad idea to wait till the last moment to fill up. It’s better to know what your vehicle’s fuel economy is and fill up before your car hits empty.

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Here are the reasons why you should fill up sooner rather than later.

How far can your car go on empty?

A car

Well, that depends on your vehicle. Some cars are designed to go farther than others without fuel, especially hybrids. But if you’re in a traditional gas-powered vehicle, most models can go 30 to 50 miles before completely running out of fuel.

For example, the Chevy Silverado can travel about 33 miles after the gas light comes on. Smaller cars, like the Volkswagen Jetta, can go 43 miles. And the Toyota Corolla can continue cruising for 47 miles, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

It’s important to note that these numbers are for newer vehicles. If you have an older car, these numbers will be much lower.

But the above estimates might come as a relief to anyone who often waits until the gas light comes on before filling up. Is that really a good idea, though?

Will driving on empty damage your car?

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. There are many reasons why you shouldn’t wait until the gas light comes on, especially if you do it habitually.

“When you’re running low on gas, it’s best not to push your luck,” Neil Hoff, a refined fuels specialist, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Stopping to fill up before your gas gauge hits ‘E’ could save you stress, damage to your car, and time spent on the side of the road.”

So, what sort of damage could happen to your car? According to Hoff, there are dirt and contaminants in your fuel tank. When you allow your vehicle to run on empty, those contaminants can become suspended in the fuel and block the fuel filter.

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Another risk to your vehicle is when the gas gets too low, the fuel filter is no longer covered with gas. This can cause it to overheat. There’s also a risk of affecting the power steering and brakes or water in the fuel tank. All of this can lead to expensive repairs that you could’ve easily prevented with a quick stop at a gas station.

Other risks of driving on empty

Another risk you take when running on empty is getting stranded. Anyone who has ever been stuck on the side of the road can testify it’s not an experience they want to repeat.

Getting stranded can be especially dangerous on busy roads. Plus, it’s scary to be alone in an unfamiliar area with no cell service. Though most cellular providers would have you believe their towers are so numerous you could go anywhere and still get a signal, dead zones still exist.

So to avoid lugging a gas can several miles or endangering yourself by flagging down a stranger, keep your gas tank filled up. And try not to let it drop below a quarter-tank to avoid damaging your car.

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