How Far Can You Actually Drive on an Empty Tank of Gas?

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If you’ve been driving for a while, chances are you’ve experienced the feeling of dread when you realize you’re nearly out of gas but not yet at a gas station. The light that comes on warning you that your tank is just about empty is very helpful, but it’s also the stuff of nightmares.
Some people make a habit of running their tank nearly empty before refueling, while others start to panic once the tank is only half full. Whatever your style of driving is, you probably wonder how far you can drive on an empty tank of gas. Read on to find out.

How can you even drive on an empty tank?

Your car will tell you that your tank is empty before it actually is. If you have an electronic gas gauge, you might notice that your car sometimes says it still has gas, even when the empty tank indicator light comes on.
Even if your gas gauge says your car is fully out of gas, it isn’t. The fuel light is just registering that it’s empty, but there’s still some gas left in the tank.
Old cars, and cars built for long-distance driving, often have a reserve tank, which keeps a little bit of fuel around in case you run out of the primary source. New cars don’t have a reserve tank, but they keep the same concept by telling you you’re empty before you actually are.

Should you keep driving on an empty tank?

If you can get to a gas station, then yes. But don’t make a habit of driving on a low fuel level, as it’s a dangerous game to play. Things like the speed limit and road conditions could also impact your ability to reach a fuel pump.
Even if you know you have enough gas to get to the station, driving with a mostly empty tank isn’t good for the car. If you have debris or contaminants in your gas (which is inevitable over time), then they will sink to the bottom of the fuel tank. Your car will avoid circulating those, as long as you have adequate levels of fuel. But once you’re nearly out of gas, you’ll start using the stuff at the bottom of the tank, which includes the debris and contaminants. That will run through the fuel system where, over time, it can cause serious damage to your engine.
You also could break down if you truly run out of gas. Not only is that a serious hassle, but it’s very bad for your engine.

How far can you drive on an empty tank?

This really depends on the car. Two factors play a role: the size of your car’s gas tank, and the fuel efficiency of the car.
In general, you can expect the empty fuel tank warning light to illuminate when your gas tank is at 10-15% capacity. So if your car gets about 300 miles out of a tank of gas, then you can probably go about 30-45 miles once the empty tank light comes on.
For many cars, you can actually go a bit further, but again, it’s tricky. And if you’re stuck in a traffic jam or busy highway you’ll be getting much worse fuel mileage, and those 30-45 miles could turn into 15-20.

What to do if your tank says it’s empty

If your gas light comes on, you should start heading to a gas station immediately. If you have to drive more than 10 miles to a station, then try to drive in a fuel efficient manner. Maintain a steady pace, and don’t be heavy with the accelerator. Stay in the right-hand lane so you can pull off to the side of the road if your car dies.
Letting your gas tank get empty isn’t a good idea, and you should avoid doing it regularly. But you should have plenty of fuel in the tank to last you until a gas station comes around.

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