What To Do If You Run Out of Gas

If you run out of gas, pull over somewhere safe, check your surroundings, and call a friend or roadside assistance.
Written by Patrick Price
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
If you run out of gas, pull your car over somewhere safe, get your bearings, and call for help. If there’s no nearby friend you can call and you don’t have roadside assistance, you may need to walk to a gas station or call a tow truck. 
Sooner or later, we all start to think we know more than the fuel gauge. If—just like Jackson Browne—you’ve been running on empty, then pushing your luck too far could have left you stranded on the side of the road. Now, you’re probably wondering what on earth you should do next. 
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What to do if you run out of gas

When you run out of gas in the middle of a drive, one of the first responses people have is to panic. Focus on remaining calm and aware of any traffic around you. Now, let's walk through the step-by-step process to follow when you run out of gas.

Pull over and park in a safe spot

The first priority is to get yourself out of the flow of traffic. Using the momentum of your car, pull over and roll into the safest possible parking spot you can reach. If you’re on a highway, this will be the shoulder—remember to turn your hazard lights on

Determine your location

Once your vehicle is completely stopped, it's time to get your bearings. Often, this is the most stressful part of running out of gas—there's no telling where you might break down. 
On a highway, look for mile markers, exit signs, or anything else that indicates where along the route you are. 
If you’re in the city, look for street signs to pinpoint the exact intersection. You can also open any map app on your phone to determine your location. 

Call for help

Next, you’ll need to call for some backup. If you have friends or family nearby, see if they can lend a hand—people often find this is the most convenient option.
Another quick and easy option is to call for an Uber, Lyft, or another ridesharing service. You can get a lift to the nearest gas station, fill up a gas canister, and take it back to your car. 
If there's no ride-sharing service available, then roadside assistance will likely be your best bet. If you have AAA or another roadside assistance program, they can pick you up or deliver fuel right to your location. 
You might have roadside assistance coverage and not know it. Check to see if your car insurance policy includes roadside assistance. Vehicle
extended warranties
also sometimes have roadside coverage. If you still have any active warranties, it’s worth checking.  
If all else fails, you could always call for a tow truck—but that can get pretty expensive if you don’t have
towing and labor coverage

When to walk to a gas station 

Check maps of the area on your phone. If there's a gas station within a couple of miles and you feel comfortable doing so, you can just walk to the nearest gas station. Who knows, this crisis might turn into a nice trek!
If the area is unsafe, you don’t feel comfortable walking, or the gas station is more than three to four miles away—walking will not be a realistic option. 

When to call emergency services

Most of the time, running out of gas does not constitute a 911-level emergency. However, a call to the local police might be warranted in certain situations. 
If you weren't able to pull over all the way and your car is blocking the flow of traffic, then it's probably a good idea to give the authorities a call—just be sure to call the non-emergency line. 
Additionally, if you genuinely feel you are in danger, don’t hesitate to contact law enforcement. 
MORE: Tips for an emergency stop

How to avoid running out of gas

The best way to handle running out of gas is to avoid letting it happen in the first place. Let's take a look at some of the best strategies for avoiding running out of gas.

Don’t risk it

If you want to avoid getting stranded on the side of the road, the best thing to do is play it safe. Unless you have a modern car that lets you know exactly how far you can go until empty, don’t risk it. If you are running low, fill up sooner rather than later.
Some drivers believe they have an intuition regarding how far they can drive after their gauge reaches empty. In reality, the exact distance that you can drive on an empty tank is pretty unpredictable. It depends on several variables such as speed, weight, incline, and weather conditions. 

Signs that your car is running out of gas

Your car will start to struggle and act up when it's really low on gas. Watch out for the common warning signs that your fuel level is dangerously low—it could help you avoid getting stuck.
Here’s what to look out for: 
  • The gas gauge will have reached empty, and the low fuel warning light will be on
  • The engine will be low on power and slow to accelerate 
  • You’ll be able to hear when there’s too little gas and too much air in your cylinders—it makes a choking or sputtering sound 
  • Your acceleration will be inconsistent. It may fade, and then suddenly surge, and then fade again 
If you notice any of these symptoms, getting to a gas station should be your top priority.

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How far you can drive on an empty tank of gas depends on a lot of variables. It's not a very stable or reliable number. If you're unsure that you’ll be able to reach your destination, play it safe—fill up your tank as soon as possible.
The cost of enrolling in a roadside assistance program varies pretty widely. You can find programs for less than $10 a month, but some cost over $200 per month.
Yes, as long as it’s not blocking the flow of traffic. Make sure to leave a note on your windshield. If you're only going to be gone for a few minutes, you can even leave your hazard lights on.
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