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Driving On Empty: Is it Really Bad? Part One

Driving On Empty: Is it Really Bad? Part One

We’ve all been there: you are running late and don’t have time to refill the car, and think that you might have just enough fuel to get there…

Running out of fuel is one of the most common causes of breakdown, according to roadside recovery experts. In fact, it is estimated that the average person drives with their fuel light on every other month (around 6 times a year). That may sound a moderate number, but a quarter of drivers admit to hitting the red once a week or more, which is understandable with soaring fuel costs.

What do the experts say?

According to experts, it's advisable to maintain a minimum of a quarter tank of fuel at all times. This practice not only ensures that you can avoid the embarrassment of being one of the 37% of the population to have broken down due to lack of fuel; it can help to prevent damage to your vehicle, too. While driving your vehicle on empty won’t get you very far in terms of distance, you risk damaging your catalytic converter in the moments before your car finally runs out of fuel.

Another drawback of running your car on empty or very low, is that you could get debris stuck in your fuel pump. All fuel has tiny particles in it that get either mixed in with the fuel as you drive, and captured in various filters along the way, or which settle to the bottom of the tank. Every time you refill, these particles go back into the larger volume of fuel, so they are not a problem. However, if you drive with your fuel tank very low or empty, those particles make it into the tank in larger concentrations, making them likely to cause a clog in your fuel filter or pump.

Another possible impact of driving your car on empty is the lack of lubrication to the fuel pump, as the fuel itself is the lubricant. Without this lubrication, your pump may overheat. This can increase wear and tear and dramatically decrease the fuel pump’s lifespan, leading to costly repairs.

What does the fuel light mean?

Some drivers like to push the fuel light to its limits, while others go into a panic as soon as the light appears. The rational response is probably somewhere between the two. The number of miles that you have left in your tank is based on your average MPG and the vehicle’s settings. Generally, the light will tell you how much fuel you have left based on volume; usually 7.5-11 litres, or 15 litres for larger vehicles. How long this will last you will depend on your driving style and your car; if you are prone to driving on the red, it may be worth doing some research on your car, or keeping track of how far you have travelled on the red before. This is easier with more modern cars as they tend to give a mile range rather than just a warning.

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