When the gas light comes on in a car, it means there’s only a certain amount of gas left in the tank and it’s time to fill it up again. Most drivers know they shouldn’t drive too far after the light comes on, but how far can you go on 0 miles to empty?
You can go about 25 – 50 miles (40 – 80 km) on 0 miles to empty. This distance may increase when you drive using a light foot, maintain a consistent speed of 40 mph (65 kph), and your tires are well-inflated. However, it’s better to err on the side of caution and fill up your tank instead as soon as you can.
The rest of this article will discuss the factors affecting how far your car can go after the gas light turns on. It’ll also cover tips on improving your car’s MPG to avoid an empty tank and its consequences for you, your car, and the environment.
How Far Can You Go When the Car Says 0 Miles?
You can go about 25 – 50 miles (40 – 80 km) when the car says 0 miles. If your car is heavy or carrying a heavy load, this distance can decrease. On the other hand, you can go further if your vehicle is light or has a light load.
Several factors determine how far you can drive after the gas light comes on. These include:
- The weight of the car. A heavier car uses more gas than a lighter one
- The car’s speed. The faster you go, the more gas you consume. As a result, the distance you can go on “0 miles to empty” reduces.
- The condition of the tires. Tires that are correctly inflated and in good condition can improve your car’s fuel efficiency.
- The driving style. If you drive with a light foot, you will consume less gas and go further.
- The terrain. Roads with lots of hills and curves will use up more gas than straight ones. Therefore, your car will go a shorter distance on “0 miles to empty” if you’re driving in a hilly or curvy area.
- Weather conditions. Driving in inclement weather (e.g., rain, wind, or snow) can reduce your car’s fuel efficiency.
Note that the gas light turns on when the fuel tank is about 1/4 full. For example, if a car has an 11-gallon (50-liter) tank, the light will come on when about 2.75 gallons (12 liters) are left in the tank.
How the Miles to Empty System Works
Most cars have a small gauge in the instrument panel called “miles to empty.” As the name implies, this gauge displays how many miles the vehicle can go before running out of gasoline. The miles to empty gauge estimates how much gas is left in the tank and translates that into a range of miles the car can still travel. Usually, the gauge assumes the vehicle is driving under ideal conditions (i.e., flat road, no wind) and using up gas at a consistent rate.
In practice, most drivers don’t drive on perfectly flat roads, and they almost always encounter some amount of wind resistance. Therefore, the number of miles shown on the gauge may slightly underestimate the distance a car can actually travel.
What Happens When You Drive Without Gas?
Here’s what can happen when you drive without gas:
- Your engine loses power
- Debris from the tank may clog the fuel pump
- The car may stall
- The engine may sputter
Let’s look at each of these consequences in more detail.
Your Engine Loses Power
Fuel is critical to your car engine’s functioning. It provides power to the pistons, which helps the engine start and run. When there’s no fuel left in the tank, the engine will lose power. As a result, you may find it more difficult to accelerate, climb hills, or drive at high speeds. Also, your car may emit loud sounds and be harder to start when there’s no gas in the tank.
Debris From the Tank May Clog the Fuel Pump
Since you’re driving under imperfect conditions, it’s likely that sediment, dirt, and other debris will find their way into your car’s gas tank. These can clog the fuel pump when you drive without gas. A clogged fuel pump can cause all sorts of problems for your car, like the loss of power, stalling, and sputtering. If this happens, you should take your vehicle to a mechanic ASAP.
The Car May Stall
If the car’s gas tank is empty, the engine may turn off unexpectedly, and you may not be able to restart it without refueling. Stalling can be dangerous, especially if you’re driving on a busy road. So it’s essential to make sure your car has enough fuel at all times.
The Engine May Sputter
When the car’s gas tank is empty, the engine will not run smoothly and may shut off unexpectedly. This isn’t a problem you should ignore, since sputtering can damage the engine over time. So, it’s best to avoid this issue by refueling your car before running out of gas.
What Affects Your MPG?
Here are factors that affect your MPG:
- Your driving habits
- The type of car you drive
- The surrounding weather conditions
- The type of fuel your engine uses
Here’s a rundown of the aforementioned factors.
Your Driving Habits
How you drive your car has a significant impact on your MPG. Accelerating quickly, braking hard, and driving at high speeds can reduce your fuel efficiency. On the other hand, driving steadily and avoiding harsh acceleration and braking will help you save gas.
The Type of Car You Drive
Not all cars are created equal when it comes to fuel efficiency. Some vehicles are designed to get better gas mileage than others. For example, smaller cars typically have better MPG than larger SUVs. Also, newer cars tend to be more fuel-efficient than older cars. If you’re looking to buy a new car, consider one that gets decent gas mileage.
The Surrounding Weather Conditions
For example, driving in windy conditions uses up more gas than driving in calm weather. That’s because wind resistance creates more drag on the car, requiring more energy to move it. Conversely, driving in hot weather can improve your MPG. The warmer temperatures heat the engine, using less fuel in the process.
The Type of Fuel Your Engine Uses
Diesel engines are more fuel-efficient than gasoline engines. That’s because they have higher compression ratios than gasoline engines, resulting in better combustion. As a result, diesel engines waste less energy in the form of heat and emissions and are more eco-friendly to boot.
How to Improve Your MPG
Having high fuel efficiency is a must if you’re a driver. Not only will it save you money, but you can also help out the environment. If you’re looking for ways to improve your car’s MPG and get the most bang for your buck, here are a few tips that can help.
Keep Your Car Properly Maintained
Just like you need to take care of your body to stay healthy, you also need to maintain your car regularly to make sure it always runs at its best. Maintenance includes routine oil changes, tune-ups, and repairs.
Here’s an excellent primer on a few things to know regarding maintaining your car:
Another way to improve your MPG is to drive smart. Avoid harsh acceleration and braking, and try to drive at a consistent speed. If you’re running multiple errands, combine them in one trip whenever possible. These small changes can add up to significant savings at the pump.
Use Cruise Control
If you know how to use it, cruise control can be a great way to improve your MPG. When you’re driving on the highway, set the cruise control to the speed limit and let the car do the work. Doing this helps you save gas by not accelerating and braking as often. Plus, it’s a great way to avoid getting a ticket!
According to research, your car uses less fuel restarting than idling. Therefore, if you’re going to stop for more than 30 seconds, turn off your car. When your car is idling, it uses up fuel unnecessarily. Also, when you turn off your engine, you reduce emissions that harm the environment.
Check Tire Pressure
According to the United States Department of Energy (link), underinflated tires can reduce your car’s MPG by 5-10%. When the tires are inflated properly, they create less drag on the car. Therefore, it would be best to check your tire pressure regularly and inflate them to the recommended level.
Pro Tip: To make sure your tires are inflated to the correct pressure, check the owner’s manual or look for the recommended pressure on the tire itself. Also, if you need a quality tire pressure checker, I recommend one of these tire pressure gauges from Amazon.com.
On average, your car can cover between 25 – 50 miles (40 – 80 km) after the “miles to empty” warning light comes on. Usually, this happens when the fuel tank is at most 14 full, so you should have a reasonable time to find a gas station.
That said, maintaining your car and driving smart can go a long way to improving your MPG. Avoid driving on fumes and always plan ahead for your next refueling stop.
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