# Piston Slap: Paradise By The Dashboard Light. Or Hell

By on July 12, 2010

Cindy writes:

I have a 2009 Honda Pilot that I love very much. I was wondering how far I could drive once the gas light comes on. Highway or city. Thanks!

I just love crazy questions like these; they are the most interesting to read on car forums. So let’s Piston Slap this one. Be it an “idiot light” or a terminal mileage calculation via trip computer, all vehicles have a low gas warning feature.  Since I had difficulty searching the Honda Pilot forums, I’ll go with a general statement: most low fuel systems activate with 1 or 2 gallons of gas left in the tank.

The (2WD) Honda pilot gets 17/23 MPG by the EPA’s estimate.  So you’d have somewhere between 34 and 46 miles before you’d run out of gas, if you believe the (dubious) general statement of the light coming on with two gallons left in the tank. Cut it in half if you think one gallon is all you have left. And cut it even more if you never achieve the EPA’s fuel consumption figures in your real world commute.

Yes, I know this is a dumb answer.  As I realized on a trip from Oklahoma City to Houston in my Lincoln Mark VIII, the only right thing do is to fill up the tank when the dashboard warning arrives. Otherwise, a host of potential problems can creep up, and leave you stranded or with not nearly enough fuel pressure to drive a safe speed on the road.

Make your dashboard happy, and you’ll stay happy: keep the tach in the black and the fuel light extinguished.

## 66 Comments on “Piston Slap: Paradise By The Dashboard Light. Or Hell...”

• Yeah, this is an easy one but it varies from car to car since a fuel tank float isn’t exactly a precision-calibrated instrument.

You should know how many gallons your tank holds from the owner’s manual. Just drive until the light comes on and then see how much gas you can get into it. Subtract that from the full capacity and you’ll know how much was still in there when the light came on. Multiply that by your worst-case mileage (17 in this case) and you’ll know your range.

My Element’s light comes on pretty early, and I can go up to about 70 miles on the highway or 50 in town once it starts complaining. It gets a little uncomfortable at the end of that range, but I’ve never run it dry.

• Power6

I disagree that the fuel float isn’t very precise. The information it provides is precise within the bounds of fuel sloshing around, but all gas guages are programmed with human behavior in mind.

There was a great article in C&D some years ago called “Why Your Gas Guage is Lying to You” or something like that, where a Cadillac engineer explained the inaccuracies they program in and why. To be brief without going into the explanations, the highlights were:

1.)it stays on “F” longer than it is really full
2.)1/2 is actually 1 gallon below half a tank
3.)”E” is 2-3 gallons above empty

I’ve no reason to believe this is any different with any other car, since every car I have driven stays on F for some time after fill up, takes a while to get to 1/2, than free falls to E and stays there for a bit, until you run out or fill up.

Interesting side note I also learned from that article: Cadillac used actual gallon readouts on their digital dash cars through the 90s. Something like 18 gallons was full and the guage went from “F” to 17 gallons as you might expect. Customers then compained that they weren’t able to “fill” their cars, so Cadillac went ahead and changed the guage to stay on “F” until 15 gallons to keep them happy.

• Redshift

Power6: My RX8 is almost exactly the opposite. It drops off the full mark almost instantly, and the bottom half of the tanks last much longer. (I presume due to the saddle bag nature of the tanks as they are much narrower at the top.)
This is my ongoing theory on why people perceive the mileage on the RX8 to be so much worse than it actually is. (I admit, it’s not good, but it’s not that much worse than other sports cars.. some people make it seem like it get’s km’s per hundred of liters.)

• dwford

Why test your luck? Do you want to be the woman on the side of the road with no gas – at night, in a strange place? Put some gas in the car!!!

• TR4

If you really want to know, just drive it until it quits. Pick a road where stalling would not be terribly inconvenient, and have a full gas can in the trunk to get you going again. Note that if it quits on a steep hill you may get results different from a level surface.

• chuckR

Aren’t gas tank fuel pumps cooled by by the gas? Run out of fuel and you may damage the pump. It won’t necessarily fail there, instead it may pick an inconvenient time and place of its own choosing.

• Redshift

+1 My “other” and her mother are both horrible for this. Her mother recently had to replace the fuel pump in her 2006 Mazda6 after she almost ran it out of gas yet one more time. The pump was pretty much black when we pulled it out.

• Power6

This is supposedly true, though I think that there is some design consideration for this so that any customer who chooses to run low all the time isn’t going to blow fuel pumps every few months.

I have also heard, and do believe, that actually running out of fuel and loosing the fuel pump’s prime will reduce the life of the pump a bit.

• TR4

First, the pump motor is not sitting in a pool of fuel at the bottom of the tank; the motor and pump are together in a cylindrical assembly through which the fuel passes and frequently this assembly is closer to the top of the tank, not the bottom. As long as the pump is pumping fuel there will be fuel cooling the motor.

Second, cars will typically have a safety mechanism such that if the engine quits running the pump will shut down. Thus when the car runs out of fuel the engine will stop and the pump will shut down. Of course this gets defeated at start up for 30 seconds or so. I know for a fact that Neons had this, so if a cheap car like that does I expect most do.

Third, my own daughter ran the tank of her Taurus dry several times without causing the pump to fail.

• Steve65

I recently replaced the fuel pump assembly in a Ford Excursion. It was sitting in a pool of fuel at the bottom of the tank.

• daviel

zero miles – fill ‘er up!

• Shane Rimmer

My Altima’s gauge flat-out lies to me. The most fuel I have put into the 20 gallon tank is 17 gallons. That was with the fuel light on for about 100 miles. Near as I can tell, it comes on when there is about 5 gallons left in the tank on my car.

• KGrGunMan

i’ve found this true that newer cars seem to have bigger and bigger reserves. i own a 2005 tacoma v6, it has a 21gal tank and my gas light comes on when i have 4gal of gas still left in the tank, the funny thing is the light comes on when my gauge is still at 1/8th of a tank, so it’s not even saying empty when the light comes on. i test my real world milage so i don’t care what the epa says i get 19mpg in close to 50/50 mix driving so with 4gal of gas i can make it 76 miles after my gas light comes on, thats just a crazy distance to the point i don’t even worry when the light comes on.

on the other hand i own an ’88 mr2 that i’ve modded to get the worst gas milage possable and i avg 24mpg (from a 2400lb 1.6ltr) with a 10gal tank, the gas light comes on when i have 1 gal of gas left, that means when the light comes on i can go 24 miles and i’m done. when that light comes on it means pull into the gas station right now.

older cars seem to have around 1 gal reserves fairly common but the newer cars seem to like 4 or 5 gal reserves, but it makes it so it’s not even worth paying any mind to.

i do try to fill up when i hit 1/4 tank anyway.

• Areitu

If the light is on, it’s telling you that you need gas, not that the tank’s empty.

It’s probably a nissan behavior. In my Z, the needle isn’t all the way to the bottom when the light turns on and it means there’s 5 gallons left. The low gas light triggers the trip computer to switch to “Distance to Empty” and if you keep driving, it turns into four blinking dashes. I knew someone who drove around on the four blinking dashes for 30 miles or so, which means it’s probably 2-3 gallons remaining.

• Mark MacInnis

You HAD to know it was a woman who wrote this….my (soon to be ex-)wife CONSTANTLY drives with the LOW FUEL warning light on in her Montero…even though I know good and well she has the gas money in her purse…(I know because I give the cash to her)….but without fail, every damned time I get in her car, I’ve got to fill it up, anyway. One time, I literally just made it onto the property at the gas station less than a mile from my house, and ran dry…had to push the damned thing to the pumps…..

This question indicates the degree that most women think about things on the car….maintenance schedules and warning lights are “more of a guideline, than a rule.”

Aaaarghhhh.

Signed,

Soon to be a free man and not gonna worry about it anymore.

/rant off.

• mdensch

OK, totally sexist, I know, but . . .

I’ll also bet she had an argument with her husband/BF over this.

• thebeelzebubtrigger

There are a *lot* of men in the world who are just as clueless and helpless as you think your wife is (I’ll never forget the time I went to rescue the customer with the service truck and he didn’t even know how to pop his hood. I asked “just buy this car?” He said, “No, I’ve had this car for two years”!!!).

Then there are also women among us who have built our own cars from multiple junkyard hulks.

Sexism fails a simple reality poll, unless you’re blinded by your prejudice.

Oh, and for the record I always refill the tank when the needle dips below the 1/2 mark. :)

• Mark MacInnis

Sorry, Beez….you’re not gonna convince me on this one. Point taken that there are a lot of totally clueless men out there, as well, but I bet if Paul did a QOTD on this, “How often do you drive with the low fuel idiot light on in your car?” a. Never b. Seldom c. occasionally d. more than 3 times per month e. weekly.

Then stratified the data by gender, their would be AT LEAST a 2-1 female to male ratio for the d and e answers. Prove me wrong and I’ll buy you a nice bottle of wine…how about anecdotal evidence from any Tow Truck drivers in the B&B…on runs where you have to bring gas to a out-of-fuel driver, what is the ratio of female to males in this particular predicament?

Sorry….this hit a hot-button nerve for me. Thanks for letting me purge.

/rant back off.

• GrandCharles

Does it cost you more to fill the car than a costly divorce? Anyway, i’m on your side here, when the gas pump is gonna be burned off due to the lack of coolant from gasoline, hand her the bill!!! Read booth babe from yesterday for similar story…

• mythicalprogrammer

“(I know because I give the cash to her)….but without fail, every damned time I get in her car, I’ve got to fill it up, anyway.”

Maybe she’s using your gas money on something else… and wants you to pay for the gas haha.

• Power6

What would your survey prove Mark? I think lack of knowledge causes one to be more conservative for fear of the unknown. My Financee leaves the car stuff to me but she gets worried when I am driving with the fuel light on, whereas I know how much extra warning is built in therefore I don’t worry about it so much. I might fall into that d/e camp, but not for lack of knowledge…

If I had a nickel for every guy that “thinks” he knows about cars because guys are supposed to (but doesn’t know his a\$\$ from a pitman arm) I could buy a fleet of them 300SEL 6.3’s from Jack’s capsule review…

+1 for Scott.

This is *really* simple math. Why would you even ask anyone else?

FWIW, my ’05 Scion xB has an 11.9 gallon tank. The light comes on with 2.3 gallons remaining. That would get me a theoretical 75 miles at the 33mpg I get with the car.

• Robstar

I rarely let it get down to the low fuel light at all. My round trip is 70 miles & if I end up buying in Chicago I may pay \$3.30/gal instead of \$2.80’ish near my house. \$0.40-\$0.50/gallon for a 10+gallon fillup hurts!

My motorcycle is easy — every 2 days fill up as I won’t make it to work & back a third time.

• Lokki

On my BMWs, the low fuel light comes one and the compter also gives you a “miles to empty” calculation. It’s usually 60 -55 miles or about 2.x gallons.

However, for my wife, I don’t make her worry about the gas milage. I just told her that after the light comes on, she has 1/2 hour to buy gas.

For some reason that works better for her than any arcane calculations of distance/ fuel consumption.

• This site is a wiki-like gas calculator that is useful in a pinch:
http://tankonempty.com/

• educatordan

lol, @ Lokki. Maybe it was my upbringing, call me a nervous nelly, but I start paying attention to gas prices and stations just bellow a 1/4 tank. My girlfriend (unless she’s on a long trip) starts looking for gas just bellow a 1/2 tank cause she doesn’t want to shell out for the full fill-up. From what I know about modern fuel pumps, I think I’ll just keep doing that.

@Shane, my dad’s old 92 Bonneville had a gauge that would go very very slowly from full to 1/2 while you were driving and then very quickly from 1/2 to E. That was a gauge that would lie!

• 86er

Dan, that’s what you call almost every GM product ever made. Did it likewise seem to stay on Full for an inordinately long time?

• educatordan

Yes, were the gas gauges designed by the same engineers who figured out how to make the Equinox hit 32mpg in an EPA test?

• geozinger

@educatordan,

I have the same thing with my GM cars, they all seem to take forever to get to the 1/2 tank mark, then it’s downhill fast from there.

I had a 1972 442 with the fuel needle that would bounce from left to right (F to E) as you drove around, apparently the floats on those cars were very sensitive. Another pal of mine had the same age Cutty, with the same issue. You would only get the true level when you stopped. The bouncing would get worse as the fuel level got lower, which made getting a good read a problem if you needed to know while you were rolling…

Every GM made is right, my Sunfire(20 bux=7 gal gauge goes to 3/4) does the same, my Camaro before that too. Just think of 3/4 as the true 1/2 and 1/2 as the true 1/4

• texan01

My 1977 Chevelle will sit on full for about ~125 miles, then move on down to E at ~225 miles, nevermind the fact that it’s a 21 gallon tank, and when it hits E it’s got 6 gallons left. That’s when the car is sitting still so the gauge isn’t sloshing all over the place. It also averages 15mpg in town, haven’t had it on a long road trip but I figure 20mpg is a good number to shoot for, for it.

My 1995 Explorer will sit forever on F or will go 150 miles then slowly drop, 1/2 tank is actually a 11 gallons on a 22 gallon tank, and when the ‘Check Gage’ light comes on, you’ve got 60-80 miles to go, now you let the needle drop below E and you WILL be walking.

The 1986 Pontiac 6000 I had, had a digital gauge that was pretty accurate, never had any complaints at all with its digital dash actually,

I think newer cars have a capacitor in there to dampen the needle movements some.

• http://tankonempty.com/

• seth1065

I had a 94 taurus as a company car and was working with co workers who had the same car only 6 months newer same car ( fleet sales) same everything, we were leaving Ocean City NJ and getting on the parkway where every 30 miles or so they had a gas station I needed gas but he told me just drive until the fuel light comes on and than we will fill up on the way, well we drove and drove and the gauge kept going down to E. no light on I lost my nerve when the dial went below E, pulled in got gas, got ragged on for not being a real man… got home and checked the manual, yep no fuel light in my car it was added mid year, well at least we did not run out of gas.

• John Horner

Whenever your vehicles gets to 1/4 of a tank or less, buy gas at the next convenient place which offers a good price and quality service. The in tank fuel pump will last longer this way and you can enjoy a little piece of mind.

Waiting until the warning light goes on and then seeing just how much further you can push your luck is just a way of adding stress and aggravation to life.

To put it another way: If you see the light, but fuel at the next reasonable opportunity to do so and then remind yourself not to wait so long next time.

P.S. You don’t save any money by delay fuel purchases, but you might make you life miserable by running out of fuel.

• ihatetrees

I think some civic minded Euro nations hand out traffic fines for people who run out of gas. It part of the concept of driving responsibly (that is lost to many).

• JMII

Just for record – my wife is the OPPOSITE as me when it comes to low fuel warning lamp.

As soon as the light comes on she panics and pulls into the nearest gas station as if the vehicle is already on fumes. I’ve told her countless times there are several gallons in there and that she could easily drive for another 2 days before its runs dry given her standard work-to-home distance.

However the last 1/2 tank burns off faster then the first 1/2 on my truck. Maybe its the shape of the tank, or the location of the sensor, or some other factor but I know for a fact that once you hit the 1/2 way mark you can NOT go double the distance show on trip computer.

• Mark MacInnis

It just occurred to me that this conversation is why we will never have flying cars……

I doubt few women pilots would give you the “Don’t worry, I can go for another XX miles” when the “low fuel” light goes on at 5,000 feet….

• xyzzy

According to FAA regulations, the only time a fuel gauge on an airplane is required to be accurate is when it reads E. So no going beyond E or expecting a reserve, it ain’t there. But in reality no pilot relies on the gagues, we measure or estimate fuel flow rate and calculate how much is left based on time * fuel flow. FAA also requires a 1/2 hour reserve to be in the tanks at landing.

• geozinger

I’ve managed to teach my family to not let the car get much below 1/4 tank at any time of year. Part of it has to do with winter weather, and getting gas line freezing, which really doesn’t happen much anymore, but the other is being stranded and not having enough fuel to run the heater.

I had an experience years ago when a tornado blew through our area, and wiped out much of the electrical grid. No electricity, no gas pumps. Another lesson learned.

My wife still isn’t 100% on-board, but our 2009 Pontiac has a warning chime that comes on when fuel is low, and displays remaining miles in the drivers info center.

If I feel like being the bad guy, all I have to do is to remind her of the time we had to replace a fuel pump because the car she drove at the time was always driven on fumes. That usually gets her to remember to check the fuel gauge…

• dolo54

When I drive in snow country I always pack a heavy blanket in the trunk. You never know when you might get stranded, accident or breakdown in a no cell area, and it can be the difference between life and death.

• geozinger

@dolo54,

In our house, we have summer and winter boxes that go in the trunks of the cars. Right now, we have an emergency box that has jumper cables, a small cheapie ratchet set, a multiple headed screwdriver, a poncho, an umbrella and a sunshade. In the winter, we have the box with all of the above listed, including a heavy blanket, spare boots (usually my size, but my feet are bigger than all of the girls), and some energy bars that probably need to be disposed of by now. I take out the sunshade and the umbrella, usually.

I know there’s somethings I should have in the car, like kitty litter and safety triangles and flares, but as my ‘fleet’ has grown, I sadly have not kept up with it all…

We change out the stuff in the boxes when we change out our clothes for the seasons. Luckily, we have not had to use these things much, but you never really know…

• CarPerson

Driving mostly freeways, it’s all to often a 30-minute commute is over an hour. Sitting at a dead stop when the low-fuel light comes on is a pretty sickening feeling.

As many have mentioned, fuel pumps are liquid cooled. Some are far more suseptable to lack of coolant than others. Wanna bet \$250 where the fuel pump is your vehicle falls? If not, refuel when you’ve burned off 3/4 of the fuel load.

• brettc

The light in my Jetta comes one supposedly when there’s 1.7 gallons left. Which in theory should get me about 75 miles or so. I make a mental note based on the trip odometer of when the light came on and will refill it within about 20 miles of the light’s activation. My wife also has a Jetta. She’ll tell me she needs to get fuel because the light came on. I’ll ask her “how long has it been on”. She never has an answer. It just comes on and she doesn’t make a note of the mileage she’s at. She’s too busy doing whatever women do in a car. (and it’s not shifting gears).

One time her car got so low on diesel, it was idling extremely rough when we finally got it to the fuel station. She shut it off and I started pumping. When she went to restart it, it took a couple of minutes of cranking because the injection pump was essentially dry. I freaked out at her and told her to never let it get that low again because I don’t want to spend \$1000 to replace her injection pump just because she’s too lazy to get fuel in a timely manner. Good times…

• segar925

Any driving over 30 miles with the low fuel light on is pushing your luck. I’ve done it numerous times on a trip returning home, and never run out of gas. Owners manuals should (but many don’t)tell how much useable fuel remains when the low fuel light comes on.

• @ihatetrees

In Brazil it’s a fine, too.

As to womenXmen, most of the time I think women are much worse. My wife is one:(

And in Brazil, there’s a twist. Most cars in Brazil run on both ethanol and gasoline. And the ethanol is pure 100% ethanol. So car makers have adapted a little tank in the engine bay (usually) to put gas that’ll be mixed into the ethanol when firing up (ethanol is notoriuosly difficult to fire up in cold weather). Fiat’s is by far the best. The extra tank holds almost 2L (so you don’t have to pop up the hood every other week to fill said tanklet) and botheres to put a little idiot light into the dash. To the best of my knowledge, most other common brands didn’t (like my wife’s Renault). So you just have to keep guessing. A little more difficult to fire up this time? Be sure to stop at a station, pop the hood and put a little gas into the tank ’cause you’re running out.

• spt87a

Had an 82 Ford Fairmont that when the fuel gauge got to empty, it would start to go back up again! The out of gas point was maybe the 1/8 mark as the gauge was going back up. That could be confusing if you lost track of which direction the needle was going.

I never ran out of gas but my wife did a few times because of it (one time on her way to an early morning college test – had to go rescue her in our 86 Mustang).

• thebeelzebubtrigger

@Mark MacInnis:
Honestly Mark, there are just more men who know how to fake their way with car guys so you think “guys know cars, women don’t”. Most guys really are as clueless as you imagine women are. And you know what, at least we have an excuse: getting my race-car-building father to show me how to do anything on a car was just about impossible. My brothers had it easy when it came to learning about cars.
So the fact that there are even a minority of women who know more about cars than you do is, taken in context, pretty much proof that there is no inherent male superiority regarding cars (or math, or chemistry, etc).
Sorry, but your sexism dressed up doesn’t fool me. But I don’t hold it against you personally, I realize it’s a common social dysfunction. :)

• My father would run out of gas all the time, but he didn’t care much because he usually drove his work truck, which usually had a five-gallon can of gas in it for the chain saws, starter motor on the cat, etc. But once he ran out and had to put diesel from the diesel tank because the gas can was empty, and bucked and snorted to the next gas station. That was the last time…for a while anyway.

Our old 1950 Packard’s gas gauge died, and he noticed that the tube from the filler cap to the tank was straight, so from then on the gas guage was a stick in the trunk.

I had one car with a funny gauge, and unexpectedly ran out of gas a couple of different times but had tremendous luck, once coasting into a gas station and once running out by a card-lock place just as a customer came in to get gas. Now I get nervous when the gas light comes on. But then nowadays my cars have the pump in the tank, not like back in the dark ages when I was a kid.

My daughter had her gas-light-on time pretty finely calibrated on her Civic. Maybe a good general rule for this question would be to ask a teen or college student who has the same car what their experience has been. I’m guessing that obbop might know on his Silverado too.

• MarcKyle64

You guys are so spoiled with your fuel gauges and little blinking lights! Try riding a motorcycle with the reserve/off/on tank switch in stop and go traffic. This inevitably leads to fumbling for the reserve position, trying to keep the bike rolling straight, and praying that the carbs get the go-juice soon before that SUV behind me gets a tire mark on it’s front bumper! Caveat: always remember to set the switch back to ‘On’ at fill-up or you’ll end up walking when it runs dry next time!

Dad had a 50’s era Bug with the reserve tank switch, too. He said it gave him 30 miles ’til empty.

• gator marco

I have an 05 Taurus. The dash computer will provide a low fuel warning at 50 miles to empty, but the idiot light won’t go on until about 10 miles to empty. The 50 to empty means about 2 gallons left, and that’s as low as I want it to go, so the fuel pump doesn’t pickup whatever dregs are lurking in the last few gallons.

• JeremyR

I never understood this. The fuel pickup is at the bottom of the tank, so if there’s any crud there, it doesn’t matter how full the tank is. Unless it’s the type of crud that floats, but I think most of it tends to sink.

• Steve65

The only context I can think of where it’s relevant is motorcycle with an reserve option petcock. In those, there are two fuel pickups. The primary draws fuel from 2 – 3 inches above the bottom of the tank, and the reserve draws from the bottom. If you’re not the type to push your mileage luck, you can go for years never drawing from the bottom of the tank, and build up quite a stew of crud.

• KIM1963

I drive a 97 Ranger that i bought in 2000 . About a yr after i had it the gas gauge stopped working . Took it in to be looked at . They checked everything electrical first finally telling me it was probably the float which involved dropping the tank to fix and more money then i wanted to pay to fix it .

I’m still driving that Ranger and the gas gauge always shows empty .Never did get it fixed . In 8 yrs since it went bad i’ve only run out of gas 1 time .

• DC Bruce

I own an ’08 Pilot. Let me give you a simple answer, as determined experimentally by my wife: not as far as you can drive a Saab 9-5 wagon after its fuel light goes on.

Seriously.

When the Pilot was new, my wife ran it out of gas a couple of miles from our house. Fortunately, it happened on a weekend, when I was home and could ride to the rescue with a few gallons of gasoline in a can. She had become accustomed to how long she could drive our previous car — the Saab — under those circumstances and, in fact, had never run it out of fuel.

Like a lot of car fuel gauges, that on the Pilot does not seem to be linear. So, the gauge seems to move more quickly from 1/2 to empty than from full to 1/2.

Unless you have owned a vehicle that uses fuel at a similar rate, be conservative in how long you drive with the fuel light on. I believe you have about 2 gallons when the light comes on. But fuel consumption is more variable than you would think when you’re not driving down the highway at a constant speed.

BTW, my best observed fuel usage on my AWD Pilot is 22 mpg, on the highway at 65-70, with the a/c running in the summer. (That’s the circumstances under which I was able to track it, from one fueling stop to another, driven at constant speed.) I believe your car’s engine has the cylinder deactivation feature, so you might do a little better than I did.

• Power6

I am a gas guage pusher. I am always driving a little more when the light is on. It unnerves my passenegers sometimes, but I know there is a couple gallons left so I am not going to inconvenience myself to freak out and find a gas station when I have 40 miles of fuel left. It is best just to treat the light as a reminder to fill up when you can, or not to ignore that “next gas 154 miles” sign…

I used to have an old ’80s Mazda MX-6 turbo. It had the digital dash. It had a button labelled “range” or something like that next to the fuel level bar display. When you were below 1/4 tank, you could hit the button, and it would re-configure the fuel display to show the whole bar display for just the 1/4 tank. Not all that useful, but together with the long forgotten Mazda center “swing” vents, pretty freaking neat.

My old Dodge SRT-4 had two levels of low fuel. First was the usual light. Then when you got really low the light would blink and play a tone everytime you started up. There must have been quite a bit of fuel left at the first light, since the Dodge SRT engineers recommeneded, in their Stage 2/3 “toys” installation manual, that you run the car down to the blinking fuel light condtion before filling up with 100 octane and flipping the “100 octane” switch on the dash for that extra 20hp…

• xyzzy

I remember in the Top Gear hypermiling challenge, when they each had to drive cars from somewhere in (Switzerland I think) to England on a single tank of gas, Jeremy drove a diesel Jag and as I recall he drove it for a significant time and distance after the trip computer said 0 miles left, and made it to the destination.

In my 1998 LS400 with a 22 gallon tank I have pushed my luck a few times and the most it’s ever taken is 20.5 gallons. At 23 mpg, that means I had about 30 miles left, and that was long after the trip computer said “low fuel” and refused to show a range any longer.

Regarding the battle of the sexes, I think men are more likely to run out than women. Stereotypically women tend to want the security of a full tank and not to worry about getting stuck, while men are more likely to push it, wanting to show the gas gauge who’s boss, to drive to the next gas station that might be cheaper, etc. When I was growing up my dad used to end up walking or hitchhiking the last few miles from home work after running his tank dry on his Fiat 124. Not sure you could do that often on a modern, fuel injected car without expensive long-term consequences. My mom never ran out of gas.

• Gardiner Westbound

Filling the top half of the fuel tank is no more costly than filling the bottom half. Besides the obvious risk of being stranded, the fuel pump located in the tank requires submersion in gasoline for cooling and lubrication. Low fuel may result in a fricasseed pump, a very expensive repair.

Our Infiniti owner’s manual indicates there are approximately three gallons of fuel left when the low fuel light illuminates. It recommends the car be refueled as soon as possible else it may trip the Malfunction Indicator Light and require a \$\$\$\$\$\$ dealer visit to have it investigated and reset.

• xyzzy

I usually let it get low because I remembered gas was cheaper on the other side of town, where I’ll be in a few miles, so I’ll just hold out. Oh wait, not as cheap here as I remembered, maybe it was that place I’ll be next. Oh wait, not there either. And so on until, crap, I have to fill up with expensive gas because I’ve waited too long and this is the only gas station around.

• tp33

There’s really no sense in running the engine past the point when the lfl comes on. Not only does the fuel pump rely on fuel for cooling and lubrication (as others have mentioned), but the gas at the bottom is the most heavily saturated with all the crap (sediment, particulates, etc.) that floats around in the tank. Would you eat food pulled through the bottom of a deep fryer? Male or female, anyone who routinely tries to “game” the fuel reserve beyond the lfl does so at the expense their pump/filter. Alas, it would appear even “idiot” lights are not idiot proof…

• Opus

“the gas at the bottom is the most heavily saturated with all the crap (sediment, particulates, etc.) that floats around in the tank”

{SIGH}

That is one old MYTH that deserves to DIE!
WHY do people still believe this??

Your gas outlet is at the BOTTOM OF THE TANK!! If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be able to use all the gas in the tank. So the idea that you’ve got all this crap in there that you don’t get into the fuel lines unless you run nearly dry is absolute NONSENSE. Quit envisioning the tank as being akin to a glass of chocolate milk, which has all the sediment at the bottom. Just remember – your car drinks from the BOTTOM of the tank 100% of the time.

• obbop

“Aren’t gas tank fuel pumps cooled by by the gas? Run out of fuel and you may damage the pump. It won’t necessarily fail there, instead it may pick an inconvenient time and place of its own choosing.”

Ample kudos to chuckR for being who I believe was the first entity present to mention what can be a vital bit of info.

YMMV.

• Wagen

I, for one, would like an accurate fuel gauge for a change. I fail to appreciate the “human factors” which cause manufacturers to use gauges that “lie.” I understand how to read a gauge, expect that from the moment I set out after filling up, the level will decrease, and expect that when the level gets to 0, I have zero fuel remaining. Why can’t we actually have gauges that read correctly the quantity of fuel remaining in the tank?

• 285exp

Some years ago my wife had a Mercedes 300SD diesel, and there were few times that I got into that car that the low fuel light was not lit. One night when we were going out to eat we got into her car and, as usual, the needle was on 0/0. When I suggested we take my car instead, my wife assured me that the light had not yet come on, so we had plenty of fuel to get where we were going and back. The route to this particular establishment went through one of the less savory parts of town and, sure enough, the car quit in just about the worst of the least savory part. Note, running a diesel out of fuel is a bad idea. This was in the pre-cell phone era, so I had to find a pay phone and ask a friend to bring me some diesel. Then I had to find the fuel injection priming pump buried deep in a hot engine compartment and pump it enough times to prime the injection system. Turned out that she had driven it on the fuel warning light so much that it burned out the bulb.

Then when we got to the restaurant we found it was closed.

• Robert Schwartz

I was going to post on the repeat of this thread from this morning (Tues 13 Jul 2010) because one of the commenters had posted a link to a good article on this question:

I pumped their data into Xcel and came up with an average of 134.3 km [83.5 mi.] from the time the warning light came on to empty with a standard deviation of 33.8 km [21 mi.]. Now, those were compact cars driven in controlled tests, YMMV.

Also the link from Jay Larson above is interesting:

http://tankonempty.com/

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