Running On Empty, Running Dumb

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

Rising prices at the pump make people do dumb things. Some buy a new car to save at all costs. Not only will they never recoup the cost of the new car, the tsunami in Japan turned fuel efficient Japanese cars into everything else than a bargain. Others do something particularly stupid: They drive their car until it runs out of gas.

The Automobile Club of Southern California reports that increasing gas prices make motorists run out of fuel and become stranded. About 15,600 Auto Club members requested roadside service last month because they run out of gas. That’s up 12.9 percent from the same month in the previous year, the auto club told The Desert Sun.

The trend is attributed to people trying to stretch their existing fuel to the limit after prices crossed the psychologically important $4 mark and keep heading higher.

Wringing the last drop out of the tank does not save any money. In the contrary: Sediment at the bottom of a tank can clog the fuel pump pickup, the fuel filter or and the injectors.

“Letting your car regularly run on an almost-empty tank can cause even more wallet damage with expensive repairs,” said Steve Mazor, manager of the Auto Club’s Automotive Research Center. “Secondly, letting the vehicle’s level of fuel run down to empty may cause the electric fuel pump inside the tank to overheat.” On top of it, that gas pump might just be on the list of parts your dealer is short of.

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  • AJ AJ on Apr 18, 2011

    Not me–I fill up often as prices go up and I see a station for a few cents less then the average.

  • Mikey Mikey on Apr 18, 2011

    I budget $50 a week for gas. {$1.33 CDN a litre = over $5 USD a US gallon} Driving around looking to save 2 cents a litre doesn't work. For the Impala I treat the half tank mark as empty. So I will put $25 in and it brings it up to 3/4. We also own a Jimmy. I only drive it when we need it and the most it gets is $25. Never ever! Let your vehicle run out...regardless of what you drive. You are asking for trouble. Avoiding a$400 repair bill will buy lots of gas.

  • DC Bruce DC Bruce on Apr 18, 2011

    There are probably two reasons for this. One is that, as gasoline exceeds $4 a gallon, people get really price-sensitive. So, they scope out places where gas is cheap and try to fill up there. Secondly, fuel in the tank is like any other "inventory"; it's just money sitting there. So, if you have a vehicle with a 20 gallon tank, a full tank is $80 of "inventory" just sitting there. Here in The Capital of the Free World, if I look real hard, I can still get regular at $3.99. But if I don't look hard, I can easily pay $4.25. I catch myself driving past an expensive pump in the hope of finding a cheaper one down the road . . . or not filling up at the expensive pump and hoping to find a cheaper fill later. And I can remember the days when someone else pumped your gas and you would say "gimme a dollar's worth" -- which would keep you going for quite a while (3-4 gallons of fuel). Sigh.

  • JMII JMII on Apr 18, 2011

    I have a boat and running out of gas is NOT an option so your advised to follow the 1/3 rule: 3rd of your tank is used going out, 3rd is used on the return trip with the last 3rd in reserve. Due to weather, winds and tides you can't predict fuel usage nearly as well as land based activities. Plus you can't save gas by short shifting, drafting or coasting. Fuel is measured at the rate of gallons per hour, not miles! On the car I tend to wait til the low fuel light comes on, at that point you've got 2-3 gallons and even in my truck (with its crappy 13 mpg) I can still go 25-35 miles which is pretty far considering I live in a heavily populated area (South Florida). My system involves using the vehicles trip odometer plus my GPS to calculate range, if I can't make my destination I fill up before I even start. For example in the wife's car I know we can go about 270 miles (city) before empty. If we've gone 250 already and have a location to reach 15 miles away we better fill up or we can't make the round trip. Its not rocket science, yet people seem to bad at judging distance and push the limits. As far as saving money goes I think a few smaller fill ups is less wallet stress. $50 in the tank every two weeks or only $25 a week? Your call. I've recently switched to doing two $25 fill ups, topping off on the return portion of a trip. This way I'm always ready to go, you never know when you'll need to make a longer trip on short notice (airport run, hurricane evac, family emergency, etc).