How far can you drive when your car’s on empty?

How many extra kms can you squeeze out of your car when its gauge reads empty?

How far can you drive on empty?

With so many retirees stretching their income to the limit, it might be nice to know that you can still get around and not be stranded when your car’s fuel gauge reads empty.

I don’t know about you, but I always fret a little when I’m out and about driving my car and that fuel light comes on accompanied by the gentle yet slightly mocking sound of my empty fuel tank warning alarm.

It’s happened to me so often and, touch wood, I haven’t run out of fuel – yet – but consequently, I’ve now got a pretty good idea of how much farther I can go before my car is dead in the water … I mean ‘road’. Still doesn’t stop me from fretting, though.

Most mechanics will tell you that you should never let your fuel tank go below one-quarter full but tell that to the many retirees who run out of money before their Age Pension payment comes in. For them, a quarter of a tank is all they may have to get around each fortnight.

Now, I should point out that driving with your fuel light illuminated is not ideal. In fact, it can lead to dangerous situations, such as breaking down in a strange suburb with little or no help around, or on a freeway or toll road tunnel, where there are no stopping lanes.

You can also do damage to parts of your car if it runs out of fuel, such as fuel pumps and catalytic convertors, which could turn into costly repair jobs.

So, this should not be taken as a green light to do so. It’s merely pointing out that, when absolutely necessary, you may squeeze out a few extra kilometres from your car to do those essential tasks, or for road trippers to at least make it to the next fuel station.

Most modern cars will have what is called a ‘distance to empty’ reading on their instrument cluster or dashboard. This gives you a very rough estimate of how much further you can go without actually running out of fuel completely.

This distance is calculated on the average distance your car has travelled during normal driving conditions. So, if you are stuck in traffic when you usually drive on freeways, it won’t be so accurate, and you may run out of fuel faster. Same goes for other driving conditions, such as driving in the wet compared to dry, carrying more weight than usual, or even driving in hilly areas.

Cars without the ‘distance to empty’ gauge will still have a low fuel warning light (and sometimes a sound, too).

According to, depending on your make of car, you can drive an extra 48km to 183km after the warning light comes on.

The Nissan Altima has the best mileage after the warning light, travelling up to 183km, while Australia’s most popular car, the Toyota Camry, goes an additional 104km to 146km.

In fact, many of Australia’s most popular cars, such as Honda Accord, Toyota Corolla, Subaru Outback, Mazda 3, Volkswagen Jetta and Ford Escape will drive an extra 90km to 144km after the low-warning light is activated.

While it’s not exactly recommended, knowing that you can still get to the doctor’s or still pick up some shopping, even though your fuel gauge reads empty, may just come in handy one day.

Do you ever need to drive your car on empty? Or is fuel a high priority purchase for you each fortnight? If so, do you miss out on any other necessities to ensure your fuel tank is filled?



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    28th May 2018
    How far can you drive your car when the gauge is on empty? Simple, as far as it goes until it stops. Chuckle....
    I did this once. Got almost 90 km down before I found a petrol station.
    The problem with doing this is fuel is sucked from the bottom of the tank where a sludge builds up over time from impurities in the fuel. If you push that through the system eventually your fuel filter clogs up and your fuel pump dies. Not pretty. And it will cost you.
    Old Geezer
    28th May 2018
    You need a pre filter installed so that this doesn't happen and also to save your from contaminated fuel entering your system from the sludge in the bottom of servo tanks. It detects a problem and stops your car before you have done any damage.
    28th May 2018
    I would ignore this suggestion re driiving as far as possible with low fuel light on.

    The sensor could be faulty, ie only 4 litres left in tank not the 10 litres or more that many vehicles have.

    If the light comes on try to refill as soon as possible, it is safer and ultimately cheaper. If the cost of fuel is a real problem, the cost of repairs is even greater.
    28th May 2018

    If a pensioner is struggling to buy fuel, I doubt very much if the can afford several hundred dollars to fit a pre filter.
    28th May 2018
    There is a bit of miss information in this article.
    Whilst i can see the benefit of squeezing every last cent out of one's pension every fortnight and I do,as Mick has eluded to, contaminating the very expensive fuel injection components on the modern motor vehicle is just not worth it as fuel is used as a coolant for the injectors of a petrol engine and a lubricant on a diesel. Yes it might be a good to discover how far your car will travel on empty, but continually doing so is fraught with danger.
    Firstly what happens s if you run out crossing a train track, Major intersection, the list goes on.
    Also the terms "Distance to empty, and Average fuel consumption are different parameters"

    Average is the "average over a period of time and that may be three fills (if not reset).

    Distance to empty is" Generally) a" live" figure and is calculated in real time on how much power is being requested by your right foot And will change
    Accordingly as you drive. ,So if the doctor is 5 kilometres on a dead flat road you might make it. If the dentist is 5 kilometres up a long winding hill you may not as you car will use more fuel for the same distance..
    Regards David, 50 years motor trade, 14 at the RACV.
    28th May 2018
    I drive a diesel and you definitely do not want to run out of fuel. Filling the tank again won't get you started. You have to prime the fuel lines again first which is a slow process. On the fuel filter/water separator housing of a diesel there is usually a manual primer pump which you have to press repeatedly until you get fuel from the tank up to the fuel pump. This can take 30 minutes or more and a very sore hand afterwards. Ask me how I know this......
    Pass the Ductape
    28th May 2018
    Don't even THINK about testing how far you can go on a fuel tank showing empty with a vehicle equipped with a diesel engine.
    You run out of fuel in these types of vehicles and you're likely to need a lot more than your fortnightly pension payment to fix the associated problems this could well entail. You'll need to bleed air out of the fuel system to begin with, which requires priming the fuel line to begin with - and all hopefully before you do damage to the fuel pump and injector system, both of which require constant lubrication from the fuel itself.

    In short - no fuel equals no lubrication to these vital components .

    28th May 2018
    Why would you intentionally want to even try it.
    There is no savings in driving till your tank is near empty.
    Fill it up every time it get's to about half or 3 quarters empty ffs
    28th May 2018
    Some years ago we were driving from Adelaide to Darwin, intending to get petrol at Barrow Creek, which was deserted. We did our sums (we always keep a log so we had a good idea how far we might be able to go) and decided 200 km to Tenant Creek should be possible; the engine started to miss as we drove into the TC petrol station. Phew!
    28th May 2018
    This practice works for me - when my tank is down to half l purchase sufficient fuel to see me through the fortnight - l also use minimum 95, usually 98 as it is actually better value, better for the engine, better economy and therefore better for my pocket - l would not run the tank that low as the warning light is on
    29th May 2018
    Visiting a petrol station is so painful that I minimise this to the hilt. Understanding how far your car can go after the light comes on is basic understanding that should be standard for all drivers.

    I wait until the light comes on and then think about filling up. This is usually every 6 weeks to 2 months, unless on a trip and then the GPS - find a petrol station - assistant comes in handy.

    Fuel sucked from the bottom clogging up the filters - old wive's tale. petrol swishes around in the tank and mixes in normal driving.
    23rd Jun 2018
    Leon, firstly, a car that has been run out of fuel has not "broken down". It is still in "perfect" running order and does not need any maintenance.
    Every car has an Owners Manual, it clearly gives the capacity of the fuel tank. Every one who is on this forum owns a computer. A device where it is easy to create a spreadsheet (or maybe buy an "app") that you can enter your fuel needed to fill the tank and how many kilometres that was to that fill, by the magic of computers, that will now tell you what the approximate range would be per tank full.
    No responsible mechanic would tell you to never run your tank below a quarter full. All fuel ages and in the cooler parts of Australia, there are different blends for summer and winter, it is best to use all fuel within a month or two of refueling.
    There should be no greater risk of the lower amounts of fuel containing more contaminants than earlier fuel. All tanks have a certain amount off unusable fuel that can never be sucked up by the pump. Your fuel system has two filters, one at the pick-up in the tank and another in the fuel line. If your car has been serviced according to the Owners Manual, it will have been replaced if recommended at a particular distance or time interval.
    Remember that the air in the fuel tank contains moisture that can condense out and collect in the fuel. This is normally shaken into suspension and pumped through with little adverse effect. The best way to avoid this is to keep your tank fuller rather than emptier.
    My Civic Hatch still has sufficient fuel for another 100 kilometres (if driven gently) when the Distance to Empty shows 0.

    Tags: travel, money, fuel,

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