How Far Can You Drive on Empty?

How Far Can You Drive on Empty?

Bing! The gas warning light illuminates and your thirsty car is demanding refreshment. “Time to fill up,” it says, forcing you to find the nearest gas station and lay down some cash for a refill.

But what if you could tell exactly how much further you could go? You might be able to finish up your commute, or complete your errands without having to visit the pump. Or perhaps you’re on a road trip; can you make the next rest stop?


gas-pumps-filthiest-surfaceA rough estimate isn’t too hard to come by, but it will need some calculating, so get ready to do some grade six level math.

First, take a look at your vehicle’s technical specifications. This can usually be found in the owner’s manual. Usually listed near the size of the gas tank is specifications for reserve fuel. In most vehicles, when the fuel level reaches the reserve fuel level, the gas warning light pops up. There’s no standard for how big the fuel tank reserve is, but most of the time it’s about 10-15 percent of the overall size of the tank. You can then use that information as well as your car’s average fuel consumption information to see how far you have to go.

Let’s look at the case of the 2013 Toyota Corolla. Its gas tank holds 13.2 gallons, so 10 percent of that is about 1.3 gallons. If you multiply that with the car’s 29 mpg rating in combined driving conditions, you get 37.7, so you can likely get an additional 37 miles from your car after the warning comes on.

A careful note of caution, constantly running your car off its reserve fuel tank may cause damage to your vehicles fuel pump.


CaptureIf you don’t trust your own math, you can get some help online. Tank on Empty is a crowd-sourced database of how far you can go when the gas warning light comes on.

That means that actual drivers enter in the car they’re driving and the distance they travelled on their vehicle after the gas warning light comes on. The site then averages out the distance and you can get a general idea of how far you’ll be going.

Contributors can even write short stories indicating how they achieved their longest trip while running on fumes, making everyone re-live that memorable Seinfeld episode where Kramer takes a car sales-man for an anxiety inducing road trip.

For example, according to 325 contributors, the average distance you can drive a Honda Accord with its fuel warning light on is 46.81 miles. The Toyota Camry fares a bit worse with 44.29 miles while a Nissan Altima is quite a bit off at 40.72 miles. Helpful information for sure, but there’s definitely something missing from this information. Model years would be a helpful addition, or at least the generation of the car would be useful since gas tank size likely varies as a car gets updated or refreshed. Of course an older vehicle may not be performing as well as it should due to older parts, or something like dirty air filters or faulty sensors could make it less efficient.

SEE ALSO: How Far Can You Drive on a Spare Tire?

Armed with this information, those with range anxiety should be put at ease. Take into consideration driving habits which can greatly affect your fuel economy and you shouldn’t be caught off-guard by that fuel-warning light again. This means that if your fuel warning light comes on, you should be able to finish up your errands or commute home, and refuel when its convenient.

  • Honest Abe

    Awesome article… I had no idea you could go so far on empty.

  • Gloomfrost

    Just want to add that it’s not good to constantly drive with that light on; it will cause more wear and tear on your fuel pump. Once in awhile is okay but you generally should be filling up at quarter tank, and even as high as half-tank in the winter.

  • John

    Any proof to back this up? I always run my cars to the bottom of the gauge every fill up. No problems/

  • Gloomfrost

    I know it varies by vehicle and you can google it yourself if you’d like, there are many stories and explanations. But you don’t need proof if you know how most fuel pumps work. The less fuel in the tank, the more work the pump has to do to bring in gas. Further, most of the particulate matter in gas settles at the bottom and your pump will pick that up when feeding it into the engine when you’re running on a low gas level.

  • Patrick Lynch

    As odd as it might sound the gasoline is also keeping the fuel pump cooled. The lower the tank, the hotter the pump runs leading it to wear out faster. Since modern cars have the pumps in the tank, they’re also an expensive pain to replace as opposed to the old style mechanical pumps run off the camshaft.

  • Ric

    What rubbish. The pump works regardless of the amount of fuel in the tank.

  • Patrick Lynch

    Read ADK _Ghost’s post below. I never said the pump would not work regardless of the amount of fuel. Only that it will have a shorter life span when the tank is constantly run near empty.

  • Trae

    His post was pretty off too bud

  • Daniel Krnáč

    A few years ago we did a test for a tv show. We took a 1996 Renault Mégane 1,6 66kW petrol version, filled the tank up to a point, where the reserve light just about went off and then drove until we ran out of gas.

    We chose this car, because it had no direct fuel injection, thus we could not damage the engine when the gas ran out.But on most modern cars it can possibly damage your engine, so don´t try this at home. Especially on diesel cars.

    Anyway, the results were quite unexpected. We managed to drive a bit more than 100 miles until the fuel completely ran out (the engine stopped). Yes it´s very car specific (the smaller the car, the smaller the tank and the reserve), but it shows that car manufacturers are trying to make cars as idiotproof as possible :)


  • ADK_Ghost

    cars today have electric fuel pumps deep within the gas tank. The fuel serves two purposes in this respect; One, to power the engine, two, to keep the fuel pump cool. If one continues to run the fuel tank empty, that pump runs at higher temperatures and also experiences weird load spikes when the fuel sloshes away from the pickup. Another issue is that gasoline is a dirty fuel. It comes from tanks that are in the ground and those tanks’ fillpoints are also at ground level. That means that dirty gets into the fuel and the fuel filter on your car keeps it from your engine. Ordinarily, when you run over a half tank of fuel, this sediment will stay on the bottom of the tank out of sight, out of mind. When you run at empty, that grit gets sucked into the pump and can actually jam it. It can also hasten the demise of your fuel filter causing it to go into bypass mode (an oil filter can do this as well if it becomes obstructed) and allow this dirty gasoline into the injector rail or injectors themselves. In the old days of carburetors and throttle-body fuel injectors, this was not as critical as it is now. So, yeah, you can be lazy and run empty, but you will pay a price for that laziness at some point.

  • Alonso M. Lecuanda

    the pump is always sucking gas from the very bottom of the tank, so it doesn’t matter if you run with full tank or empty at all, besides of course that the pump will get hot, also there is a pre filter on the pump to stop the bigger particles

  • rob

    I bought a new Mazda 2…..and I my my first “low fuel” indicator came on…..with the second indicator coming on ten miles later. I gas up…..only to find it will barely take 9 gallons [sometimes less]. It’s supposedly an 11-gallon tank! Here’s what I did…..I bought a new 5-gallon gas can [was only a dollar or so more than a 2-gallon can]…..and put 3 gallons in it and put it [securely] in back. I was ready to run my car out of gas…..this was to be a one-time thing [hopefully lol]…….I did this at low-traffic time on a road with plenty of room to get off to the side. I know from days of old that as soon as I’m sure it is running out…..shut it down and coast safely out of traffic [not try to keep running it as far as possible]. This way….after putting gas in tank… will start back up with very little or no hesitation. I re-set first trip meter when first “low-fuel” indicator came on. Sure enough…..ten miles into it the second indicator came on and I re-set the second trip meter. I went 60 miles after first indicator…..50 miles after second indicator……that was all I needed to know and ended up at the pump without even running out. It took a full eleven gallons…..11½ actually…..and now I know FIRST-HAND!!! [not the owner’s manual or a friend or online]…..

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