Updated February 2019
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?
THE PERSONALIZED APPROACH
A 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 2019 Honda Civic EX Sedan. Its gas tank holds 12.4 gallons, so 10 percent of that is about 1.2 gallons. If you multiply that with the car’s 36 mpg rating in combined driving conditions, you get 43.2, so you can likely get an additional 43 miles from your car after the warning comes on.
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A careful note of caution, constantly running your car off its reserve fuel tank may cause damage to your vehicles fuel pump.
HELP FROM SOME FRIENDS
If 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 supply information about the car they’re driving and the distance they can travel on their vehicle after the gas warning light comes on. The site averages out the distance allowing 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 salesman for an anxiety-inducing road trip.
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For example, according to 371 contributors, the average distance you can drive a Honda Accord with its fuel warning light on is 46.19 miles. The Toyota Camry fares a bit worse with 43 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.
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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 it’s convenient.