Why you shouldn’t drive with your low fuel light on!

Empty fuel warning light in car dashboard. 3D rendered illustration.

Driving around with the low fuel light on is something we know we should never do but still let it happen from time to time. Some drivers see their cars fuel gauge as a nagging parent: it lights up urging you to refuel your car like your mom would remind you to clean your room.

Whatever the price of petrol may be, it may be tough for some drivers to fill their fuel tank simply. But waiting until your fuel tank becomes empty may end up costing you more than you think.

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While we don’t have any statistic for Pakistan, a 2015 survey in America found that every year, 827,000 drivers ignore their car’s warning light, causing them to run out of fuel, breaking down on the roads. On top of that, 25% of drivers trust their cars and their skill a bit too much believing that they can make it extra 40 miles (around 65 kilometres) once the light turns on. Also, two million US drivers say they almost always drive with the light permanently on, usually hoping to find cheaper gas.

According to experts, driving on an empty fuel tank or close to empty is a terrible idea because:

  • The fuel gauge isn’t very accurate. In fact, how your fuel gauge calculates the range depends entirely on your driving style and your cars fuel economy. That’s why experts say, you should consider it as an approximation or an estimate on how much range your car has left before running out of fuel rather than an exact measurement.

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  • According to mechanics if you run out of fuel, it can damage your catalytic converter. As fuel becomes low, the fuel pump starts sucking in the air mixed with fuel leading to unoptimised combustion and damaging the catalytic converter which costs a lot more to replace than simply refilling your fuel tank.5f4053f30dd2046149b1724b7ed3eb9b
  • The fuel in your car acts as a coolant for the fuel pump keeping it cool, so on the low level of fuel, the fuel pump starts sucking in air, which creates more heat causing the fuel pump to wear untimely and potentially fail unexpectedly. A fuel pump can be an expensive component but also it’s a tough part to replace.

fuel light- fuel filer

  •  In older cars, usually, a lot of dirt starts to accumulate at the bottom of the fuel tank. And when the level in the tank gets dangerously low, the pump begins to push that dirty fuel to the engine and it that will end up choking your fuel filter and even clogging your jets/injectors, leading to again more heat causing premature wear and potential failure as well as jerky ride.
  • If the car suddenly stops, you could be stranded in a deserted area or in the middle of a highway. Do remember with many vehicles the airbags don’t deploy if the car is turned off creating a safety hazard for yourself and the people around you.

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Tips to Avoid Running Out of Gas

  • Make a goal always to have at least one-fourth of fuel in the tank.
  • Fill up your tank before a long drive, even if it is only half empty. Sometimes you get stuck in traffic, get lost or just plain forget to fill up during a long road trip.
  • Don’t rely on your fuel gauge to tell you how many kilometres are left. Those numbers can be deceiving and depend a lot on how you drive.
  • Use your sat-nav or mobile apps that direct you to the nearest petrol station.

If your fuel light still happens to come on, you should do the following:

  • If you are unsure where the nearest fuel pump is, pull over as soon as safely possible. Then use your phone or GPS to locate the closest place to fill up.
  • Don’t drive faster to get to the petrol station. If possible, stay between 50 and 70 kilometres per hour.
  • Turn off the air conditioning, stereo and any other unnecessary electrical devices.
  • Roll up your windows.

Share your thoughts and experience in the comments section below.


Saad Ikram

Petrol head by a young age. My passion and obsession with cars began with the release of the Fast and Furious franchise. I love reading and writing about anything related to cars. Currently doing bachelors in computer science from FAST.

Notable Replies

  1. Very Beautifully written and explained Good Job Bro

  2. Quite informative article.

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