How Far Can You Drive With The Tank On Empty?

Justin Davis is on a mission. He wants to know how far various cars will drive after the gas-tank warning light comes on. The auto manufacturers won’t tell him. His solution? Ask the internet.

So, people of the tubes, you can help Justin and heck, help us all, by adding your knowledge to his website “Tank on Empty.” The internet is so nifty sometimes. —MEGHANN MARCO

Tank On Empty [via Network World]

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  1. Dangerdog says:

    I was JUST asking myself the same question yesterday. I was told that VW Jettas will last about 30 miles with the gaslight on, but mine is Turbo and I wonder if the same rule applies. I got nervous after about 5 miles and filled up.

    My mother has a Saab that tells you how many miles you have left before you run out. I wonder how accurate that is?

    I guess the only way to know for sure would be to drive around until you run out of gas. No thanks.

  2. happy scrappy hero pup says:

    Wouldn’t this require you to actually run out of gas to have any sort of validity? I went for 20 miles with the light on the other day, but I wasn’t about to try and find out how far i could push it.

  3. Johnny_Roastbeef says:

    I always thought that E meant ‘E’nough.

  4. Amarain824 says:

    In a Ford Escort 99 and 2000 you can go for about 40 miles after the light comes on. It will go off again, then will come back on…then you have about 20 miles to go.

    Thank god i was a smart one and bought the least fancy thing i could find. I love that thing.

  5. Coder4Life says:

    Its like asking “How many

  6. Coder4Life says:

    Its like asking

    “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll”

    the world may NEVER know…


    also its bad for your fuel injectors to be testing this out constantly…

  7. Abusiveelusive says:

    2006 Suzuki Reno

    I have gone quite far. I think officially it is like 25 miles when the gas light turns on, but I swear I have driven more. It got quite scary once, as there were no gas stations around. :D

  8. ganzhimself says:

    2002 Chevy Impala 3.4L V6

    Low Fuel Light comes on: 14.3 Gallons on fillup
    That leaves 2.7 gallons, or enough to drive ~60 miles.

  9. acambras says:

    But if mileage varies according to driver behavior, is there a way to definitively know how many miles one has left?

    I can understand how they might try measuring how many gallons are left when the E light comes on, but YMMV, right?

  10. ChrisC1234 says:

    I’ve got an ’05 Toyota Camry and I don’t trust the gas gauge one bit. The last 1/4 of a tank can drop in the process of about 50 miles on the interstate (and the car GETS about 30 miles per gallon). On the RARE occasions it gets to E (or when the light comes on), I go to the NEXT station I see.

  11. Crazytree says:

    95 Saturn SL2 – Super Far, 30mi+
    99 Ford Explorer – Hope you have AAA

    too bad the Saturn was so F’n ugly.

  12. 3ZKL says:

    ive driven an ’87 honda prelude, ’89 dodge caravan, ’97 toyota camry, ’01 toyota echo, & an ’04 mazda3 — all had right around 2 gallon reserves once the gas light came on.

    so when the light comes on, a little quick math (mpg x 2), and i know thats as far as i should risk driving. i have never ever run out of fuel using this rule of thumb.

    i have however over estimated how much fuel my vespa would suck down on cold rainy day & was left pushing it down the road to fill back up.

    this post is likely to bring up the argument of running your tank that low & ruining the fuel pump, etc. always a fun topic!

  13. GearheadGeek says:

    3ZKL: excessive wear on the fuel pump is EXACTLY what this brings up. Most modern cars have an immersed pump in the gas tank that uses the pool of fuel around it for cooling. The more you run the pump with very little fuel in the tank, the more excess wear you put on the pump. It’s good to have some idea in case the fuel light catches you by surprise on some lonely stretch of interstate highway, but in general it’s best to keep some fuel in the tank a) so you have better options about where to stop and get fuel and b) to extend the life of the fuel pump that’s almost sure to be an expensive pain in the ass to have replaced.

  14. homerjay says:

    Don’t any of you watch TV? Kramer figured this out ages ago…

  15. enm4r says:

    I think that the low fuel light on most cars comes on at around 1/8th of a tank left.

    I have a Scion xB and it’ll get 40+ after the light comes on, but that was too much for me. The needle hadn’t moved in a couple miles, and I really wasn’t feeling like legitimately running out.

  16. Bay State Darren says:

    Hey, a thread based on Seinfeld! (S9 EP 11 “The Dealership”)

  17. cnc1019 says:

    If people will check their manuals, it might tell you (like mine does) that the light comes on at a certain number of gallons left in the tank. My 2003 Mitsubishi Lancer comes on at 2 gallons left.

  18. Bay State Darren says:

    @homerjay: Dammit, homerjay! You beat me to this by three minutes while I looked up the episode number!

  19. 2002 Ford F-150, reg cab 8′ box. 4.2L v6.

    75 miles after the low fuel light kicks on, you’ll run out of gas. Found out the hard way.

  20. wobudong says:

    First: Uphill or dfownhill?
    More important: I’ve been driving Toyotas for more than 10 years (mostly Camrys) and each car has had the same “peculiarity:”
    The gas gauge takes forever to get from FULL to half-full. Then it speeds up slightly from half-full to EMPTY. I figure the top half is PR, and the bottom half touches reality.
    Hey, that’s marketing!
    Dependable, reliable cars, though.

  21. ashmelev says:

    Here’s a real story that has happened to my buddy… twice. He’s a young guy, 25 years old at that time, never ever had a car before but had to purchase one in order to drive to work. One fine morning he leaves home and notices the “low fuel” light. He thinks “All right, I can drive as long as it’s yellow. As soon as it turns red I’ll stop at a gas station”.
    Needless to say he was late to work that morning.

  22. mikyrok says:

    2004 525i bmw, it has a two warning system, first it tells you its low on gas at which you have ~70miles then when you get down to 30 miles left it tells you mile by mile. I was scared to go lower than 10 miles so I don’t know, but I’m guessing the 70 miles from the initial warning is accurate.

  23. KelbornCmd says:

    My old ’96 Buick Regal would go about 50 miles after the gas light turned on (at least 50 – I never actually tested it till the tank was dry). My current ’01 Saturn SL2 tank holds 12.1 gallons and the empty light turns on when I have burned 10 gallons. It gets around 33-36mpg, so I could probably go at least 60 miles once the light turns on.

  24. KatieKate93 says:

    My ’95 Rodeo LS (V6, high mileage, probably in need of tires and/or a tune up – I was young then) once got 37 miles on the highway after the light came on. It was making some funny noises as I rounded the corner into the gas station, I don’t think I would have made it ten more feet.

    I still miss that thing.

  25. mac-phisto says:

    i can make it home, back to work & back home on a low fuel light comfortably (which is roughly 75 miles & LOTS OF HILLS). once, i pushed it to work – home – work – home, but i was dropping it in neutral every chance i had (& sweating a little).

    oh, & don’t forget to follow the reset rule…if the light goes off at any point, you’ve reset your reserve to full capacity.

  26. MercuryPDX says:

    1998 Jeep Wrangler Sahara: Light comes on with

  27. alpha says:

    since the light comes on and since it hits “E” are two completely different things.

    I figure I’ve got about 3-4 gallons left when the low fuel light comes on, which at an astounding 16 mpg isn’t very far…

  28. hc5duke says:

    2006 Mustang GT – it beeps and tells you how many miles you have left. I’ve gotten it down to 2 miles, and filled up tank size minus 1/2 gallon. I get about 4 miles/gal so this is pretty accurate. ;)

  29. clodia says:

    I cannot be as exact as those who post before me, but here is my information:

    1999 Ford Taurus. The light comes on three times – during the last quarter of the gallon the fuel gauge swings from empty back up to a quarter tank three times, going to stay on empty the third time, with the gas light coming on when it is on E. After it hits the third time I can get at least twenty more miles on it.

  30. kweee says:

    This site won’t let you post values above 90-something miles. I have gotten up to 120 miles on my MINI Cooper after the warning light came on.

  31. TPK says:

    Another question, perhaps as important is, how accurate are the specs for gas tank capacity? If I fill up my tank as soon as the light comes on, and I notice that I have just put in 2 gallons less than my tank’s specified capacity, if that spec matches real world (I usually fill my tank up as full as I can get it) then it’s simple to deduce how much was left in the tank when the light came on. But I don’t know how accurate those specs are.

  32. DeeJayQueue says:

    most cars will take longer to get from full to half full and go faster from about half full to E.

    This is because of the way your car measures the gas inside it. There’s a little foam ball that floats on top of the gas and produces a reading. When the tank is completely full there’s nowhere for the floater to go, so it stays stuck at the top of the tank until you use enough fuel for it to start to drop a little bit. It makes it seem like it’s not moving from F even though you’re consuming fuel.

  33. Rayzincrisp says:

    I have a Cobalt that shows a readout of how many miles are left in a tank, but as soon as the low fuel light comes on, it changes to always read “Fuel Low” until I gas up. How useless is that? Doing the experiment would also be tough because it beeps every 3 seconds… annoying as hell.

  34. Salvalus says:

    Any rational thinking person will tell you that it is simply ludicrous to participate in this ‘experiment’.

    a) The data obtained is highly questionable since the milage depends on many factors such as condition of the car, individual driving style, weather conditions, terrain etc.. This could mean that a well maintained car, driven by a grandma Ethel in sunny weather in Florida (even terrain) gets (for example) 60 miles and a badly maintained car (of the same make, year, and model), driven by road-rage-rambo in a blizzard through the blue range mountains gets only 22 miles.

    b) Can you say, sing, or yodel ‘Dangerous’? Anybody participating in this ‘experiment’ needs to understand that at some point his/her engine will stall. If that happens on one of the middle lanes of the Interstate, in dense city traffic, in the middle of the night on a rural road, (I could go on and on) well, let’s just say you are putting your life at risk.

    My personal tip is: Never let your gas get below the 1/3 mark, especially not if you live in an area where you could have natural disasters strike at any time (e.g. Florida during hurricane season, Tornado-Alley, North East in the winter months etc.). If you get into that habit you avoid the added danger and the lovely smell of a gasoline reserve canister in your trunk.

    But then, I am not a big adventurer I guess…

  35. alhypo says:

    Replacing fuel pumps inside the gas tank is labor intensive. My family owns a Windstar (I don’t know the year). Shortly after we bought it my dad drove for less than a mile with the fuel light on and burned up the pump. They have to remove the tank to get inside, so it cost us $400.

    I’m guessing the ridiculously short warning is a fault specific to our vehicle and has something to do with its unreliable gas gage. But now we estimate the remaining gas by tracking distance with the odometer. And if the fuel light comes on we pull over immediately.

    So for the Ford Windstar, I’ll say you can drive 3000 feet after the fuel light comes on.

  36. Nytmare says:

    It depends if you are highway or city driving, and whether your car is facing uphill, downhill, or level.

    Based on my own cars, I’ve learned that tank capacity ratings are not accurate. I have run out of gas quite a few times and subsequent fill-ups have never been more than about 8.5 out of a 10.2 rating.

  37. Dan says:

    My ’97 Honda Accord’s low gas light is apparently broken. For a long time I thought I was just very good about putting gas in. Then I ran out of gas (fortunately, I was in my driveway at the time). Moral of the story: always put more gas in.

  38. MeOhMy says:

    @kweee: Yeah, I get 150 miles from the light in my 2002 Civic. I usually fill shortly after the light comes on. I usually need 10-11 gallons. The tank capacity is 14 gallons. I usually get 38-40 MPG.

    The light comes on between 4 and 3 gallons left. Estimating conservatively at 35MPG, there should be 105-140 miles from when the light comes on.

  39. xjr99 says:

    If anybody took the time to read some of their manuals, it usually tells you how many gallons are left before the low fuel light (mine says 2.5 gallons). Then you can take the lowest estimated MPG from your sticker to figure out your minimum number of miles you can go when the light comes on.

    Older cars (pre 1995) were never standardized like they are today, so you may be out of luck in the next 10 minutes when it does come on.

  40. howie_in_az says:

    2003 BMW E46 330i sedan, 5 speed manual. When the huge yellow light comes on I’ve got around 58 miles left. Tons of fun to drive and gets 30mpg on the highway (even at 90mph). Not bad for a 230hp inline-6. It’s also ULEV certified. :)

  41. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    I know with my ’05 Corolla, the Empty light comes on when there’s about .5 or .6 of a gallon left. At least that’s what I think it had left last time the light came on.

  42. Schminteresting says:

    My ’06 Volvo S40′s gas light comes on at 65 miles until empty. It has a readout that will tick down each 5 miles. I’ve pushed it until it no longer had a mile readout and just said “–” (the next thing after “15 miles until empty gas tank”).

  43. Anitra says:

    I have a friend who tests this out every time he gets a new car (new to him – he only buys used). He puts a gas can with a few gallons in the trunk, then drives the car until it stalls out, keeping track of when the “low fuel” light goes on. Then he pours the reserve gas in and gets to a gas station.

  44. Jiminy Christmas says:

    I have a 2000 Honda Civic DX and my experience is similar to Troy F.’s. The specs on the car show the gas tank as 13.6 gallons. Even with the low fuel light on it has never taken over 11 gallons to fill the tank. I average about 30mpg/city, so that gives me about a 80 mile cushion.

    So, here’s how you estimate how far you can go with the gas light on:

    1) Look up the size of your car’s gas tank.
    2) Drive car until low fuel light comes on.
    3) Note how much it takes to fill up the tank, subtract from tank capacity, and multiply the remainder times average MPG.
    4) Then, if it were me, I would take the product I just came up with and divide it in half. No sense in pushing your luck that far if you don’t have to.

  45. Nick says:

    @cnc1019: Agreed 100%. RTFM, people! It will tell you that the warning light turns on when x gallons are left. How can there be an entire website dedicated to a guessing game when the same information is already available in the vehicle’s owner’s manual? It’s not like this is undisclosed or proprietary information — at least 5 brands that I know of that have this information in the manual (Nissan, Chrysler, Subaru, Porsche, and now Mitsubishi). Are we all just stupid or what? :/

  46. Optimistic Prime says:

    @alhypo: I was about to say something similar. In general your going to have a gallon or two extra after the light illuminates. This will give you 20 to 40 miles, enough to get to the nearest gas station, which is what you should do. My wifes car had a bad fuel gauge, so I totally drained the tank once. I thought it was just running bad and stalling out on me, but I did get 2 miles on “fumes.” The moral of the stroy here was I had to drop the tank and replace the pump. This can be a lot of work if you do it yourself, or as alhypo found out, pretty damned expensive if you can’t.

  47. annielou says:

    I have a ’00 Ford Explorer Sport 4×4 and it gets about 17 mpg. The light comes on and you have about 2 gallons in the tank. So that is about 34 miles. I’ve gone 20 miles after the light came on and it held right 16+ gallons when I filled up. It was scary as heck because I was in Atlanta at the time.

    By the way ~ folks at Ford: it is a GAUGE not a GAGE. No wonder the Japs are beating your pants off in the automobile market. You can’t even spell basic instruments.

  48. markedward says:

    I was on the freeway south of Des Moines once on my way to the airport to pick up family when I missed my exit and wound up having to drive another ten miles outside of town before I could turn around, then that same ten miles back into town, followed by driving through the south side of Des Moines to get into the airport itself. I was driving an Expedition (monster SUV), and the tank was on the orange Empty line the entire time, but I managed to make the full 20+mile drive without running out. My ’95 Taurus is really indecisive on when the Low Fuel light comes on; I can have a fourth tank left when it’ll pop on, and other times it won’t show up until I’m just barely above the Empty line.

  49. jamesBrauer66 says:

    Not wanting to explode myself welding around the gastank on my 97 Jeep Wrangler, I decided to pull out the tank before I started welding. Not wanting to drag a full tank out into the yard, I drove it until nearly empty. The gas light came on at work, and I drove 25 miles home. After pulling the tank it seemed like there was at least another half gallon sloshing about in the bottom. This was on mostly flat ground in 2WD running about 60 mph.

    Based on this, and coasting into the gas station in my Nissan Sentri, I wouldn’t drive much over 20 miles with the fuel light on. My guess is 30 is about the max.

  50. Xerloq says:

    @Amarain824: When my ’98 Escort’s light is on I have 60 miles left (freeway) 50 in the city. It has a 2 gallon ‘reserve.’

  51. XianZhuXuande says:

    My ’02 Accord has the fairly normal two gallon reserve found in most cars made recently. It gets me some 55 miles before the thing completely shuts down (which I allowed to happen, once). Nice to know my car’s limits.

  52. Trick says:

    With my old ’05 Mazda6 GT Wagon, I did 72 miles before it ran out gas…

    With my ’06 Nissan Titan, the light comes on with at least 4 gallons of gas. I’ve gone 40 miles and I still had a gallon left in it…

  53. ScramDiggyBooBoo says:

    I have a 2004 Olds Alero. When i first got it i used to fill it up RIGHT when the light came on and it always had about 2 gallons left in the tank, or about 50-60 miles. Then i learned to milk it and would fill it with it running on fumes!!

  54. Blackneto says:

    my 94 Jaguar XJ6 can go about 25 miles when the light comes on, according to the VCM i only have 1 or 2 gallons left, but it’s wonky.

    my 2002 Ford Windstar goes about 30 miles when the light goes on.

  55. Melov says:

    You guys really shouldn’t let your car get below 1/4 a tank. I would not try this experiment. It’s extremely bad for the fuel pump and they are expensive to replace. Good luck replacing one on a full tank of gas. Dealerships charge $100+ per hour and won’t give the gas back.

  56. superlayne says:

    On my little brother’s electric motorcycle, I can get about 50-60 more feet when the red, “CHARGE” light turns on…

  57. Josh Smith says:

    Anyway you can chill witht he inline tagging a bit?

    Or at least not inline tag the same as the link to the article.

    I swear I need to go back to school to be able to find the link to the original article some days. Maybe I am just defective though!

  58. SOhp101 says:

    7th gen Accord: low fuel light turns on after the car has a little less than 4 gallons less. Fuel tank capacity is 17.1 gallons, so almost a quarter of the tank is still left.

    I don’t get why this is so difficult; after the low fuel light comes on, fill up your tank.

    Gallons Maximum capacity
    - gallons it took to fill up your car to max (pump clicks off automatically)
    = gallons left in your car when light turns on

    miles driven/galllons used = mpg.

  59. zolielo says:

    1991 to 2002 Infiniti G20

    Light comes on at 13.913 US gallons and the tank is 15.900 US gallons. That should be between 31.800 and 63.600 miles on the light depending on miles per gallon.

    Like others have said please do not burn out your fuel pump by running the tank low if there is no need.

  60. zolielo says:

    BTW more Nissan and Infiniti cars have the light come on at 0.125 left of a tank.

  61. lestat730 says:

    1998 Pontiac Sunfire, I get 20 miles after the empty gas light comes on (even after 120,000 miles!)

  62. dunragit says:

    Chevy diesel trucks have about 10 gallons left in tank when gauge hits E . The gas models are empty when they hit E . This only applies to 70′s thru early 90′s trucks. However when you empty the tank that far you end up sucking all the crud from the bottom of the tank into your fuel injection system, and that can be a very expensive fix. If you happened to get a bad tank of gas with some water in it the water sits at the bottom of the tank and your submerged pump in the tank burns up due to the water having less lubrication than gas. The average price of a new pump/sending unit starts at $500 just for the pump.

  63. polishhillbilly says:

    I never allow my tanks to drop below a 1/4 tank, due to the pumps on most vehicles use the fuel as a cooling solution.
    I learned the hard way by burning up a pump on my
    old ’84 Buick regal by testing the low fuel light.
    Made it 10 miles before the pump ceased operations.

  64. faust1200 says:

    The real question is how long can you go between oil changes without blowing the engine? My friend had Jeep Cherokee in the 80′s and being a naive teen (yes this is true) didn’t know he was supposed to change the oil. I believe he said it seized at about 80,000. Yeah he’s an idiot, goes without saying.

  65. 2006 Honda Accord V6, 50 miles bone-dry after E.

    [www.tian.cc]

  66. Smashville says:

    2006 Explorer SportTrac…generally has about 3 gallons left when the light comes on…I’ve gone 30-40 miles before and still had a gallon or 2 left…

  67. Peekoos says:

    @ChrisC1234:

    I have an ’05 Camry also, and I completely agree with you. It’s by far the only thing I don’t love about this car (and I usually average 34 mpg highway, not bad for a midsize car.) When you fill your tank completely, it seems like you can go FOREVER before the guage drops at all….after that, well, it lowers quite fast. Kinda scares me a bit, so I try to not let it get below 1/3 tank, which I guess is good anyway.

  68. Pixel says:

    My ’97 Subaru Outback has a 15.9 gallon tank, I generally fill it when it gets a little past E. At that point it’ll take 12-12.5gallons to fill it. This means I have around 3.5-4 gallons of gas in the tank, which combined with it’s gas mileage means I could potentially have another 100miles worth of range. This is my 2nd Subaru wagon and they both did this, so I don’t think it’s a defective guage.

    My ’78 Nova on the other hand was empty the moment the needle crossed the E mark. I learned this the hard way, running out of gas while waiting to take a left into the filling station.

  69. toaster71 says:

    As long as the gas light goes off every time I hit the brakes hard, I’m gonna keep going. 27 miles in my ’95 Nissan Pickup, and I made it to the station.

  70. IC18 says:

    97 GMC Truck
    4L V6, 18 Gallons

    I actually tried this with a spare gallon of gas. My engine shut off after about 35 miles after the low gas light came on.

    I wont recommend anyone trying this though because my truck started to run rougher after this stunt. It must have been the sediments sucked up from the bottom of the gas tank. I don’t know the validity of this, but can any mechanics out there verify this.

  71. enki says:

    2005 Ford Focus ST
    2.3L I-4, 14 gallons

    The low fuel light will kick on with 3.5 gallons left. I average about 25 mpg with mixed driving so I could over 85 miles with the light on. I usually stop and fill up once the light comes on unless I’m near home or work, though.

  72. sdpenng says:

    I’ve been keeping gas consumption data on my 2004 Outback Sport since day 1. I have over 50,000 miles of data of mileage, gallons to fill, miles after the light comes on, and per gallon price. It has a 17 gallon tank, and the light comes on after 13.3 gallons have been consumed (sd = 0.5 gal), which means that I usually have over 3 gallons left. This could mean 45 miles in the city or nearly 100 on the highway. It’s not really hard to keep this kind of data. Just write the mileage on the receipt and reset the trip odometer. When the light comes on, set the B trip. And always fill to capacity.