Don’t Drive On An Empty Tank – It’ll Cost You Big Bucks

SUMMARY POINTS

> Driving on empty can damage the fuel pump, catalytic converter and engine
> Fill up your tank when there’s a 1/4 tank of fuel left, don’t wait until the warning
> Practice fuel-saving driving methods to increase your driving range safely 

It’s been a really busy week at work and now, the weekend is here and your agenda is packed with errands to run, kids to shuttle, events to attend, etc.

The car had a full tank of gas at the beginning of the week, but with a few extra trips during the week in addition to your normal commuting, the needle on the fuel gauge is now almost on the last slash - empty.

The warning light hasn’t come yet, but you just know that it’ll light up when you’re in the middle of rushing to get somewhere.

It always seems to happen at the most inconvenient times.

What a pain in the ass.

Why can’t they pipe gasoline lines to homes like electricity, water and internet? It’d make life so much easier to just fill up at home and not deal with lines at the gas station.

As you make your way through the day’s events, the inevitable happens. The low fuel warning light comes on. And, you’re running late to your next appointment.

Great.

But there’s no time right now to fill up the car. You gotta get to your next thing. So, you keep driving with the low fuel light on.

The event runs longer than scheduled and now, you’re late again to your next thing.

You glance down at the fuel gauge and see that the needle is right on the last slash. And, the warning light has been on since midday.

You push through the rest of the afternoon and pray that you can make it to the gas station before you run out of fuel.

Finally, at the end of the day, you’re filling up the car.

Relieved that you now have a full tank of gas, you drive off thankful that you don’t have to hassle with this again until next week.

What you may not realize is that driving on “E” increases your chances for much worse things to happen - far worse than the annoyance of having to fill up.

What Happens When You Drive On Empty

Most of us don’t really think much about driving on a low tank of fuel. It’s like running low on milk or being on the last roll of toilet paper. It’s not a big deal until it gets really low - like when you’re on your last few ounces of milk for coffee or on the last few pulls of toilet paper - that’s when it’s at a critical level.

The main difference here is that when you’re running low on milk or toilet paper, they won’t cause any collateral damage in your life.

This isn’t the case with your car.

When you’re below a quarter tank of fuel and you keep driving, you’re increasing the chances of costly repairs that can easily be avoided.

Here are the risks you’re opening yourself up to when pushing the needle closer and closer to empty or worse, driving on or past the “last slash” of the fuel gauge.

1) Increased Accident Risk

What most people don’t realize is that the three key vehicle control features of driving a car are highly dependent on a running engine.

You need to be able to stop, steer and accelerate your vehicle and perform avoidance maneuvers to keep yourself safe and prevent accidents.

However, when your engine doesn’t get enough fuel, it stutters and bogs down. And, when your engine isn’t running normally because of lack of consistent fuel, it causes other chain reactions to your car.

When the engine isn’t running, you lose the power-assisted brakes. Your engine provides the extra help to your car’s brakes to apply more braking power. Without a running engine, you lose the “power” of power brakes. When this happens, you’ve got to push the brake pedal a lot harder to slow down the car.

The same goes for steering functions. Without a running engine, the steering wheel gets a lot harder to turn. This is because the “power” for power steering is being provided by the engine when it’s running.

And finally, when your engine isn’t running, you can’t accelerate. In typical highway speeds, a slow or stalled car in the lane creates a very big accident risk. If you can’t maintain speed, you increase the chances of getting rear-ended.

If you can’t stop, steer or accelerate, you’re just putting yourself and others in danger.

2) Fuel Pump Damage

Take a look at any fish tank and you’ll see that there’s usually a water pump that’s circulating the water in the tank by pulling water from the tank through a filter and then trickling it back into the tank.

You’ll also notice that at the bottom of most fish tanks, there’s usually sand or gravel sediments that settle at the bottom. And, any other the residue like fish poop and other bits eventually falls toward the bottom of the tank too.

The gas tank in your car is very much the same. It has a pump and filter too. The fuel pump pulls gasoline from the tank through a filter before it gets pushed toward the front of the car and into the engine.

And like the fish tank, there’s also some residue that settles at the bottom of the tank.

When you drive with low fuel, the fuel pump is having to pull gasoline from the bottom of the tank where there are more random sediments and bits. If you drive below a quarter tank, your filter ends up having to filter more residue than it normally would.

This can result in less fuel being pumped into your engine which causes your engine to stutter and not run smoothly.

Also, when the fuel level is critically low, the pump is no longer pumping fuel but air. And when this happens, it can cause the pump to overheat and fail. The gasoline in your tank also acts as a cooling fluid for the pump. Without it, the pump loses cooling efficiency.

Replacing a fuel pump in a car is going to set you back some serious bucks - like several hundred dollars at a minimum and upwards of a thousand for more expensive models.

3) Catalytic Converter Damage

A catalytic converter is part of your car’s exhaust system. It takes the exhaust fumes from your engine and reduces the severity of toxic gases and pollutants into less-toxic emissions that get sent out the tailpipe.

In order for it to work efficiently, it needs a consistent flow of exhaust. When your engine doesn’t get consistent fuel, it will misfire and sputter, leading to inconsistent exhaust flows and sometimes, causing unburnt fuel to enter the catalytic converter.

This causes problems and can damage the catalytic converter.

One of the key materials used in catalytic converters is platinum - the precious metal. And this stuff costs more than gold. So, if you muck up one of these things, don’t expect a cheap repair. It’s gonna hurt to the tune of several hundred bucks.

How Far Can You Drive With Warning Light On?

We’ve all driven with the low fuel warning light on at some point - whether by choice or not. Sometimes, we forget to fill up, the next station isn’t for another few miles or we just put it off.

In these cases, all modern cars have a low fuel warning system that monitors your remaining fuel in the tank and/or current driving fuel economy to trigger a low fuel warning light.

The more simple systems are based upon the amount of gas left in your tank while other systems will also take your current driving patterns into consideration to estimate “distance to empty” or the number of miles left in your tank.

Warning Light Driving Range Varies

In most typical cars and trucks, the warning light will come on when there’s between two to three gallons of gas left in the tank.

So, depending on your vehicle’s fuel economy, the driving range when the warning light is on can be anywhere from as low as 25-30 miles for big trucks and SUVs to as high as 80-90 miles for small cars.

For example, on a typical Toyota Corolla, the warning light usually comes on with about two gallons of fuel remaining in the tank. At about 30 mpg, the car can be driven for 60 miles before running out of gas.

You can check your warning light fuel range in your owner’s manual. Or, you can make a conservative estimate by using your average fuel economy. So, if you’re getting about 25 mpg, just figure that when the light comes on, you’ll have about twice that, give or take a few miles.

Of course, this can vary. If you’re hammering the gas pedal through a hilly area, the range will decrease substantially. The opposite will happen if you’re light and easy on the gas.

As you live with your car week in and week out commuting, you become keenly aware of how realistically far you can go.

Kramer borrows Jerry’s car a lot, so he experiences this many times and continually explores the outer limits of the car’s range.

VIDEO: Kramer test drives car on Seinfeld
YOUTUBE: findfuturefuels
LENGTH: 3:05

Summary points:
> Driving with a near empty tank is really stressful
> Going beyond the last slash on “E” takes some serious balls
> Don’t be like Kramer and drive it until the tank’s bone dry 

Coasting In Neutral Doesn’t Help

There’s a common myth that by putting the car in neutral, you’re saving fuel. However, this isn’t true.

When the car’s transmission is in neutral, it’s actually burning fuel to stay running. But, when the car is in “drive” and you simply let your foot off the gas pedal, the engine isn’t running by burning fuel, it’s actually being run by the momentum of your car.

Modern complex electronics are smart enough to know when the car’s momentum is enough to keep the engine running without burning fuel.

So, if you need to eek out a bit more range when the low fuel warning light is on, let off the gas pedal when the car is in “drive” and coast to slow down instead of using your brakes.

Driving On “E” Doesn’t Save You Any Money 

There is some truth to saving money while driving with low amounts of fuel. The basic premise of this is that when there’s less fuel in the tank, the lighter the vehicle is. And, when there’s less weight for the engine to move around, the more fuel efficient it can be.

This is true up to a point.

Once you get past the last remaining quarter tank of gas, the gains in fuel weight loss efficiency decrease and level off.

So, squeezing every drop of fuel from the bottom of the tank doesn’t save you any real money. All it’s doing is making your next fill up cost that little bit more and increasing your chances of messing something up.

If you really want to make real gains in saving money on gas...

Adjust Your Driving Behavior To Save Big Bucks

The best and easiest way to get the most mileage from each tank of gas is to adjust your driving habits.

Here are a few things that you can do today to instantly stretch every single drop of fuel for more range.

> Drive nice-n-easy, don’t race around
> Keep your tires pumped up with air
> Get rid of junk in the trunk
> Don’t idle the engine for a long time
> Only use AC at highway speeds
> Cruise at 60-70 mph on the highway

You can read all the details for each of the above items, plus a few more ideas, on this article about saving money on gas.

Or even better and more obviously, is to simply drive less by carpooling to and from work to cut your commuting, vehicle maintenance and fuel costs down significantly. This is the biggest and best way to save money.

Tips For When It’s Time To Fill Up

When you finally have some time to pull into a gas station, you experience a mixed bag of emotions.

You’re relieved that you’re finally getting the chance to fill up the car so that you can get around for the rest of the week but then, the anguish of spending your hard earned dollars on gas instead of fun stuff really stings.

The painful part is seeing the digits on the “total price” display rapidly rising.

It’s a fact - the digits on the dollar display move so much faster than the number of gallons that you’re getting.

It’s like this…

VIDEO: Gas Station Pump Display Extreme Prices
YOUTUBE: Motion Loop
LENGTH: 00:35

That’s some crazy fuel costs right there.

Dammit, it should be the other way around where the digits on the gallons go up faster than the dollars, right?!

Buying gas is an unavoidable cost of living until Tesla makes a $5,000 electric car that all of us working stiffs can really afford to buy.

Until then, we’ve all gotta make the weekly trip to our local gas station to run up our credit card bill yet again.

Here are some helpful tips that can ease the pain and more importantly, save you from costly mistakes.

1) Find Cheaper Gas Nearby

Driving way out of your way to save a few pennies per gallon isn’t worth it. In fact, you’ll be burning through more fuel getting to that cheaper, far off station than just going to the one right around the corner.

The best plan of action is to find a gas station that is selling your grade of fuel for the lowest cost possible - quickly and easily.

You can do this in one of two ways. 

Use Google Maps 

Search for “gas” or “gasoline” on Google Maps and it’ll show nearby gas stations along with their prices for regular, mid-grade and premium fuels.

The pricing is not always up-to-date, sometimes it’s older than 24 hours since the last update. In our experience, it’s not bad and pretty accurate.

Use Gas Buddy 

This is a free online resource that not many people know about.

Gas Buddy is both a website and app that can quickly find nearby stations with the most accurate and up-to-date pricing. All of the pricing information is crowd-sourced and verified from other drivers.

The bonus with using Gas Buddy is earning rewards. Visit their website to see real-time fuel pricing, learn more about the rewards and get the links for the apps.

Some of us are brand loyal and stick with one company while others just go to the one that’s most convenient at that time or close to home.

All gasoline sold in the US must meet US Federal standards for quality minimums. And, all car manufacturers will run and test their engines to these standards.

So, don’t fret if you’re buying fuel from Costco (our fav cheap gas station), Johnny Local Fuel, etc. They’re all sourcing from one of the big oil refineries and distributors.

2) Don’t Fill Up When The Station Is Being Filled

Every once in a while when the timing doesn’t work out in your favor, you may pull into a gas station just when the station itself is getting filled up by a gasoline tanker truck.

This is the worst time to get fuel at this station for one major reason.

First, all gas stations have huge storage tanks underground to hold the fuel until it’s pumped up by the machine into your car. And just like the fish tank analogy we mentioned above, the same issues with sediments and residue apply here too.

As the new fuel is being poured into the station’s underground holding tanks, it’s churning up all the settled sediments at the bottom of the tanks.

Now, there are a series of filters that the gasoline passes through at each stage of distribution and also at the station itself. However, it’s at this point where the chances are greatest that smaller sediments may sneak by pump filters and into your gas tank and subsequently clog your fuel filter.

So, if you see the tanker truck at the station dumping fuel into the station’s holding tanks, just keep on driving by to the next open station instead. Or, if you can wait until the next day, so that the sediments all settle, that’d be better.

3) Use Regular Fuel If Possible

Let’s get this very clear - using high-grade premium fuel for your car when it’s doesn’t require it, provides very little benefit. On balance, you’re only just wasting more of your money by paying more per gallon.

So, unless your car specifically states, “Premium Fuel Required”, just stick with regular grade fuel. Don’t waste your money.

If your car states, “Premium Fuel Recommended” then the manufacturer has designed the engine to run on either standard normal grade or premium grade fuel. In this instance, when you run higher grade fuel, the engine is designed to eek out a few more horsepower.

But really, do you need an extra 3-5 more horsepower when sitting in commuting traffic?

Yeah, we didn’t think so.

So, if you’re given the choice, use regular fuel instead. It’s an instant way to save a bit of money.

For those that have purchased an expensive luxury vehicle or a sports car, you may be up shit’s creek and will have to buy premium fuels because it’s “required.” And, if you don’t and fill it with a lower grade, you run the risk of engine knocking, misfires, etc. which can all lead to internal engine damage.

4) Don’t Top Up The Fuel Tank

Nobody really likes to visit the gas station often. So, some of us will top off our tanks with that little extra bit of fuel after the first auto-click off from the pump so that we can get an extra mile or two from the tank.

The motivation for this makes sense, but what it really does is create other issues for your car’s emissions systems.

In most modern cars, there is a system that captures gasoline fumes from the tank and stores it in a canister of sorts. When you start driving, the system will release these fumes to be burnt along with the fuel in the engine.

It’s a way to prevent fumes from the fuel to escape into the atmosphere and damage the environment.

Usually, the fumes are sucked in or captured by the canister somewhere along the fuel filling tube or channel that leads to the gas tank.

When you top off your gas tank, you run the risk of pouring liquid gasoline into this emissions canister. This system isn’t designed to absorb liquid fuels. It’s meant to absorb and hold fumes.

If gasoline gets into this, it can reduce its efficiency and often times, will result in that annoying “check engine” warning light to come on.

Take Care Of Your Car & It’ll Take Care Of You

We often take our cars for granted. They carry us and our junk to and from work every weekday and shuttle us all over the place on the weekends. And for the most part, it does so without much fanfare or complaints.

Yes, there are those odd times when the “check engine” light come on and something needs repair or when it’s time for some routine maintenance.

And of course, we’ve got to feed it fuel nearly every week.

You wouldn’t survive very long without food, water and rest, right?

The same goes for your commuter.

So, be nice to your car. Keep in tip-top shape, give it the maintenance and fuel it needs to do its thing.

Don’t starve it of fuel - you’ll only create more issues to deal with in your busy life. And, who wants more problems than what they already have?

So, don’t let the needle dip below a quarter tank. You’ll have less potential problems and your car will thank you.

Feel Better,
[Cubicle|Therapy]