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Is It Bad to Let Your Fuel Light Come On?

BY: Keith Benline
Driving with low fuel light

No matter the time of year, having a car to get you from point A to point B is convenient. But for many car owners, few things are as inconvenient as realizing your “low fuel light” is on. 

But while driving with a low tank of gas may not seem like a big deal, like the other dashboard warning lights in your vehicle, your low fuel warning light isn’t one to be ignored. 

What Does It Mean When the Fuel Light Comes On?

In modern vehicles, the fuel light is controlled by electronics in the fuel system that use a device to measure the fuel levels in the gas tank. This is usually connected or used with a fuel pump (located inside the fuel tank) and the fuel gauge. The device in the fuel tank controls the fuel level indicator gauge and activates it once it reaches a specific threshold.

Mainly though, the purpose of the low fuel warning light is to indicate to you, as the car’s driver, when your fuel tank is running close to empty. This warning light may even give you an approximate number of miles you have left before the gas levels reach the bottom of the tank for many late-model vehicles.

How Far Can You Drive with Your Fuel Light On?

While it can vary from each specific make and model, most vehicles allow for about 30 to 50 miles from when the fuel light kicks on until you’re officially “out of gas.” However, this is a general estimate, so it’s always best to check your owner’s manual to see just how far you can drive when your low fuel light comes on. You can also check your owner’s manual for a full breakdown and additional information on the type of gas to use when filling up and more to help you take the best care of your vehicle.

Continuing to drive with low fuel levels can be dangerous and result in premature damage to other important components. Plus, you risk running out of gas in an area far from the nearest gas station. Unless you have gasoline on hand in your car’s emergency kit, it’s best to consider how many gas stations are on your route and how often you should re-up on gas at all times. 

Why You Shouldn’t Drive on Empty?

While you may have 30 to 50 miles to go until you run out of gas fully, some long-term consequences can happen from continuously driving on low. First, your vehicle’s fuel pump uses the fuel in the gas tank to work as a coolant for the electric motor housed in the pump. By consistently driving with an empty gas tank, your fuel pump will be exposed to higher temperatures with no way of cooling down—resulting in premature damage caused by overheating and an upcoming automotive repair bill.

Not to mention, you increase the chances of being stranded on the side of the road if you happen to continually drive on an empty tank. And while you may be in luck if you have roadside assistance included with your insurance or auto warranty, if you don’t, then you could be left waiting for some time until you can get help. Not to mention having to deal with any repair bills due to the damage you may have caused.

When you have an Endurance auto protection plan, however, you can rest easy that no matter where you are dealing with an unexpected breakdown or need a tow, you’ll be covered. That’s because regardless of your coverage plan, you can get comprehensive breakdown protection while enjoying complimentary 24/7 roadside assistance and towing, including fuel delivery, lockout services and more. You’ll even be able to enjoy trip interruption coverage and rental car reimbursements so you can ensure your travel plans are pushed off course. 

How Driving with the Fuel Light on Costs You Money

Driving with the fuel light on ultimately costs you money in the long run for two simple reasons—repair costs and competitive shopping for gas.

Fuel Pump Damage

Having a fuel pump replaced is not something the average DIY’er can take on. In most cases, this involves removing the gas tank, draining any remaining fuel, and removing any surrounding parts—all of which, according to RepairPal as of August 2022, can end up costing you anywhere from $879 to $1,1011 or more, depending on the make/model of your vehicle. 

Plus, if you try to repair this at home, there’s a high chance you can void your current warranty coverage (factory or extended) if not done properly. Instead, the best way to ensure your car’s fuel pump is taken care of without risking your coverage is by taking your vehicle to an ASE Certified mechanic or repair shop. However, remember that this repair will likely take a few days to complete since it takes a few hours to get to the fuel pump. 

Some extended car warranty coverage, like an Endurance auto protection plan, can provide rental car coverage to ensure your life remains uninterrupted. You’ll even be reimbursed for a rental car if needed.

Sediment through the Engine

In addition to damaging the fuel pump, you can find yourself needing an engine replacement sooner than later by driving with low gas. Mainly, this is because gasoline naturally picks up sediment, no matter the octane rating your car uses. And driving with low fuel levels means more sediment from the bottom of your fuel tank can be drawn into your car’s engine and fuel filter, which often contributes to sudden part failure. 

Lack of Competitive Shopping

There are hundreds of smartphone apps that can help you get the cheapest tank of gas you can find, but when you’re looking for the nearest option because you’ve got little to no fuel left, your choices will be limited. When driving with low fuel, you remove the luxury of driving to the best-priced gas station and are forced to purchase gas at the nearest location. 

This means you will ultimately pay more for gas each time you run your car down to empty. Instead, always look to go and fill up at the gas pump whenever you notice your car has about a quarter tank left of gas. This will help ensure you have plenty of fuel to get to any gas station in the area without settling for the nearest (and potentially priciest) option.

Tips for When You’re about to Run Out of Gas

Sometimes, running low on gas is unavoidable. But in addition to paying attention to when your low fuel light turns on, there are some other tips to consider when you’re about to run out of gas. 

Drive Conservatively

Driving at high speeds not only causes more accidents but can also cause you to waste more gas, even with fuel-efficient cars like the Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota Camry. Rapid accelerations and braking can cause a decrease in your car’s fuel efficiency, resulting in you getting fewer miles per gallon (MPGs)

Comparison Shop with Mobile Apps

Many smartphone apps for drivers can do everything from helping you plan a road trip, cranking some tunes and even helping you find the best prices on gas near you. These apps will show you a map of the city you are in and all of the gas prices around you to allow you to find the best prices to fill up before your light comes on.

Turn Your A/C Off

The air conditioning system on your vehicle can put a serious load on your engine, which decreases fuel economy. While it is not a long-term solution, you can turn your A/C off when your fuel light comes on to save a little bit of fuel.

Monitor Your Gas Tank

Last but not least, keep your car’s fuel tank at least a ¼ tank full. This will give you enough mileage to get to the next gas station while ensuring your fuel tank is properly cooled.

Save Thousands on Repairs with Endurance

Taking the time to properly maintain your vehicle can keep you on the road longer and save you money on auto expenses. Although you never really know when a breakdown can strike, investing in reliable coverage can put money back in your pocket and provide peace of mind on the road. Especially now, with the Advantage auto protection plan from Endurance, you can experience Endurance breakdown protection plus unrivaled maintenance benefits in one total package.

Each Advantage plan starts with extensive component protection and offers personalized plans so you can find the breakdown protection that’s right for you. So whether you’re a daily driver looking for affordable protection or a commercial driver looking for inclusive coverage—Advantage has you covered. But the best part is that you can save up to $3,500 in yearly maintenance needs, like oil and filter changes, alignment checks, engine diagnostic exams and more, to help ensure your car runs as it should for as long as possible.

Plus, regardless if you purchase Advantage or any other Endurance auto protection plan, including basic powertrain coverage starting at just $79 per month, you will enjoy complimentary services like 24/7 roadside assistance and towing, trip interruption coverage and rental car reimbursements. You’ll even have a 30-day money-back guarantee and a chance to enjoy a full year of Endurance Elite Benefits, including tire replacements and repairs, collision discounts and more.

Request a free, no-obligation quote or give us a call at (800) 253-8203 to get started learning more about how Endurance can help protect you and your vehicle. You can also find more answers to your biggest automotive questions and articles on topics ranging from DIY maintenance tips, extended warranty coverage comparisons, vehicle buying guides, and much more by visiting the Endurance blog.

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