What Happens If You Drive On EMPTY?

Automologist ATHERTON has gambled with the E and lost, many times. He lives to tell us this cautionary tale. 

We have all driven on empty, yet some of us continue to engage in this game of Russian Roulette. This game will eventually cost you more than you think because running out of fuel is no laughing matter: you have to walk to the nearest petrol station, buy the biggest bottle of water you can find (or a proper fuel can, if you’re lucky the station has one), gulp down most of its content and pour the balance down the drain, then fill the bottle with petrol before lugging it back to the car. Yup, that sums up my own experience.

Fortunately, most of the times I was lucky enough that the car stalled quite near a fuel station, or have my ever reliable siblings to call for help. (Yes, yes, I’ve learnt my lesson many moons ago.) It’s not just inconvenient to be stranded in the middle of the road, but always driving on empty leads to other problems with your car.

Image credit – briewieselman.com

When the fuel warning light urges you to fill up, you’d think that you could go on for some distance. These are just estimates, and when wrongly estimated (see #3 below), you can do damage to your catalytic converter, which may then need to be repaired or replaced.

According to Consumer Reports, the gas in your car “acts like a coolant for the electric fuel-pump motor, so when you run very low, this allows the pump to suck in air, which creates heat and can cause the fuel pump to wear prematurely and potentially fail.” If there’s dirt in your fuel tank, it could block your fuel filter. All of which will ultimately drain you of cash.

Here are some tips to avoid running out of fuel: –

  1. Keep your petrol tank no less than ¼ full.
  2. Fill up before heading out on a long trip or to work, as you could get stuck in traffic and have a longer drive than intended.
  3. Don’t rely on your car to tell you how many miles or kilometres are left, as those range numbers can be deceiving and run down quickly, depending on how you drive.
  4. Set a schedule to fill up your tank, regardless of the prices at the pump (as a friend of mine does).
  5. Also, it helps to keep your car in good running condition.


If you’ve gambled with the “E” and won/lost, tell us your story. You could possibly win a free product from our sponsor, X-1R, if we like your tale.

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