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What to do when you run out of gas

What to do when you run out of gas

One of the prevalent fears a driver could face is to run out of gas in the middle of the road. At some point, you may find a vehicle stuck at the right shoulder of the roadway due to empty gas. This situation rarely happens and it’s one of the easiest things to avoid but most drivers are somewhat inexperienced on how to handle this occurrence with a level head.

When traveling in a long-distance, planning plus conditioning your vehicle in good shape is necessary. Don’t overestimate (or underestimate) your gas mileage for you can cut it near close. Keeping a full tank can avoid running out of gas.

How does a car act when running out of gas?

Your fuel light came on. Running out of gas doesn’t have to be an emergency because your engine doesn’t simply die on an empty tank. Few warnings will flash on the instrument panel to alarm you before things aggravate to worst. The fuel gauge can give you an early warning sign that your gas stock is turning low and time to stop at the nearest gas station. It will be obvious when your tank runs out of gas as you can experience the following instances:

  1. Loss of power. The early sign that warns of a symptom of a near-empty tank is the difficulty when ascending. So, fuel starvation exists when you cannot accelerate while pressing the gas pedal.
  2. Engine sputtering. Since not enough gas is flowing through the cylinder, the engine tends to emit unusual burping or hiccupping sound which is caused by too much air pressure.
  3. Backfire. In older vehicles, running out of gas enables the car to produce a loud pop like a firework coming out simultaneously of the tailpipe. That said, you’re moving out of gas.
  4. Surging. A jerking sensation can be felt from behind the wheels as if your car is sporadically pulling over and thrusting back and forth due to the very low fuel capacity to start.

When these instances happen with intermittent power surges, they significantly indicate fuel starvation that tells you to (calmly) stop on the roadside as far off as you can safely go or if the time may permit, drive to the nearest refueling station to refurbish y and do it in no time.

How far can you go on an empty gas?

When your tank approaches near empty, low fuel warning flashes on, it’s time to fill up. The remaining miles left before are totally out of fuel depending on your particular vehicle and your driving style. So, never “drive on fumes”. If the gauge indicates the miles left before the car stalls, consider it your best guide. This instrument calculates your “average fuel consumption” based on your driving over some time.


All cars come with reserve fuel tanks. However, it varies from model to model. Subcompact cars typically have 3 liters, while executive sedans have about 7 liters. Large SUVs can even carry up to 10 extra liters, depending on the manufacturer. Keep in mind the mileage left is just an estimate as it can significantly drop when sitting in traffic, climbing a steep grade, or driving at high speed.

Empty, but not totally out

Sometimes, a car suffers from fuel starvation not because of an empty tank. Another reason why this happens is a clogged fuel filter or fuel pump.

It’s pretty expensive to repair clogged fuel injectors than to buy a new filter. A clogged fuel filter may require a towing service but replacing it at the side of the road is much easier. Mind you, if the fuel pump is sucking from an empty tank, it’s pumping air and sediments that won’t make the car start. This is another reason why you shouldn't run on empty all the time.

Things to do when running out of gas

When your car runs out of gas, it’s not only the inconvenience but also the challenge of how you can cope with a dying engine. That said, you’ll experience the hydraulic power of your brakes and steering both losing powers the soonest, which means that braking and maneuvering will need additional effort to function. You should take a few immediate steps before going on forward.

But not in the case of automatics, you can be luckier than manual drivers because the electric power assist will continue to operate the car from its battery unit making you drive to a more safe spot and attend to whatever trouble there is. Confirm your suspicion by checking the fuel gauge and the low fuel indicator sign. Here are the things to do when you’re cautioned that your car is running out of gas:

  1. Pullover to safety with hazards on. To be stranded in fast-moving vehicles can be dangerous. Stay calm when it happens. Navigate to the right shoulder, avoid the left side, where there’s no risk of getting hit. If possible, exit the highway and find a parking lot or open space free of traffic. Switch your emergency lights to warn other motorists that your car is a hazard while waiting for assistance.
  2. Turn off the AC unit, sound system and close the windows. Turning off the air conditioner immediately can reduce engine stress and save fuel. Doing this also shut down the power-hungry cabin fan. High-powered stereo plus charging portals are fuel-consuming; turning them off can save you gas from total depletion. Also, roll up the windows to reduce wind resistance and drag before the tank gets emptied.
  3. Call breakdown services for help. Dial for roadside assistance through your insurance company or local service. Let them know you get stranded without gas. Make known the type of gas you need. Also, wire a friend, a family member, or a tow service. More on these later.
  4. Slow down immediately. Don’t speed up to get to the gas station quickly because the faster you accelerate the more fuel you burn. Studies reveal for a vehicle to be fuel-efficient an optimal speed of 35 to 45 MPH is recommended especially you’re low on fuel.
  5. Figure out your location. Take GPS coordinates from your smartphone. Your location is important to secure access from the emergency response when help comes on the way. If you need to leave the car behind, you won’t be wandering around to locate the site where the vehicle stalled.
  6. If everything fails. Push the car to the nearest gas station to refuel or walk to get a gas can and DIY. Prepare a long-distance walk to secure what you essentially need and walk back to the direction where your car stalled.

Who to call when you run out of gas?

If your car stalls you do run out of gas. It’s necessary to act swiftly but safely. Pullover to a safer spot. Turn your flashers on to alert other motorists to your car’s presence. Don’t leave your car unattended; dial someone for help.

  1. Take advantage of technology by surfing the net on your smartphone and locating the nearest gas station using Google Maps. Or, ask other stopping motorists for the nearest gas station.
  2. Call for roadside assistance. If you’re a subscriber to a Road Assistance Company such as AAP, you know exactly who to call for help. Call your car insurance company if you’re covered when your vehicle breaks down or figures in an accident.
  3. Friends and family members. If you don’t have a road assistance provider or subscription card or are not covered by your car insurance; call a friend or a family member to drive you a gas can to allow your car to refuel and re-operate back to normalcy.
  4. Call your auto club or the nearest gas station. One benefit, if you’re a member of an auto club, is road assistance during an emergency. If not, call the nearest gas station whether they provide gas supply from your location. But a diesel vehicle requires the engine to be bled of air before the system will restart.
  5. Dial a highway patrol emergency. Highway patrol personnel are usually on standby during special holidays or expected busy highways or expressways on particular occasions. Otherwise, Google search for other options for highway emergencies.
  6. Drive downhill. Should there be gas stations available to service, choose the one that can make you drive downhill as it consumes less fuel than navigating uphill or climbing a grade. Don’t shift to neutral because it’s more energy-consuming. But coasting down the road is dangerous, pull the vehicle on the side to decrease the possibility of sliding out of control.

When your car is off the highway or expressway, the safest way is to wait for assistance inside your car while your hazards are on, turn off the ignition, and then consider your alternatives. While waiting you might as well surf the net for private organizations helping motorists recover from untoward situations such as flat tires, running out of gas, or engine breakdown. You may also consider a tow service to drive out of the way but an expense on the wallet.

In case you plan to buy gas, trust your instinct and never leave valuables inside the vehicle. When you already refueled the car, you need to fire the engine without more stress on the ignition, starter motor, and battery. Gently press the accelerator to engage the fuel injectors quickly, turn the ignition and make sure the car has had time to cool down.

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