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How far can you go 0 miles to empty?

Playing the game of ‘How far can I go before I have to fill up my tank?’ has left many motorists stranded at the side of the road after a breakdown.

Whether you’re in a hurry or worried about rising petrol prices, lots of us hold off refilling our tanks until the last possible moment.

Once that little fuel light comes on, how much further can you drive before you grind to a halt? How long do you have left? 

Read on and we’ll show you just how far you can go once your warning light comes on, and what you can do to improve your fuel economy.

Petrol gauge near empty
 

My fuel light has come on. What does it mean? 

When the fuel light comes on it means you’re starting to run low on fuel and should refuel your car soon. 

The ‘fuel low’ indicator is usually only triggered once your tank’s capacity is down to 10-15%, so you don’t need to panic - yet. Once the fuel light starts flashing that means the situation has become a bit more urgent and you should refuel as soon as possible.

 

When my fuel light comes on, how much petrol is left? 

A common belief is that a car can go for roughly 40-50 miles after the light goes on, but that can be tricky to track.

How far you can actually drive once your fuel warning light comes on, frustratingly, varies from car to car. There's no statutory amount that should be left in the tank before the dashboard fuel light comes on. So, you shouldn’t assume that you’ve got a set number of miles left when it first alerts you.

For many cars, the warning light comes on when there’s between 10% and 15% of the tank’s capacity left. When it starts flashing, you’ve probably got less than 10% left. If you’re lucky, your car might have a digital display to give you an estimate of how many miles you have left. But even these aren’t fully accurate.

Try not to focus on how much fuel is left in the tank once the fuel low indicator comes on. It’s better to think of it as a warning and refuel at the next opportunity.

However, to give you some peace of mind, here are some of the UK’s top cars, and how far each might go once the fuel light has come on*:

Car model Remaining mileage
Honda Accord
45 miles
Honda Civic
43 miles
Toyota Corolla
45 miles
Toyota Camry
43 miles
Ford Focus
42 miles
Ford F-150
39 miles
Volkswagen Jetta
44 miles
Mazda Miata
35 miles
Volkswagen Golf
44 miles
Chevrolet Silverado
34 miles

*All fuel data is based on real-life information submitted by independent drivers on TankOnEmpty.com. Figures correct as of 01/06/21

 

How far can you go on 0 miles to empty? 

Again, how much further you can drive once your fuel gauge is telling you your tank is empty varies between makes and models of cars. You might be able to manage another 10 to 20 miles, but the emphasis is on the word ‘might’.

Relying on this buffer could be a high-risk strategy and result in an expensive breakdown call out. It’s much more sensible to fill your tank as soon as the fuel light comes on.

 

What should I do if I don’t have enough fuel to drive to a petrol station? 

If you aren’t going to be able to reach a petrol station, it’s important you take action to avoid a breakdown that puts you and your car at risk.

Find a safe place to pull over and put your hazard lights on. Then call a friend or family member if they could drive out  with a jerry can. If that’s not an option, call a breakdown company for assistance.

 

What happens if I run out of fuel?

Once you’ve finally run out of petrol, you might feel your vehicle juddering as you try to accelerate and hear spluttering noises. Eventually, your car is likely to come to a complete stop – it can’t run without fuel!

Running out of fuel in itself isn’t illegal, just a bit stressful. However, if you end up stranded in the middle of the road or your breakdown leads to an accident, you could be prosecuted for careless or dangerous driving.

This could lead to points added to your driving licence, which in turn could raise your car insurance costs.

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What are the dangers of driving on an empty tank?

Driving with perilously low fuel levels not only leaves you at risk of breakdown, it could also damage your car.

As the fuel level gets lower, the car starts picking up debris from the bottom of the tank. This could damage both the fuel filter and the pump. The catalytic converter could also be damaged.

If you run out of petrol, it can cause the fuel pump to run dry, which could land you with a garage bill of up to £200.

With diesel cars, the engine management system should shut down before you run out of fuel, preventing damage to the car. But with petrol cars there's no system like that in place.

Getting stranded is another concern that should be taken seriously. You might be on the motorway with cars whizzing past you at high speed. But wherever you break down could be dangerous, especially if you’ve broken down after a bend in the road.

You can take a look at our top tips to improving your fuel economy, but here are some quick fuel-preserving tactics for when you start running low:

  • Roll up your windows to reduce wind resistance
  • Drive with a light foot and maintain constant speed

  • Use cruise control if you have it

  • Turn off all electronic accessories and unplug any charging phones

  • Check your tyre pressure – under-inflated tyres could increase fuel consumption