Why you shouldn’t drive around with your low fuel light on

Why you shouldn’t drive around with your low fuel light on
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Driving around with the low fuel light on is one of those things that we know we shouldn’t do but still let happen from time to time.

Whatever the price of gas, it can be tough for some drivers to simply fill up the tank. But waiting until your gas tank is almost empty before a fill-up could end up costing you more than you think.

A 2015 survey found that every year, 827,000 drivers ignore their car’s warning light, causing them to run out of gas and break down. On top of that, 25% of drivers believe they can make it another 40 miles once the light turns on, and two million drivers say they almost always drive with the light permanently on, usually hoping to find cheaper gas.

Here’s the problem: Most drivers don’t actually know how far they’ll make it after the warning light turns on. And on top of that, there’s more at stake than many people realize when you let your gas tank run that low.

RELATED: Apps that help you find the cheapest gas

Why you should keep your tank no less than 1/4 full

According to experts, driving around on empty — or close to empty — is a bad idea.

First, the fuel gauge isn’t always accurate. In fact, how precise your car’s gauge is relies on a variety of factors, including your driving style and your car’s fuel economy. The experts say you should consider it more of an estimate— rather than an exact measurement — of how far you’ll make it before running out of gas.

Plus, allowing the level of gas in the tank to run low can damage your car.

According to YourMechanic.com, “[I]f you do run out of gas, you can do damage to your catalytic converter, which may then need to be repaired or replaced.”

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On top of that, 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.”

And the repair could cost a couple hundred dollars — more than what it would have cost you to fill up the tank. Also, CR says ‘if there is dirt in the fuel tank, it could lead to blocking the fuel filter’ — leading to another expensive repair of a few hundred dollars.

In addition to potentially costly repairs to your car, driving on a low tank can be dangerous. If the car suddenly stops running, you could be stranded in a deserted area, or in the middle of a busy highway. And with many cars, the airbags don’t deploy if the car is turned off, putting you and any passengers in an even more dangerous situation.

Here are some tips from Consumer Reports to avoid running out of gas:

  • Keep your gas tank no less than ¼ full. 
  • Fill up before heading out on a long trip or to work as you could get stuck in traffic and have a longer ride than intended.
  • Don’t rely on your car to tell you how many miles are left, as those range numbers can be deceiving and run down quickly, depending on how you drive.
  • We all want to save money at the pump, but instead of driving miles away to the gas station, use online tools or even smartphone apps to find the cheapest gas near your house.
Alex Thomas Sadler About the author:
Alex is the former Managing Editor of Clark.com.
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