How far can I drive with my fuel light on?

Amber fuel light switched on

There was a time in my life when driving around with the fuel light on with fairly common practice. Looking back now, I feel it was probably more an indication of my priorities at the time, of which keeping my car in good nick was pretty low on the list in those student days.

There’s a tremendous amount of insecurity and anxiety that can arise when you dare to drive too far for too long, and I do remember one incident where I literally came screeching, and potentially rolling in neutral, into a service station.

Safe to say I’d learned my lesson.

You may be trying to stretch your fuel fill-up until payday, or you may have forgotten to fill up the night before and will be late if you stop now. You could also be an adrenaline junkie who enjoys living on the edge.

When your tank is running close to no petrol, the ‘low fuel’ light will glow.

It’s either a warning light in the shape of a gas pump or a message displayed on your dashboard / main display. Some vehicles also sound a chime-like alarm, not all cars provide you with that pleasant reminder. To be honest, it makes my heart race a little more than I’d like, so I prefer no chime.

The problem with many automobiles is that they don’t tell you how far you can go before running out of gas.

The point at which the fuel light comes on could be triggered either by an onboard distance-to-empty calculator, or by the fuel level sensor. You might have 6% of a tank left, or it could be anywhere from four to eight litres of fuel. I’ve seen some vehicles which tell you the distance to empty, but if all cars had that feature, well, we wouldn’t have an article!

Your fuel gauge isn’t always accurate

Your fuel gauge only tells you how much fuel is left in the tank. Unfortunately, although good to know, you can’t always rely on it to be accurate.

Manufacturing and other inconsistencies can render it less reliable than one would hope, the vehicle incline or decline also can sometimes affect the read.

How far can I drive with my fuel light on?

Well, the best thing to do is get to a service station, as quickly as possible.

But that said, it really depends on what you need to do.

After the light first flickers into your field of view (noticing it always helps, too), you can easily expect to get between 50 and 100 kilometres of normal driving in most vehicles; just go a little softer on the throttle and you can probably stretch that until the following payday.

What can happen if I drive with my fuel light on?

When you drive with the fuel light on, you face a number of problems in addition to, you know, the old running out of gas thing.

It’s possible that your fuel pump will overheat. The constant operation of your fuel pump to provide fuel to your engine cools your fuel pump, so basically you risk your fuel pump literally cooking itself without enough fuel in the tank.

If you’re driving a diesel powered engine, it’s possible that your engine may not start again. When you run out of diesel, the fuel system gets flooded with air. Your engine won’t start, because the air bubble prevents fuel from being fed into the cylinders. The fuel system needs to be primed, and the air must be drained out. It’s no fun at all, especially when you build in those towing fees. Yikes!

A good rule of thumb is to keep your vehicle topped up to at least 25% at all times.

One of the best ways to improve your car’s fuel efficiency is to regularly maintain your vehicle. If you’re having trouble with your vehicle, or just need a routine service, get in touch with a MyAutoShop mechanic and we’ll help you get back on the road without a hitch.