Friday 19th April 2013
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Most of us are guilty for whatever reason of driving our car on an empty tank at some point in our lives. The reasons for not filling up the tank are mainly due to forgetfulness, taking risks, or possibly a lack of finances.

Modern cars today thankfully have an ECU; this means motorists are signalled when they are nearing empty. Thirty years ago plus, ECUs were not the norm; hence, every motorist depended on the accuracy of their car's fuel gauge with no warning light.

Safety of driving on empty

Today, ECUs take all the guess work out of driving an empty tank. It literally reduces the fear that your car is going to come to a sudden stop in the middle of the motorway. The guessing part is, how many more miles can I drive when the fuel light comes on?

The truth of the matter is every manufacturer is not the same, thus every model of car is different. Some cars can drive 82 miles before the car gives up, and some cars can drive as little as 23 miles. Why not specifically find out exactly how many miles your car will go on empty? Avoid thinking that if a car guzzles fuel like a cruise ship, then it is not going to survive a long haul on an empty tank. Every car is different; some cars can guzzle fuel quickly but can still last the longest on an empty tank, or vice versa.

The main fuel gauges are not programmed to be linear. They are mechanically set to stay on full for a very long time. The gauge subsequently moves to half empty gradually, and after that it quickly plummets to empty. You may have noticed this.

Calculating the empty tank

Knowing how many miles you have left in your empty tank is precious. It could mean all the difference to making it to the next garage to fuel up. I remember once I ran out of petrol and the car free wheeled into the garage right to the pump, how lucky was that! I have since learned my lesson. To find out how many miles you may have left in an empty tank you could:

A) Contact your manufacturer. Every car reproduction is different, for example a 1995 Ford Fiesta tank is different to a 2013 model.

B) Some modern cars can tell you how many miles your car can drive on empty. This can be done by flicking a switch on the steering wheel or dashboard.

C) If your car does not have any modern technology to gauge the fuel's accuracy, it is possible to assess the tank. To do this, make sure you have at least two canisters full of fuel handy in the boot. Once the gauge hits near empty, take note of your mileage. Drive around until the car comes to a halt, re-read your mileage to calculate the distance. The canisters are there to semi fill the empty tank, which will help you get to a nearby garage.

Is driving on empty dangerous?

It is definitely not a good idea to drive on the last dregs of fuel and fumes. The clever idea behind the small amount of fuel in the tank is that motorists have enough miles to drive to a garage to fill up. Driving on empty should not be the norm, so at all costs it needs to be avoided. There can be in fact a build up of dirt particles in the bottom of the tank that you don’t want to enter your engine. Continuously driving on dregs and fumes can also cause excessive wear on the fuel pump. It is best to fill up your tank when it has reached at least a quarter empty. Fuel in a car is like water to humans; without it you risk premature wearing, or even death.

When a car is starved of fuel, it will take a long time for the tank to re-pressurize when it is filled up. The injectors and everything in the engine can become ravenous which in turn can cause vapour locking. During the summer months when the weather is hot, particularly keep the tank filled up as the heat can make the fuel evaporate.

Have you got any empty tank stories? Please publish them online here…