How Far Can You Drive After the Gas Light Turns On?

There is a common misconception that when the gas light comes on, you only have a mile left until it's empty. Here's the truth about how far you can drive.

Gas Warning Light Comes On

When the gas light comes on the dashboard, do you immediately panic? In many cases, it’s no cause for alarm, as there are plenty of miles left in the tank. While you should still start searching for the nearest gas station, how many miles can you drive once the gas light turns on?

In this guide, I examine how far you can continue driving with the gas light on, and I also explain why this is a bad practice to get into.

What is the Gas Light on the Dashboard?

The dashboard contains many lights that alert you to problems. When a light comes on that looks like a gas pump, this is the low fuel warning. This fuel light is controlled by electronic sensors in the fuel system that determines how much gas is left.

Most systems rely on a floatation device in the tank that measures how much fuel is left. When it reaches a certain threshold at the bottom of the tank, the light comes on. As soon as you fill the fuel beyond that threshold, the gas warning light will go off.

How Many Miles Can You Drive Once the Gas Light Comes On?

Once the gas light comes on, the tank isn’t necessarily empty. Most vehicles will travel 30 to 50 more miles once the gas light comes on before the gas tank is empty. Each vehicle can drive for a different amount of time, depending on how big the tank is and where the low fuel threshold is.

Some models, like Nissan Altima can travel more than 100 miles once the low fuel light comes on, but F-150 trucks are only meant to travel around 35 more miles.

If you want to know exactly what your vehicle has left, you would need to look at the size of the fuel tank and figure out the threshold that activates the light. From here, you should be able to determine an approximate amount of miles you could still travel. You can find the exact distance in the owner’s manual for many car models.

RELATED: How Far Can You Drive On Empty?

Dangers of Driving with Low Fuel

There is no doubt that high gas prices are annoying, but you should never drive around with a low fuel level, as it can result in even more costly repair bills in the end. Here are a few reasons why you should refill before your gas gauge hits the bottom.

1. Damaged Fuel Pump

You don’t want to deal with replacing a fuel pump, because it’s not normally a simple fix. Yet, frequently driving with less than a ¼ of a tank can quickly lead to fuel pump damage if the fuel level is low and it starts to pump air instead of fuel. So, you don’t want to make it a habit to drive until the fuel level is too low.

To replace the fuel pump, you probably have to remove the gas tank. You will also need to drain the fuel, so you might prefer to take it to a shop for repairs, which is going to cost more money. 

2. Excessive Engine Sediment

All gasoline has some sediment in it. This is true even if you are using top-tier fuel from the best gas stations.

When the fuel levels get low, sediment makes its way into the engine. Other deposits and debris can also enter the engine when the fuel level is low. This is a top contributor to permanent engine damage, and would require a costly replacement to fix. 

3. Clogged Filters

The sediment that’s making its way into the engine will also get caught in the fuel filters. While you can change the fuel filter, you don’t want to replace unnecessary parts prematurely.

Once the fuel filter is clogged, you will have trouble starting the engine and will notice a decrease in acceleration. It can also cause a rough idle and misfiring. The lean fuel mixture due to lack of fuel can even damage the catalytic converter if you are very unlucky.

4. Fuel Injection System Corrosion

When the fuel levels get lower, more condensation can occur. With temperature differences and the added moisture, corrosion begins in the fuel injection system. 

When this occurs, the engine won’t run properly. You’ll find yourself facing expensive repairs that could have been easily avoided.

RELATED: What Is the Average Size of a Car Gas Tank?

Tips to Conserve Gas

1. Drive Carefully

If you are braking erratically or accelerating rapidly, you are wasting fuel. In fact, you could be wasting more than 33% of your fuel economy. 

It’s best if you drive sensibly, maintaining normal speeds and braking slowly. Not only does this step benefit your gas mileage, but it also keeps you safer on the road. 

2. Maintain the Speed Limit

Once you start traveling above 60 mph, your car uses more fuel than it needs to. In fact, for every five mph you travel over this speed, you could be spending an extra $0.30 a gallon for fuel. 

There’s another way you save money by driving the speed limit. You avoid the chance of speeding tickets, which can be extremely expensive. 

3. Remove Extra Weight

If you are carrying a bunch of cargo around with you that’s not needed, go ahead and unload it. For every 100 pounds of cargo you carry, you reduce the fuel economy by 2 percent. 

Keep a bin in the vehicle and fill it up after every trip with the gear that’s not needed. By carrying this bin inside at the end of the day, you gain maximum fuel economy for your next trip. 

4. Maintain the Vehicle

The manufacturer’s maintenance schedule isn’t meant to simply earn the dealership more money. It’s designed to ensure that your car runs efficiently and the engine is optimized.

If your car hasn’t been tuned up, you could lose about 4 percent of the gas mileage. Plus, it could fail an emissions test. 

5. Check Tire Pressures

By ensuring the tires are properly inflated, you can improve gas mileage by more than 3%. Underinflated tires reduce gas mileage significantly for every one psi of pressure that is missing.

To find the right amount of tire pressure for your car, read the label inside the driver’s side door jamb. You should check the pressures every month and any time the temperatures drop. 

6. Use Right Oil

You won’t get a big fuel economy boost by using the right oil, but every little bit helps. If your engine calls for 5W-30, don’t swap it with 10W-30 out of convenience. 

You can also shop for engine oil based on brands that offer “Energy Conserving” properties on the API performance symbol. These oils contain additives that reduce friction for even more optimization.

Find more information in our list of all car dashboard symbols.

Magnus Sellén
Written by:

Magnus is the owner and main author of Mechanicbase. He has been working as a car mechanic for over 10 years, and the majority of them specialized in advanced car diagnostics and troubleshooting. Certified Automotive Diagnostic Technician.

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