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How low can you go? Drivers increasingly risk running out of fuel

Kwik Fit | Wednesday 26th August 2020 4:00pm

car fuel gauge on empty

In 2015, a survey by LV Road Rescue reported that over half a million motorists admitted to driving with their fuel warning light on, running the risk of a roadside breakdown by driving with very low fuel. As a result, the report also claimed that more than 800,000 motorists had to be rescued from the roadside due to running out of fuel.

Drivers overestimated how much fuel they had left in the tank, with almost one in four drivers believing that, once their fuel light came on, they could squeeze another 40 miles out of the tank before hitting empty.

However, it seems that UK motorists have started to rethink their attitude towards the fuel light. Following Compare the Marketís recent research, 1,000 British drivers were asked how far they can drive once the fuel light is lit up and 37% think itís less than 20 miles.

The actual number of miles that the UKís most popular cars can achieve once the fuel light comes on is dependent on a few factors, from your driving style to the condition of your vehicle.

How long can you keep going?

Below are some of Compare the Marketís findings when it comes to the average distances that can be driven after a warning from the fuel light.

Car Model Average # of miles left after warning light comes on
Audi A3 55.32 miles
Audi Q5 63.82 miles
BMW 3 Series 60.59 miles
Citroen C3 46.09 miles
Fiat 500 37.14 miles
Fiat Punto 45.79 miles
Ford Fiesta 41.07 miles
Ford Focus 53.01 miles
Ford Ka 54.7 miles
Honda Civic 43.68 miles
Kia Cee'd 52.53 miles
Mercedes C Class 42.78 miles
Mini Cooper 37.52 miles
Nissan Duke 40.84 miles
Peugeot 207 55.72 miles
Renault Clio 50.64 miles
Vauxhall Astra 50.01 miles
Vauxhall Corsa 41.93 miles
Volkswagen Golf 55.61 miles
Volkswagen Polo 45 miles

The data above was calculated using fuel tank capacity and MPG data sourced for each car. The MPG data was pulled from well world usage rather than manufacturer figures to achieve a realistic representation. As 10% capacity is, on average, the level that the low fuel light turns on for most modern models, this was also taken into consideration. These values were used in the following formula to calculate the average miles stated above:

    MPG x (tank capacity - 10% fuel capacity)

It turns out that cars can still travel quite a distance even after theyíve reached low fuel levels. However, while your car can potentially continue to run 50+ miles before running out of fuel, itís important to note that driving with the fuel warning light on should be massively avoided. By driving with low fuel levels, you could end up facing the inconvenience of being stranded by the side of the road, as well as causing damage to your vehicle in the process.

What are the consequences of running on empty?

When it comes to running on low fuel, usually our only focus is on how far the nearest petrol station is and whether our car will be able to get there before the fuel runs out. But itís important to know that allowing your fuel tank to run on empty can damage your engine, as well as cause several problems to your fuel system.

Your carís fuel pump is designed to sit submerged in fuel, using petrol as a coolant, and when there is not enough gas in the tank, the fuel pump can become exposed and overheat internally. By continuously running on low fuel, youíll end up wearing out your fuel pump, as the lack of fuel allows air to be sucked in - which overheats inside the pump. It's worth noting that any issues with the fuel pumpís functionality affects the flow of fuel to the engine, and a broken fuel pump means that you wonít be able to start your engine.

Your fuel pump isnít the only damage that can be done to your car by low fuel levels - your fuel tank can also be at risk. Many drivers arenít aware that rust and sediments like dust, dirt and even rocks can enter your fuel tank for a variety of reasons. So, when you allow your car fuel tank to run low, the sediment in your tank can get sucked into the system and clog the fuel filter, the fuel-pump or even the fuel injector. This negatively impacts your car's mileage and fuel economy, depreciating the condition of your car.

Just because you can, doesnít mean you should

While many vehicles can travel a far distance despite being on low fuel, this shouldnít be a reason to not fill up your car. When it comes to fuel, ensuring that your carís fuel tank is kept topped up will help you avoid any premature repairs that can be caused by low fuel levels.

Itís recommended to keep your fuel tank at least ľ full and to fill up before heading out on a long trip, as this will greatly reduce the likelihood that your will dip into low fuel levels. After all, you never know when you might get stuck in traffic - and running out of fuel can add long delays to your journey!

Keeping your fuel system running smoothly with Kwik Fit

If youíre concerned about your fuel system and engine, or would just like a routine check-up, we can help! Here at Kwik Fit, as part of our car servicing we include fuel pipe and engine checks for routing, damage and corrosion.

We also offer engine and fuel system treatment products as add-ons alongside our MOT testing services, to improve fuel economy and performance, as well as preventing future engine issues. You can book online for a car service or an MOT, alternatively get in touch with your local Kwik Fit Centre.

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