How far can you drive with your fuel light on?

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How low can you go?

Why are we running out of fuel more?

The consequences of running out of fuel


Originally published September 3rd 2015

According to insurer LV=, 827,000 motorists had to be rescued after running out of fuel last year. That’s up from 777,000 in 2013. The insurer says the number of drivers breaking down with empty tanks has risen year-on-year since 2011.

How low can you go?

Once your fuel light comes on, you may only be able to squeeze another 26 miles from your tank before running out of juice.

That’s certainly the case if you own a Vauxhall Astra. If you drive a Vauxhall Corsa, meanwhile, you have just 29 miles of grace, compared to 37 miles with a Ford Fiesta and 39 miles with a Volkswagen Polo.

However, many motorists overestimate how much fuel they have left in their tank: one in four think they can drive for more than 40 miles after the light is shown.

Even those who drive cars with bigger reserve tanks – such as Audi A3s and Volkswagen Golfs that run out of fuel 42 miles after the light comes on – are therefore likely to end up pushing their luck.

That’s especially the case if you’re not sure where the next petrol station is located, or if you’re between stops on the motorway.

Hint: Check your car’s manual or manufacturer’s website to see if there’s any advice on how many miles you’ve got in the tank once the warning light comes on. Remember it will vary according to the roads you’re driving on, as consumption is higher around town and at higher speeds.

Why are we running out of fuel more?

As well as overestimating the distance we can drive on an almost-empty tank, many of us either ignore the fuel light or simply fail to notice when it comes on. LV= says almost a million motorists admit to doing this.

Perhaps the most common reason for fuel-related breakdowns, however, is the high cost of fuel.

More than half of motorists admit to having purposefully driven past a petrol station when they needed to top up their tank in the hope of finding cheaper fuel elsewhere.

And one in three drivers sometimes spend as little as £5 to get them by until they get to a cheaper garage.

More than two million motorists also admit that their warning lights are almost always on.

John O’Roarke, managing director of LV= Road Rescue, said: “Roadside assistance is there to help should a motorist find themselves in a sticky situation – but being diligent with topping up soon after the light comes on will help to avoid the headache that a breakdown can bring.”

Hint: You can use our clever widget to work out whether it’s worth driving that bit further to pay a bit less at the pump.

The consequences of running out of fuel

Breaking down for any reason is never good. At the very least it is inconvenient, which is why breakdown cover is essential.

Depending on where it happens, it can also be dangerous for you and other road users – not to mention your car.

Running out of fuel can damage your engine, while driving with very low fuel reserves can lead to problems such as blocked filters.

O’Roarke said: “Having to buy expensive motorway fuel can be frustrating, but if it saves you the stress of running out of petrol and potentially causing damage to your engine, then it’s worth the cost.” Breaking down due to lack of fuel has yet another downside, though.

If the incident is judged foreseeable – and running out of petrol or oil could certainly be interpreted that way – you could be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN). And that could mean a fine of £100.


UK Top 10 most common cars* and how much fuel they have left in the tank after the warning light comes on**

Ranking, in terms of popularity Car model  Number of miles left in the tank after the petrol light comes on 
1 Ford Fiesta 37 miles
2 Vauxhall Corsa 29 miles
3 Ford Focus 40 miles
4 Volkswagen Golf 42 miles
5 Nissan Qashqai N/A
6 Vauxhall Astra 26 miles
7 Volkswagen Polo 39 miles
8 Audi A3 42 miles
9 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 46 miles
10 MINI Cooper 45 miles

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