What To Do If You Run Out of Gas

what to do if you run out of gas
Suvodeb Banerjee, Flickr
Stranded without gas on a desolate road, like this one in Iceland? Check out our advice on how to handle it.

Running out of gas in the middle of nowhere is among drivers’ biggest fears, and it’s also one of the easiest things to prevent.

If you have run out of gas,  these tips could mean the difference between having to cancel your plans and arriving safely to your destination – albeit a little late.

What To Do If You Run Out of Gas

Get Safe – Stay Safe

If you are reading this, chances are you are in your car with the hazard lights on, sitting by the side of the road. You are out of gas and wondering what to do next.

If you are one of those people, and there are a lot of us out there, who always seem to have something more pressing to do than take time to gas up when the needle gets close to E, we hope this guide on what to do when you run out of gas will be helpful and informative.

Hopefully, you had already engaged your emergency flashers and pulled off the road when you first noticed your engine was losing power. 

Typically, when you starve an engine of fuel, it will sputter or start jerking. Use these last seconds to try to get out of traffic. Getting off the road is easier said than done, particularly in heavy traffic. If you find yourself blocking traffic, don’t hesitate to call 911. Getting a flashing blue light behind your vehicle significantly reduces the chances of an accident.

If you seriously think you can push your ride to the side of the road yourself, remember you will have no power steering and no power brakes. You’ll have to muscle the wheel to steer it, and if you are pointed downhill, you’re going to have a devil of a time stopping. All in all, pushing the car/truck/SUV is not a particularly safe option.

If you have made it off the road, stay in the vehicle with your seat belt on, make sure the ignition is in the off position, take a deep breath, and start reviewing your options:

· Know Where You Are. If you are going to ask for help, you need to know where you are. If you’re in a built-up area, that’s pretty simple. Street signs and street numbers on buildings or homes give you a pretty precise location. Of course, if you have a navigation app, you won’t have to worry about knowing mile markers on freeways or cross street locations. 

· Roadside Assistance. If you are a member of AAA or other subscription roadside assistance company, you know who you’re going to call. If you don’t think you have that kind of service, you probably do. Roadside assistance is a common add on feature on auto insurance. Pull out your insurance card. There should be a 24/7 emergency number to call and get help.

· Friends and Family. If you don’t have a road assistance card, your next best bet is to get a ride from a friend or family member. Think about who lives closest to where you are and if they are available (not at work). From that list, check to see if any of them have a house with a lawn. If they have a lawn, they probably have a lawnmower, and if they have a mower, they have a gas can. 

· Lyft Your Way to a Full Tank. Use Google Maps or another app to locate gas stations in the area. When you find a couple near you, call them and see if they sell gas cans. The days of lending stranded motorists a gas can disappeared along with complimentary window washing and oil checking. When you know you can buy a can and get gas, pull up your ridesharing app and see if you can get a lift to and from the station.

· When All Else Fails. When you’re in the middle of nowhere, or when you can’t hustle up another way to get gas, call a towing company that’s associated with AAA. Calling a gas station might get you a recommendation for a towing service but gas stations make more money selling coffee, beer, hot dogs, and smokeless tobacco than they do on towing service and emergency gas refills.

How Far Can You Go on Empty?

When the low fuel warning light flickers on, drivers tend to fall into one of two camps. Some will stop at the first available gas station they run across. Others (they know who they are) will knowingly drive on fumes looking for a discount station so they can save 4 cents a gallon. Regardless of which camp you belong to, it would be nice to have a reasonable idea of how far you can go on empty.

If your ride tells you how many miles you have left, understand that’s just the computer’s best guess. This feature calculates your “average mpg” based on your driving over a period of time. It has a rough idea of how much gas should be left, so it does a simple calculation and displays the results.

If you usually spend 80% of your time at freeway speeds, your average mpg will be skewed towards the more efficient highway mpg. But if the light comes on and you are in gridlock with the air cranked up, your “actual mpg” at the moment will be significantly less.

So how much gas is actually left when the light comes on? As it turns out, most makes, except Ford, will have 2 gallons still sloshing around. That could be 30 to 60 miles worth of fuel, so unless you have just entered Death Valley, there’s probably going to be a station available. Now might be the perfect time to pull over, get out the app, and find the closest one.

If you drive a Ford, you have 1/16th of your tank’s capacity left. That means for a 36 gallon F-150, you have 2.2 gallons left, but only 0.75 of a gallon if you drive the 12-gallon Focus.

Of course, the best way to win this game is to keep the low fuel light from coming on. The wasted time, hassle, and expense that comes with running out of gas just isn’t worth it. Fill ‘er up!

If you’ve ever been stranded due to a broken-down car, you won’t want a repeat experience. Get an inspection to make sure your car doesn’t have any other potentially-stranding maintenance issues.

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