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 to Safety

Not everyone has the presence of mind to pull off the road when their car begins to sputter and die from a lethal lack of go-juice. If your car has run out of gas in the middle of the road, immediately turn your hazard lights on. This is especially important after dark, but doing so in the light of day will also alert other drivers to the fact that you’re immobilized.
Put your car in neutral and, once you ensure it’s safe to exit your vehicle, step out, alongside the driver’s seat and push your car to the side of the road. Be sure to keep the steering wheel in your grip as you do, to guide the direction of your car. Once you’re safely out of harm’s way, set your emergency brake and leave your hazard lights on; that’s what they’re there for!

Conserve Your Phone’s Battery

It’s surprising how many internet searches and phone calls you’ll need to make after you run out of gas. You may need to use maps to search for gas stations nearby. You might call multiple stations to inquire about sending help. There’s the possibility of a call to a tow truck if you’re in a remote location, then receive calls to confirm your location… the list is endless.
If you’re stranded and waiting for help, don’t kill time by surfing the internet or watching videos on your phone. You’d be foolish to let a few cat videos or battery-draining apps (like Facebook or Skype) get in the way of your rescue. You may wind up with a dead car and a useless phone. Also, be sure your alerts are set to ringer, rather than vibrate, to reduce battery use.

Determine Your Whereabouts

If you’re in the middle of nowhere and aren’t sure exactly how far you are from the nearest gas station, you’re going to have to determine where you are. Look immediately for road signs or, if it’s dark out, for nearby lights that could indicate an off-ramp leading to a nearby gas station. If you’re in the middle of the city, it should be easy enough to ask someone for directions to the closest station.

Call for Help

Here’s an out-of-gas phone list:

  • Call friends or family who might be available to deliver you a gallon or two
  • Call your insurance company’s roadside assistance. Check your insurance card, which should contain a 24/7 800-number for emergency assistance.
  • Operator / 411 should be able to advise you of nearby gas stations. You’ll have to pay out of pocket, but that’s far more preferable to staying stranded.
  • 911 – call the cops as a last resort in case your phone doesn’t have other service. Thanks to FCC rules, even a phone with no signal can reach 911.

Get Going

If you’re unable to get a friendly lift to a nearby gas station, your next option may be to walk. Before you do, be sure your shoes are comfortable and have a rough idea of where you are so you don’t head off in the wrong direction.
If the weather is particularly wicked, consider staying in your car, with hazard lights on, until the beating rain passes. Walking to a nearby gas station might otherwise put you in more dangerous than waiting it out.
As a last option, consider enlisting the help of a Good Samaritan.  Look for someone to bring you back a can of gas or give you a lift to the nearest gas station. As always, exercise extreme caution if taking a ride from a stranger. Go with your gut; if someone looks remotely unstable, explain that help is already on its way.

Prevent It Next Time

A Gallon of Prevention

Everyone knows the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In this case, it’s a gallon of prevention. Taking long road trips puts you at risk of running out of gas.  Don’t wait too long between tank fill-ups. If you’re driving through an area with few fueling stations, consider bringing along a container of gas just in case.

Put Your Tank to the Test

Ever wonder how empty is “empty”? ABC’s John Stossel put that question to the test at a time when drivers were increasingly running out of fuel. He packed a spare can of gas and set off to determine how far beyond the “E” his car would go. The results were interesting, leading to the conclusion that many cars can go quite a long way on “E” before actually breaking down. To find out how far your car can go after the gas light comes on, check out this handy-dandy website that provides some good information.

Don’t Trust Your Range

If you’re cutting it close, don’t trust your fuel gauge.  Even if it indicates your tank has 20-30 miles left to go, those numbers don’t always drop sequentially.  Hilly terrain, running the A/C, and stop-and-go traffic may all affect your range. This is not the time to comparison shop for fuel. Stop at the nearest gas station and fill ‘er up. The money you spend to keep your tank full might take a bite out of your wallet, but that’s far preferable to getting stranded.

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.