We’ve all tempted fate, haven’t we? Our cars warn us when we’re running out of gas, either with the low fuel indicator in older cars or the more modern addition of also giving you a guesstimate of how many more miles you can travel on the fuel you have left.

I was just in this situation this weekend. I had an errand to run that was time sensitive so I decided I could wait and get fuel on the way back from it rather than on the way there.

This was the result:

Jeff Deminski photo
Jeff Deminski photo

As I pulled up to the pump I had an estimate of only one mile left of fuel.

Only, that’s rarely ever true. Usually there’s still a little more gasoline left in the tank even once you would hit zero miles. And therein lies an even deeper problem.

What we already are doing is tempting fate. Knowing you can hit zero and usually still have more to go leads us to double down on tempting fate.

I even did this once. I let my car get to zero miles left and kept going and didn’t find a gas station for about five more miles. Don’t ever do this. For one thing it’s bad for your car. I’m not even going to get into how much your fuel pump can resent you for doing this.

The biggest reason not to tempt fate is you’re playing into the no man’s land of guesswork. A vast gray area which can easily leave you stranded and cursing the world you felt so cocky about.

Windshield view of an angry driver man. Negative human emotions face expression

A few things. Even with older cars that give you only a low fuel indicator and not any mileage estimate, you still can’t know exactly what you can get away with. That’s because cars age, and people drive differently, and roads are not all the same.

Two cars of the same make and model and same year could have precisely half a gallon of fuel left in the small reserve bottom of their respective gas tanks. But one car may be in better overall condition, and its driver drives smoother and differently than the other, and is also navigating flatter land.

That unfortunate other car might be hitting hills and more stop and go traffic with a less smooth driver who’s hitting heavier rpms than necessary when lights turn green and might only get 10 miles left out of the same amount of fuel as the other guy has who’s getting 14.


Once they added the feature of also telling you how miles you could go on the fuel you have left, it got even trickier. Now drivers were handed the gift of a false sense of security. Because, again, not all cars are in the same condition (some are burning more fuel) and not all drivers drive the same way (some are doing harder stops and starts thus burning more gas).

Not to mention five miles of highway driving versus five miles of stop and go city traffic versus traffic jam on a highway are three very different scenarios with very different outcomes.

Car queue in the bad traffic road
Photo via chat9780

Charts have made the rounds that are supposed to let you know how much farther you really can go once your low fuel indicator warning comes on. It will tell you a Honda Accord will have 2.6 gallons good for 70 to 93 miles left once the indicator comes on. Whereas a Jeep Wrangler will still have 2.8 gallons left when its low fuel light comes on and will give you 47 to 58 more miles.

The point is, you’re trusting a guess and you’re putting faith in a range. Letting your car get to zero is bad for an engine’s health, bad for your work schedule when you call your boss from the side of 287, and bad for your shoes when you’re walking four miles to a gas station.

But, you say, there’s this…

Jeff Deminski photo
Jeff Deminski photo

To which I offer, do as I say, not as I do.

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Opinions expressed in the post above are those of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski only.

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