How Low Should You Let Your Gas Tank Get?

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Are you feeling lucky? Whether you’re heading out for a quick trip to the store or you’re in the middle of an epic road trip, you’re going to find your gas gauge nearing that big E sooner or later.

However, can letting your gas tank get too low be bad for your vehicle? Today, we’ll look at how low you should let your gas tank get. Let’s get started!

How Empty Should You Allow Your Gas Tank to Become?

It’s a general rule of thumb, and experts agree that you shouldn’t let your tank get below a quarter tank. This ensures you don’t find yourself stranded on the side of the road.

However, you may not realize that some essential components in your vehicle require a constant fuel supply to run efficiently. Running your fuel tank low can also suck debris and other particles that settle in the bottom of your tank into your fuel system.

If you’re on a road trip, it’s best to start looking for a gas station once you hit half a tank. This way, you avoid falling below the quarter tank recommendation, and you won’t find yourself and your fellow passengers pushing your vehicle down on the side of the road.

What Happens When You Let Your Gas Tank Get Low?

Even though your gas tank is enclosed, debris can find its way inside. When it does, it settles at the bottom of your tank. When your tank is relatively full, it sits there and likely won’t cause any harm.

However, the lower you let your gas tank get, the more you increase the chances that these pieces of debris will get sucked into your fuel system and clog the fuel filter. When you clog your fuel filter, you restrict the flow of fuel to your vehicle’s engine. 

If worrying about particles and debris isn’t enough, you also risk damaging your fuel pump by running your gas tank too low. The fuel pump sits submerged in your gas tank and pumps fuel from the tank to the engine. The fuel surrounding it allows the pump to stay cool and lubricated. 

When you let your tank get too low, it restricts your fuel pump’s ability to properly cool and lubricate. By design, this pump can last for the life of your vehicle, but only when maintained properly. Running your fuel tank low will shorten its life and likely result in a hefty repair bill.

Are There Any Benefits to Driving on a Low Tank?

While driving on a low tank can be risky, there are a couple of benefits. First of all, your vehicle will be slightly lighter, which means you’ll use less fuel. Don’t get too excited because the fuel savings likely won’t be all that noticeable, but a lighter vehicle typically means your engine doesn’t have to work as hard and uses less fuel.

An additional benefit to driving on a low tank is that you’re limiting the time you spend at the pump. While filling up an empty fuel tank takes longer than topping off one, sometimes the most time-consuming part of filling up is the process of getting off the highway and into the gas station.

In addition, you may have to wait in line. By limiting the frequency of filling up, you’re saving time.

It’s important to note that neither of these benefits is really worth the risks of damaging your vehicle. Any time or fuel savings will quickly disappear to a repair bill or if you’re stranded on the side of the road. So play it safe and keep it above a quarter of a tank.

Can You Drive on Empty?

Vehicles have gas gauges that use intelligent systems to indicate how much fuel is in the tank. However, even the most intelligent electronic fuel systems aren’t necessarily as precise as you might think. Manufacturers often build a buffer into the system to help motivate you to find a gas station before damaging your vehicle. 

So while you may be driving around with little gas, it’s realistically not possible for your engine to continue to run without fuel. Once you use up all the fuel in your tank, you may sputter for a minute or two as your fuel system sucks up any last bits of fuel through the system, but you won’t get far.

Is Keeping Your Gas Tank Full Worth It?

We can’t recommend enough to keep your tank as full as possible at all times. Doing so limits the chances of running out of fuel and having to push your vehicle to the nearest station. You also don’t know when an emergency could occur. You don’t want to need to stop for fuel during an emergency.

Keeping your fuel tank full also helps avoid costly repair bills often associated with drivers driving with low fuel regularly. Even if you’re best friends with your mechanic, repair bills alone can make it worth keeping your gas tank full.

Traveler’s Tip: Fill up your tank at one of the 7 best road trip gas stations on your next road trip.

If you drive even somewhat regularly, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually find your vehicle running on E. Life gets in the way, and stopping for fuel can be inconvenient. However, by following the suggestion that you make a quarter tank your new empty, you’ll protect your vehicle for the long haul.

Have you ever run out of gas or had to repair your vehicle because you damaged your fuel system?

1 comment
  1. For people who drive a gas motorhome with a generator that shares the fuel tank, half is when you should find a gas station. For most, the generator will shut down at a quarter tank, so you need that extra cushion in case you get stranded and need the generator.

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