samotor Magazine

Is it bad to drive on empty?

Our motoring expert, Jason Leib, answers your questions about driving on a thirsty tank, and if you're doing any damage. 

Ask our Expert1

Q. Is it bad to drive if my tank's hardly got any fuel?

A: If your car has been well maintained, it’s unlikely driving low on fuel will cause any damage. You might, however, experience some problems if it’s an older car.

As the fuel gets low, debris starts to collect at the bottom of the tank. So, regularly driving with a tank that’s nearly empty could cause damage over time and make it harder to get rid of impurities in the fuel, which can then gradually make their way to the engine.

In most cases, driving around on a thirsty tank isn’t nearly as bad as you’d think. You’re simply likely to end up on the side of the road, wishing you’d filled up sooner.

Q. How long can I last on a tank that's nearly empty?

A: Each car’s different and, while it has a lot to do with the condition of the road and your driving habits, you can generally last about 20km to 60km before the engine shuts off.

The engine shutting off won’t actually damage a car that’s in good condition, but it will cause unnecessary hassle, so think of the low-fuel light as a ‘final warning’.

Q. What can I do to keep my tank healthy?

A: Try to stay on top of your car’s maintenance and check or replace fuel filters as per the manufacturer’s recommendations, to keep the fuel system in good shape – whether it’s old or new.

Q. How can RAA help?

A: If you do get stuck, our Road Service patrols can give you a top-up so you can reach a nearby petrol station. In fact, in the past year, we’ve helped more than 4000 drivers who’ve found themselves stranded on an empty tank. 

Get answers to more of your niggling car questions by emailing our motoring experts or calling 8202 4689.

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