Every driver occasionally lets their gas tank get low enough to trigger the low fuel warning light. Even though we all know it's best to keep your gas tank ¼ full, we still let it run low from time to time. Knowing how far you can drive on an empty gas tank will help keep you from getting stuck on the side of the road.

Before letting your car run on empty again, it’s worth knowing just how many – or how few – miles you can actually drive after the light comes on. It’s also smart to know what else is at stake when you let your gas tank run to near depletion.

Part 1 of 3: Is it dangerous to drive with the low fuel warning light illuminated?

The primary concern when driving on empty is the possibility of running out of gas and getting stuck on the road, which is not only a hassle, but also a potentially dangerous situation. You may break down on the freeway, where the surrounding cars are traveling upwards of 70 MPH, or you may break down on a blind turn on the highway, where a vehicle could rear end you. Or you could run out of fuel in the middle of a desert, like what surrounds Tucson, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada, or on a frigid snowy road outside Chicago, Illinois, or Cleveland, Ohio.

That said, driving on empty can also do damage to your vehicle. If you do run out of gas, you can do damage to your catalytic converter, which may then need to be repaired or replaced as a result. Even the simple act of driving with a low amount of fuel in your tank can damage your fuel pump, as any debris or contamination in the gas (which naturally settles at the bottom of the tank), will be sent through your fuel pump when the tank is nearly empty. You’re not going to ruin your car the first time you drive it with the low fuel warning light on, but it’s a harmful practice to do regularly.

Part 2 of 3: How trustworthy is the distance to empty gauge?

Most modern vehicles have a distance to empty gauge on their instrument cluster, which provides an approximation of how many miles can be driven before the car runs out of gas. Many people prefer to use this feature in lieu of the low fuel warning light, figuring that if the gauge says there are 20 miles left, then they have 20 miles before they run out of gas.

However, this is a dangerous practice, as the distance to empty gauge only offers a rough approximation. This approximation is based on the average mileage that you have attained while driving your vehicle, which means that it may not be very accurate relative to your current driving conditions.

For instance, if most of your driving is done on the highway, then your distance to empty meter is probably not very accurate when you’re stuck in traffic. So while the gauge provides a fairly accurate approximation when your tank is relatively full, it shouldn’t be used to figure out your exact number of miles remaining in the tank when you’re running on empty.

Part 3 of 3: How far can you drive on empty?

Exactly how far you can drive on empty depends on your vehicle, your driving habits, and road conditions. However, you may be surprised to see how few miles you actually can drive once the low fuel warning light comes on.

Here is the range for how many miles you can drive – as well as the point at which the warning light illuminates – for the top 50 best-selling vehicles in the United States in 2015.

  • Note: For vehicles with “Not available” listed for the point at which the warning light comes on, the light is triggered based on the distance to empty calculator having the listed number of miles remaining.

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How Far Can You Drive Your Vehicle on Empty?


Make
Model
Fuel remaining when low fuel warning light is triggered
Miles remaining when low fuel warning light is illuminated


Ford
F-150
1/16th of a tank
35-80


Chevrolet
Silverado
Not available
25


Ram
1500
3 gallons
63-87


Toyota
Camry
2.6 gallons
65-91


Toyota
Corolla
2 gallons
60-84


Nissan
Altima
3 gallons
81-114


Honda
Accord
2.6 gallons
70-93


Honda
CR-V
2.3 gallons
62-78


Honda
Civic
1.9 gallons
59-80


Ford
Fusion
1/16th of a tank
35-80


Ford
Escape
1/16th of a tank
35-80


Toyota
RAV4
2.4 gallons
57-74


Chevrolet
Equinox
Not available
50


Nissan
Rogue
3 gallons
78-99


Hyundai
Elantra
Not available
30


Ford
Explorer
1/16th of a tank
35-80


Chevrolet
Cruze
2 gallons
56-84


Ford
Focus
1/16th of a tank
35-80


GMC
Sierra Denali
4 gallons
64-92


Hyundai
Sonata
Not available
40


Jeep
Cherokee
3 gallons
66-93


Nissan
Sentra
2 gallons
60-80


Jeep
Wrangler
2.8 gallons
47-58


Chrysler
200
3 gallons
69-108


Chevrolet
Malibu
2 gallons
50-72


Jeep
Grand Cherokee
3 gallons
66-90


Toyota
Tacoma
3 gallons
63-75


Subaru
Forester
2.6 gallons
62-83


Kia
Optima
Not available
30


Toyota
Highlander
2.9 gallons
58-72


Kia
Soul
Not available
30


Toyota
Sienna
3 gallons
54-75


Subaru
Outback
2.6 gallons
65-85


Nissan
Versa
2.6 gallons
65-85


Volkswagen
Jetta
1.85 gallons
57-85


Honda
Odyssey
3 gallons
57-84


Honda
Pilot
2.5 gallons
45-62


Ford
Mustang
1/16th of a tank
35-80


Ford
Edge
1/16th of a tank
35-80


Chevrolet
Traverse
2.5 gallons
42-60


Toyota
Tundra
4 gallons
60-72


Jeep
Patriot
2 gallons
46-60


Toyota
Prius
1.6 gallons
76-81


Hyundai
Santa Fe
Not available
40


Kia
Sorento
Not available
40


Chevrolet
Impala
2 gallons
44-62


Ford
Transit
1/16th of a tank
35-80


Mazda
3
2.3 gallons
69-94


Mazda
CX-5
2.6 gallons
67-91


GMC
Terrain
Not available
50

Driving on empty is sometimes a necessity, and when you find yourself in that situation, it is important for you to know exactly how many miles of range you have left. Figuring this out beforehand is a good way to be prepared when the tank gets really low, and to avoid a breakdown. If you notice that you are reaching empty unusually quickly or have leaking fuel, be sure to have an inspection performed as soon as possible.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How Far Can You Drive Your Vehicle on Empty? and was authored by Brady Klopfer.


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