Running out of gas is not a fun situation. Having to walk far to a gas station and then back again with the fuel really puts a damper on the driving experience. To prevent this from happening, automakers have a low fuel level warning light on the dash. It may seem redundant when you have the fuel gauge right there already, but the light is an extra signal to remind you to fill your car’s tank as soon as possible.
What the low fuel warning light means
The light has one function: to warn drivers of the low fuel level. When the light comes on, there will still be some fuel in the tank, but not much. You should try to find a gas station as soon as possible if this light illuminates while you’re driving. The distance you can drive with low fuel will vary between different cars, but typically there will be one to two gallons left in the tank when this warning light comes on.
The low fuel warning light will always turn on when starting up the engine to check the bulb, but should go out once the engine has turned over. If the light doesn’t come on when starting up, you may need to have the bulb replaced. A flashing light usually indicates a problem with the fuel gauge where repairs are likely necessary.
Is it safe to drive with the low fuel level warning light on?
While your car’s drivability shouldn’t be affected, it is not good to drive with the light on for extended periods of time. The fuel lubricates and cools the fuel pump and without enough of it, the lack of lubrication will shorten the pump’s lifespan. It is recommended that you always keep the tank at least a quarter full so that the pump will still be mostly submerged even if the liquid gets sloshed around while making a turn.
Replacing the fuel pump can be expensive, so always keep the tank a quarter full and your pump will remain efficient. If your fuel warning light is flashing even when the tank is full, our certified technicians would be able to assist you in diagnosing the problem.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What Does the Low Fuel Level Warning Light Mean? and was authored by Spencer Cates.