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How far will your car go on empty?

It will keep going— for a little while.

By Rich_Maloof Feb 5, 2013 6:44PM

Sometimes the prospect of handing over another $50 at the gas station is enough to let the needle on the gas gauge fall a little closer to that big E for Empty. Once the warning light starts glowing, though, driving turns into a white-knuckled affair.

Just how far can you go with the gas light on?

Photo: How far will your car go on empty / Tetra Images/Getty ImagesThe distance you can travel without the engine sputtering to a stop differs from car to car, and is based not only on the car’s gas mileage but on how the car maker has calibrated the gauge. In some vehicles, the warning light is triggered when the tank dips below two or three gallons — in others it may go on when there’s less than a gallon left to burn. Adding complexity to the calculations you may find yourself making along some lonesome stretch of highway, gas mileage varies depending on how fast you’re driving, tire pressure, how well tuned the engine is, and a host of other factors.

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So how do you know? Easy! You don’t.

However, you’re not the only one to wonder, and you can gain some insight into your car’s post-warning-light performance over at TankonEmpty.com. After a drive from Michigan to New York, founder Justin Davis launched the crowdsourcing site, where users contribute to a gas-light database for various makes of vehicles (by model name and make, though not by year). For every searchable vehicle, TankonEmpty offers minimum, maximum, and average distances.

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The most active car on the site this morning (with 332 people adding stats) is the Pontiac Aztek, which boasts an average distance of 62.26 miles on empty. Next most active is the Honda Accord, with an average 46.87 miles. The hybrid Toyota Prius currently logs in at a 54.89-mile average, according to data from 73 users to date, while a Chevy Van would be expected to konk out about 23 miles sooner.

Though the maximum distances can easily run around 99 miles, don’t be too light-hearted when the warning goes on — the minimum cited for many of the same cars is just one mile. As Davis warns, the info on his site is “just for entertainment” and shouldn’t be relied on for any trip planning. Even if you’re running out of fuel, don’t check it while you’re driving. Oh, and don’t pull over to check, either — starting and stopping uses up more gas.

The nation’s average price for regular gasoline reached $3.52 per gallon this week, the highest on record for early February. Do a quick calculation based on your monthly fuel usage and you may very well find that the total gasoline expense over the life of your car can exceed its original sticker price. We’re all too familiar with pain at the pump — but what about the pain of not filling up?

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Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images



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