How far can I drive with my car’s fuel light on? Get the fuel facts here

Drivers running out of fuel are behind thousands of breakdown callouts every year. Are you playing fuel-gauge lottery that could end with you being the big loser?

So what happens when your fuel light comes on? Do you dive into the nearest forecourt or simply keep on driving?

Are you a forecourt dodger? How far can your car go with your fuel warning light on

Are you a forecourt dodger? How far can your car go with your fuel warning light on

It seems that more than 50,000 members of the AA and RAC fit into the latter category – suggesting that, as a whole, hundreds of thousands of Brits risk a spluttering halt to their trip as the go-juice dries up.

In fact, research from insurer LV= found around 1million of us admitted turning a blind eye to the fuel warning light.

Most of us think we have an idea of how far we can travel with the fuel light illuminated, but the reality can vary drastically depending on how the car is driven and prevailing traffic conditions.

So, before you consider dodging the forecourt, here’s all you need to know about running on empty….

How many miles might your car travel?

See if your car is listed here. Remember, these figures will not apply at all times. Prevailing driving conditions and style will impact on fuel consumption.

Ranking Make and model  Miles left when fuel light comes on 
1 Ford Fiesta 37 miles
2 Vauxhall Corsa 29 miles
3 Ford Focus 40 miles
4 Volkswagen Golf 42 miles
5 Nissan Qashqai 43 miles
6 Vauxhall Astra 26 miles
7 Volkswagen Polo 39 miles
8 Audi A3 42 miles
9 Mercedes-Benz C-Class 46 miles
10 MINI Cooper 45 miles

All cars go 40-50 miles once the light comes on, right?

Sorry – there really isn’t one single figure that cars must be able to travel before the tank runs dry. Many people overestimate the mileage and it’s far more likely to be in the range of 25-30 miles.

Will my car’s manual give me the figure of how far I can travel on ‘empty’?

That would be great, but sadly it’s just not the case. When it comes to driving with the fuel light on, there are just too many variables that’ll impact the ultimate mileage. Traffic and type of road are all factors that could cut or extend your range.

It’s okay – my car has a readout telling me the exact mileage left!

You might feel safe in the knowledge that your car’s onboard computer knows how many miles you have left to travel, but the reality is… it’s probably just taking a guess.

The vehicle’s brain will more than likely work out the ‘remaining’ mileage based on an average of the previous miles driven. This will be good if you’re motoring on cruise control down the clear, sweeping motorways of France, but not so useful if driving a section of the motorway then heading across town. Attempt this and watch the comp get extremely flustered.

How far the UK's top-selling cars are said to travel on 'reserve'

How far the UK’s top-selling cars are said to travel on ‘reserve’

How can I work out how far I can run on ‘empty’ then?

There’s no totally foolproof method – due to driving conditions etc – but most tanks will apportion 10–15 per cent of total capacity for ‘reserve’ fuel. Finding your tank capacity (check the manual) and then the average mpg will let you work out, in theory, how far that 15 per cent will take you. We wouldn’t recommend this method, though.

How can I cut fuel consumption as I look for a garage?

Follow these tips to help increase the amount of miles you can squeeze from the remaining juice in your tank.

  • Shut windows to reduce wind resistance.
  • Drive at around 40mph – this is the most fuel-efficient speed. Just make sure it’s within the legal speed limit.
  • Avoid heavy acceleration or braking.
  • Drive at a steady speed.
  • Turn off all electric ancillaries that aren’t required – such as air-con and radios – and unplug any smartphone chargers
  • Check tyre pressure – under-inflated tyres increase fuel consumption.

What are the dangers of running out of fuel?

By far the biggest danger is where you’ll end up stopping. Pulling out at a junction, on a blind bend – or in the outside lane of a packed motorway? Don’t put yourself or other road users at risk – emergency services will not be sympathetic.

Is it illegal?

You could certainly get a fixed penalty notice for causing an obstruction, or a ticket if you stop and leave the car in a restricted area. Don’t think that a note in the window saying ‘run out of petrol’ will deter enforcement officers coming across your car on a double yellow.

Will it damage my engine?

There are lots of myths about how sludge can be sucked up from the bottom of your tank and how it’ll destroy your engine. This particular scare story is untrue, because all cars will have filters to ensure the rubbish doesn’t make its way into the engine. However, this isn’t to say the gunge won’t block these filters and require a trip to the garage.

What about running out of fuel in a diesel car?

Some diesel engines won’t start after running out of fuel, so will need to be ‘bled’ to remove air from the system. In most cases, you’ll need to call someone out to do the work. Imagine how much easier it would have been to fill up instead.


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