How Far Can You Drive With The Fuel Light On?

Honda Reliability Guide | Germain Honda of Surprise

Nearly everyone with a driver’s license has at least once had the experience of seeing the low fuel light come on. We certainly all know that this means the fuel is low, but what does it mean in a more specific sense, just how low is low? Many people will panic and immediately pull into a gas station, and this is certainly the safest option, but there isn’t always a gas station in the immediate vicinity, and in order to know whether or not you’ll make it to the next one, you’ll need to know just how much more range you’ve got left. We’ve put together this guide to help out those who find themselves in this situation.

Honda Accord Dashboard

How Much Fuel Do You Have Left?

The first thing to know about your fuel light is that there is no universally accepted standard for when it comes on. Some manufacturers might consider low to be when you have 15 percent of your fuel left, while others might say 10 percent. And sometimes it changes from one model to another. To be safe, you should probably go with the assumption that it’s about 10 percent. You’ll have to check your owner’s manual to find out how big your tank is, but smaller cars tend to be around 12 gallons, while bigger SUVs will get up to around 20. But those are by no means anything other than very rough estimates, and the very popular midsize range can vary wildly.

Honda CR-V Hybrid

What Does This Mean For Range?

Now that you’ve found the size of your vehicle’s fuel tank, you’ll need to do some calculations. It’s easy to find out what ten percent is, you simply move the decimal over one to the left, so ten percent of a 20-gallon tank is 2 gallons, and 10 percent of a 15-gallon tank is 1.5 gallons. Next, you’ll need to know what that means in actual miles, and for that you’ll now have to look up your vehicle’s fuel economy rating. It might say in the manual, but you can always check with the EPA’s extensive online database. It’s also important to note that you can’t just use the combined rating for this. City and highway ratings can vary by a lot, and if you calculate how much range you have left using the highway or combined ratings while driving in the city, you might be off by dozens of miles. Hybrids will often have much more similar ratings, in addition to better fuel economy in general, so this will be a bit easier for hybrid owners.

So, let’s use a hypothetical car with a 15-gallon tank and a 30 mpg city rating as an example. When the fuel light comes on, it has 1.5 gallons left, at 30 mpg, this car can go 45 miles before completely running out of fuel. The EPA does also publish range figures for vehicles, and you can cut out a few steps by just taking ten percent of that, but again, this really only works if the city and highway numbers are basically the same.

All of this being said, we strongly recommend that you not let your fuel level get so that low that this is important to know. Things happen, but driving a vehicle that might just suddenly have the engine stop, maybe even at highway speeds, is incredibly dangerous for both you and everyone else on the road. On top of that, every time you run out of fuel, it shortens the life of your fuel pump, and even running it with a low enough fuel level that the light comes on is bad for it. And if you have a diesel engine, it’s even worse.