Personal Finance 

Four Reasons Running Out of Gas Hurts

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GasolineEvery time that a gallon of gasoline starts to approach or break the $4 a gallon mark, you see a deluge of news stories about people running out of gas. They’re stories about people trying to “stretch their dollar” at the gas pump by fueling up less frequently, which is an absurd idea in the first place (running closer to empty doesn’t stretch anything except the time between fuel ups). I can understand why people do it, they don’t like paying the bill when they fuel up, but the reality is that running out of gas hurts more than paying at the pump.

You’re Going To Be Late

This one is the most obvious reason why running out of gas will hurt you. At best, you call a friend to bring you a tank of gas or you are within walking distance of a gas station. At worst, you call AAA or the police, which will take at least an hour. Either way, it’s going to cost you valuable time and be a very embarrassing situation. Worst of all, if you are simply unlucky and hit a patch of traffic you didn’t expect, you increase the likelihood you will run out of gas.

It’s Dangerous

When you run out of gas, your engine stops. There isn’t any fuel to move the pistons to move the cylinder(s), so your engine just quits. If you have power steering, you’ll lose that. Your brakes will feel heavier too, which increases braking distances. The only things you’ll likely have are those powered entirely on electrical power like your radio and lights, which will be of little consolation if you’re going 60+ MPH on the highway. That’s flat out dangerous – more dangerous than paying for gas.

It’s Bad For Your Engine

Over the years, your gas tank has accumulate a lot of crap at the bottom. When you run out of gas, you basically take all that crap and push it into your engine in an attempt to fire the pistons. It’s not good to let that sediment into the chamber and you may do your engine harm. Do this too often and you reduce the efficiency of your engine, which will cost you more than a fuel up.

You May Get Fined

You can get fined for running out of gas on a major road. Some municipalities have laws to prevent drivers from trying to get every last mile out of a tank of gas and will fine you if you run out of gas on a major road. This is to prevent the dangerous situations that inevitably develop when a driver discovers his car no longer drives. The fines aren’t as high as speeding tickets typically are but even a $50 fine is too much. Wouldn’t you rather put $50 into a tank of gas, rather than $50 into the coffers of your municipality’s Treasury?

I can understand wanting to get more miles but running your car on fumes isn’t the way to do it. Here are some more sensible gas saving tips.

(Photo: mbphotography)

{ 30 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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30 Responses to “Four Reasons Running Out of Gas Hurts”

  1. A more logical approach would be to drive less, not go longer between fill ups 🙂 I know that I’ve geared up my bike (and walking shoes) for doing the local, in the village type running around I have to do. Unfortunately I live 30 min from “town” where the major grocery stores etc are, so I do have to head in with the car about 1X a week, sometimes more.

    And I learned something new from you today-I had no idea that you could get fined for running out of gas in some places.

  2. Glenn Lasher says:

    It’s probably worth noting, also, that this doesn’t save you any money at all. The only reason I can think of for doing this is if you got caught short, in which case you might consider adjusting your habits to budget more for fuel or use less fuel. For some, the former might not be an option, but using less fuel usually is.

    Now, theoretically, less fuel in the tank is less weight in the car, but the weight of the fuel is a minuscule fraction of the weight of the car, and, in fact, the weight of the passengers, so any savings that might be realized by having a lighter car from carrying less fuel are purely theoretical and not worth it.

    Holding back on how much fuel you put into the tank will also not help you in any way in the long run. All it does is waste more of your time at the pump.

    In summary: When it gets to ÂĽ or so, go fill it.

    • knotReally says:

      “theoretically, less fuel in the tank is less weight”… theoretically? WHAT?!?!
      when you add mass to your car you will add weight. there is no ‘theory’ to it (unless your are in a zero g enviroment, maybe you are and thats why this is a theory). however, as you pointed out, it will be trivial compared to the weight of the vehicle. (gallon of gas is roughly 6lbs so a 15 gal tank = 90lbs).

      i also a little hesitant about the sucking crap up from the bottom of the tank. the bottom of the tank is where the fuel pump is. In fact, most fuel pumps have a mesh screen (it looks like a tea bag) where it draws the fuel and that sometimes lays on the bottom of the tank. not only that but you have a fuel filter so the odds of getting actual sediment is very unlikely, although seeing some of the cars ive seen i would never rule it out. However, the longer you leave your tank more empty than full the better your odds are of getting condensation (obviously not an issue in drier climates)… which i would consider a bigger threat than sediment.

  3. Strebkr says:

    I have never heard of getting a ticket for running out of gas. Thats an interesting idea.

  4. Jin6655321 says:

    The last time gas hit $4 a gallon I recall reading stories of people running out of gas intentionally to get “free” gas from AAA, police, etc.

  5. Martha says:

    I’m always an advocate for gasbuddy (, my lovely husband even installed the app on my phone (Windows based) so that I can find the most reasonably priced gas for each time that I fill up. When I’m starting to get low I think of the best time to fill up during my 20mi commute and will plan for an additional 10 minutes before I run out of gas! Don’t forget, you can drive out of your way to buy cheaper gas but it will cost you money to drive there, so factor that into your cost analysis for the cheaper gas.

    For example a $0.01 difference = not worth it but $0.05 may worth it if filling up the tank. 🙂

    • Strebkr says:

      I’m willing to go out on a limb and say gasbuddy might save me $20-$40 a month just in being able to look up prices before I buy.

      I highly recommend it!

      • skylog says:

        that is the second time today i have heard someone rec gasbuddy. i still have trouble seeing how this is so effective, but i am certainly going to take a look.

        thanks Strebkr!

        • Strebkr says:

          @Skylog – I had to dig up this comment from another article.

          As an example, I use GasBuddy on my phone. If I need gas, I will check to see where it is cheap. Do I get gas around my home, or do I get it near my work? Neither is out of my way because I am already driving that way. I could also take a few different routes to get there. Nothing really out of my way because if there was traffic I might go a different route. All in, I have probably 50 – 60 gas stations that are “not out of my way” And between those stations there is always a big price difference. Right now lowest is 3.82 and the highest is 4.16. Thats more then enough to make me drive to get gas.

          Check out GasBuddy on your phone.

          • Brock Lesnar says:

            Yes you are so smart. Looking up gas prices on your phone app. While you pay $150 or more a month for your smart phone bill as I have my flip phone I pay $30 a month for. Talk about stepping over dollars to pick up dimes! GEEEEZ

  6. leslie says:

    I’ve never had to wait an hour for any AAA service.

  7. mannymacho says:

    And also, by getting stranded in a major traffic zone, you make it that much worse for everyone else, and increase their chances of running out of gas…

    • Martha says:

      Good point! You can easily get stuck in traffic and run out of gas… making it even worse for everyone else in the traffic jam 🙂

  8. Ice says:

    Do you know whether the first half tank or last half tank of gas get you more mileage?

    I had a bet with my friend…and basically every time that i fill up my tank entirely i would reset the mileage meter. I would refill my gas when the meter shows it’s half tank. This way the number of gallon of gas i fill in gives me the number of mileage on the meter. I think it’s more accurate that way than just reading your gas meter. (just like how the odometer never gives u the accurate speed that you’re going) Then i also try using almost the entire tank of gas before my next refill. it turns out that when i fill my gas tank when it’s only half tank gives me more MPG on average than when i refill the tank when its almost empty.

    But my friend thinks that constantly having full tank of gas gives your car more weight..thus uses more gas.

    Anyways..I stopped doing it after a while because i thought all this time and brain used to test how often to fill up my gas tank so that i can save a dollar is not worth it.

    I love this website though. 🙂

  9. MD says:

    “Bad for your engine”

    I was never sure if this was true or an old wive’s tale.

    A little googling provided an obvious answer. Gas is always “sucked” from the bottom of the tank, whether full or empty. If a fuel line only sucked from the top, you’d run out of gas as soon as the gas level was below the fuel line. Sort of like drinking a soda with the straw half way in.

  10. NoNonsenseNick says:

    People running out of gas due to high prices doesn’t even merit discussion.

    Jim is this is not a knock on your article, just how stupid some people can be.

    This website is one of my favorites!

  11. Erik says:

    While some may argue that it’s not bad for your engine to let you tank run dry it is for sure bad for your fuel pump (which uses the gas as a way to cool itself) as once it starts sucking air it can overheat and promptly die.

    I haven’t run out of gas before but I used to run the tank low often in my 1986 vw cabriolet before and lost both the in tank and main fuel pump for a total of $300 in parts (I can’t imagine how much that would have cost at a shop).

    Now I fill at half a tank – the price is lower too cause you’re adding less gas at a time.

    • Shirley says:

      According to my auto mechanic son, you would have paid a minimum of twice that amount at a shop.

      His warning is to keep your tires at proper inflation and never let the gas fall below 1/4 tank.

  12. poscogrubb says:

    Running out of gas (or even just running low) might cause you to buy gas at a higher price because you’re desperate.

    Driving with little gas in the tank is also bad for emergency planning. Remember all the people trying to flee Houston because of Katrina?

  13. Strebkr says:

    I think everyone should let their car run out of gas once because once you have experienced it, you will NEVER let it happen again. In the summer I’ll drive down until the light gets on, but in the winter I fill up when I get to half tank.

  14. skylog says:

    an ex-girlfriend of mine had this happen to her several times. i could never understand it then….and i still do not understand it now.

  15. sensible says:

    If your gas tank draws from the bottom, as they all do, then how can “a lot of crap” settle there and only get “pushed through” to your engine when you run out of gas? That makes no sense whatsoever!!!

    • Erroneous says:

      Of course it makes sense! Don’t just echo other’s comments – Think for yourself!

      Let’s set up a scientific experiment to illustrate the concept. Fill a 2 gallon fish tank with water. This will represent our fuel. Now place some contaminate like sediment, dirt, grass. To simulate the driving experience, swish the water front to back and side to side. LOOK! The sediment is mixing into the water! AMAZING! Notice when in motion particles have 2 gallons worth of “gas” in which to float and settle. Now do the same experiment but with only 1 oz of water. Now all the sediment can ONLY collect at the bottom of the tank. JUST LIKE A CAR’S GAS TANK! If contaminants in the tank float (I’m sure some do) they will never reach the fuel pump until you run it empty.

      See with a little brain power and the aid of science, we can solve simple thought processes!

  16. ailetha says:

    This just makes me roll my eyes. There is just NO excuse for it under the sun, no reasonable purpose whatsoever. Plus, you are wasting every taxpayer’s money by having to call the police to come get you because you couldn’t be bothered to stop at the probably million gas stations you passed by before you ran out of gas, like we REALLY need to waste tax money *right now*. The police shouldn’t have to waste their time because you’re too lazy to go to the gas station. It’s scary to think that people who can’t even put gas in their car on a regular basis are allowed to drive such heavy, dangerous machinery, really. If you are that irresponsible to mishandle something that minor, you probably shouldn’t be driving, even.

  17. Russell Wydra says:

    Hi, I see that it was mentioned but I think you should add to the article that most fuel pumps are in the tank and when someone runs their gas below 1/4 tank the pump becomes exposed. The fuel in the tank not only keeps the pump cool (as mentioned) but it also lubricates it (yes gas has lubricating petroleum…made from oil right?) As the pump runs out of fuel it starts to overheat and then the friction causes it to seize. My motto is: If you’re gonna be dumb (running out of gas is dumb) you gotta be tough or rich. Tough because you never run out of gas near a gas station, so you’ll have to walk at least 10 miles…or rich because changing a fuel pump runs minimum $350 up to $1200.

    So the mechanics would say: “Go ahead and run it as low as you can, I need a car for my wife.”

  18. Mike says:

    “When you run out of gas, you basically take all that crap and push it into your engine in an attempt to fire the pistons.”

    The writer clearly hasn’t heard of fuel filters, which makes him unqualified to write about this topic in the first place and disqualifies the rest of what he has written.

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