What to do if you run out of gas

8 minute read Published on Jun 23, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

Low Fuel gauge showing fuel dashboard.

Running out of gas, whether your car takes regular or premium gas, can be a huge inconvenience. In some situations, it can even be dangerous. If you’re worried about this worst-case scenario happening to you, continue reading to learn more about what happens to your car when it runs out of gas and what to do if you find yourself in this situation.

What does it feel like to a driver when the gas tank runs out?

In order to take action when your gas tank is empty, you need to be able to identify that an empty gas tank is, in fact, the problem. So, what does driving on no gas feel like?

It is a common misconception that the second your car runs out of gas, the engine switches off and comes to a stop. However, this usually isn’t the case. In reality, most modern vehicles show several signs of “fuel starvation” before they completely run out of gas.

Telltale signs of extremely low fuel include a sputtering engine, intermittent power surges, and possibly even a backfiring engine. If you notice that your car is losing power, you should make your way to the nearest gas station as soon as possible. At the very least, you should drive off to the right shoulder of the road.

It is also important to note that even after your engine dies because of a lack of gas, hydraulic power to the brakes and steering will also die. However, you will still be able to steer your car and bring it to a stop, it will just require more effort than usual.

Further, if you’re driving a reliable electric car or a hybrid car, running out of gas is generally less of an issue because the electric motor will kick in. Some electric cars even have a power steering assist feature that will allow you to keep driving for as long as there is power in your car’s battery. This is one of many advantages of electric and hybrid cars vs gas cars.

Is it bad to run out of gas regularly?

Running out of gas can cause and exacerbate a number of problems in your vehicle, which is why automotive experts recommend avoiding it at all costs.

One common issue that can occur when you run out of gas is that the fuel filter can become clogged. Fuel filters are designed to catch dirt and debris before the fuel enters the engine’s fuel injectors, but if there is no gas in the tank, then the fuel pump will fail and start shedding more debris. Not only can the fuel pump shed so much that it becomes damaged, but in turn, this debris will clog the filter. In an even worse scenario, the debris could make its way into the engine’s fuel injectors, clogging them as well. All of this will make it difficult to restart your car, even after adding more fuel to the gas tank.

The cost of fixing the damage to your car due to an empty fuel tank varies. If it’s just the fuel filter that needs to be replaced, this should be a relatively quick and cheap repair. However, if the fuel injectors were impacted, it could be much more expensive. In addition, depending on how far you are from the nearest gas station, you might have to call a tow, which can add up quickly. Plus, dealing with towing companies can be stressful, especially if your car insurance company doesn’t cover it.

A step-by-step guide on what to do if you run out of gas

If you start hearing your engine sputter and notice that your fuel gauge is at zero, be prepared to take the following steps:

1. Pull over as soon as possible

The first step is to pull over as quickly as possible. When it is safe to do so, pull onto the shoulder of the road or onto a small side street where you can safely come to a stop.

When is pulling over a smart idea? As soon as you notice signs of engine failure - most notably, a sputtering engine. Other signs include a lack of acceleration when you press on the gas pedal and your gas tank’s warning light is on.

2. Turn on your hazards

Step number two is to turn on your hazards. To ensure other drivers are aware of you, turn on your hazard lights.

3. Identify where you are

The next step is to identify where you are. This can be stressful, especially if you’re driving in an unfamiliar area. If your smartphone still has power, use your data or maps application to pinpoint your location. Knowing the intersection, highway mile marker or exit number that you are nearest is extremely important if you end up needing to call a tow truck or a friend to pick you up.

4. Find the nearest gas station

The fourth step is to locate the nearest gas station. Again, your smartphone will come in handy here. Use a map application, such as Google Maps, to search for gas stations in your area. If there is one nearby, consider driving your car there if it is safe to do so.

Alternatively, you might even be able to walk there. If the nearest gas station is nowhere close to you, then consider calling a friend or even a taxi or ride-sharing service to get a lift to the nearest gas station and back. Whatever you do, don’t take unnecessary risks, such as crossing a busy highway or walking in dark or unsafe neighbourhoods.

5. Call for help

If there is no gas station in sight and your car won’t start, the only option is to call for help. If you have a roadside assistance policy, whether through your car insurance plan or a third-party provider, you can call them to see if they will help you out. If you don’t have roadside assistance coverage, contact a towing service nearby that can give you a tow. Some towing services even offer fuel delivery, which could save you money. If this is available, consider asking for this type of service.

A tow truck driver will meet you at your location and supply your vehicle with just enough gas to get you to the nearest gas station. From there, you can fill up your car and drive home safely. If you go this route, just make sure that the towing company knows what type of gasoline your car takes - whether it’s regular gas, premium gas, or diesel. You can find out more about what diesel is used for here.

One last option is to call the police. If you are concerned about your own safety or the safety of your vehicle, don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1. Even if you are out of service, your 9-1-1 call will be forwarded to the nearest police station. Generally speaking, if you run out of gas and are forced to pull over in a remote area or one that you don’t feel safe in, the best course of action is to remain inside your car until help arrives. Stop somewhere safe, turn on your hazard lights, and leave your doors locked until emergency personnel arrive.

Take steps to avoid an empty fuel pump in the future

Since running out of gas is both inconvenient and potentially dangerous - not to mention expensive - drivers should do everything in their power to avoid this situation down the road. A few ways that you can avoid an empty fuel tank are as follows:

Keep a small can of gas in your trunk

Keeping a small can of gas in your trunk acts as a reserve in the event that you run out of fuel again down the line. Should this happen, you won’t have to call a friend or tow truck. Instead, you can simply fill up your fuel tank using the reserves you have on hand, which should be enough to get you to the nearest gas station. Just make sure that you know how to locate and fill up your fuel tank.

Know where the nearest gas stations are located along your route

If you frequently take road trips or drive in unfamiliar areas, do yourself a favour and research the nearest gas stations along your route before you leave home. This way, you will know exactly where you can stop to fill up your gas tank. In remote areas, this is especially important when there could be long stretches of road between gas stations.

Invest in a fuel-efficient car

If you find yourself at the gas station way too often, which is partly what deters you from filling up your gas tank in a timely manner, then consider investing in a fuel-efficient car.

There are tons of reliable car brands that now offer models with good fuel economy. Do some research to determine which ones might be a fit for your lifestyle and budget. You could also consider a hybrid or electric car, which means you may not have to deal with gas again!

Get into the habit of filling up your gas tank before it gets too low

Finally, we recommend getting into the habit of filling up your gas tank before it gets too low. Generally speaking, you should aim to refill your tank as soon as the gauge shows one-quarter full or just below. This will give you peace of mind as a driver and help you avoid the worst-case scenario of running out of gas while driving.

It is also worth noting that even if your car shows exactly how many kilometres you have left until empty, this number isn’t always the most accurate. Plus, variables like slopes, the weight of your car, weather conditions, and the speed you’re travelling at, can all affect this number. So again, filling up your tank before it gets close to empty is recommended.

Get in touch with BrokerLink to learn more about what to do if you run out of gas

If you want to learn more about what to do if you run out of gas, reach out to BrokerLink today. One of our brokers can give you an in-depth description of what to do if your gas tank is empty. They can also answer any questions you have about whether your car insurance policy will cover you for the cost of a tow if you run out of gas or the cost of repairs if an empty gas tank damages your car.

In addition, a BrokerLink insurance advisor can offer tips on how you can reduce your car emissions and get good gas mileage out of your vehicle. A key part of this is choosing a safe and reliable truck or car.

Contact BrokerLink today to speak with a licensed insurance broker and request a free auto insurance quote.

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