My fuel light came on – how many miles can I go?

My fuel light came on – how many miles can I go?
We’ve all been there - you’re on the motorway who-knows how many miles to the next services and the fuel light comes on.

None of us ever mean to run out of fuel but it does happen.

So what does the warning light really mean, how many miles can you go once it comes on and what are your options when it appears?

My fuel light came on, what does it mean?

Your warning light illuminates when fuel levels are low in your tank.

This isn’t triggered by a standardised amount of remaining fuel, although most independant estimates suggest lights typically engage at 10% to 15% of a tank’s capacity.

My fuel light is flashing, what does it mean?

This really is your final warning from your car that it’s low on fuel. 

On most models, your fuel light will illuminate, then when even less fuel remains, it will begin flashing. 

Once it does, make plans to get to the nearest garage, because according to the estimates mentioned above, you have less than 10% of a tank left and could well end up stranded.

When my fuel light comes on how much fuel is left?

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ answer to this question. It’s possible for two cars of the same model to cover different distances, using the same amount of fuel. 

Road conditions, gear choice and tyre pressure are just some of the variables that make a difference. 

Ongoing independent research gathered by UK drivers*, suggests the top-selling cars in the UK are able to travel these distances once their fuel light comes on:

CarMiles left
Ford Fiesta37 miles
Vauxhall Corsa36 miles
Ford Focus41 miles
Volkswagen Golf44 miles
Nissan Qashqai43 miles
Volkswagen Polo42 miles
Vauxhall Astra30 miles
Audi A343 miles
Mini Cooper44 miles
BMW 3 Series44 miles
* All fuel data is based on real-life information submitted by independent drivers on Figures correct as of 03/05/19

How far can you go on ‘0 miles to empty’?

Most newer cars do away with the traditional dial-shaped fuel gauge in favour of a digital readout. These are supposed to give drivers a more accurate representation of exactly how far they can go before running out by displaying the approximate number of miles you can travel until empty.

Anecdotally, you hear about people driving for over 10 miles to the nearest services after their gauge hits ‘0’. If this test by AutoVlog is anything to go by, you can even make it over 20 miles if you’re desperate!

All cars will be different though, and the above figures are independantly reported estimates, so the best advice is not to chance it. Make plans to get to the services as soon as you can.

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With our cover, the difference is in your pocket. 

*Max 40% applies to new Extra and Complete for 1 vehicle or 1 person. Ends 17/07/24, 7am. ^ £6.75 for Basic, not on sale. 

RAC Breakdown Cover Sale

I might not make it to the petrol station, what do I do?



If all signs suggest you’re about to completely run out of fuel, be sure to find a safe place to pull over and turn on your hazard lights. If you find yourself broken down on the motorway, remember to exit your car from the door furthest from traffic, walk away from the hard shoulder and out of the way of other vehicles. 

It’s not advisable to walk to a service or petrol station; attempt to ask a friend or family member if they could meet you with a jerry can of fuel instead. 

Don’t risk driving when your tank is set to run out completely: call for recovery.

If you need assistance you can call the RAC on 03301 598 751 whether you’re a member or not.

What happens when you run out of fuel?

Drivers often report feeling their car jerk or stutter as they try to accelerate with low or no fuel. 

You may also hear spluttering noises as your fuel pumps fail to feed the engine and your car starts picking up debris from the bottom of the tank. Eventually your car will struggle to accelerate and stop completely.

Will attempting to drive on an empty tank damage my engine?

The engine management system on diesel cars shuts down before completely running dry to minimise damage. A car powered by unleaded fuel, however, runs the risk of emptying completely.

When an engine draws in the gunk and debris sitting at the bottom of the tank you risk damage to your fuel tank, fuel pump and filter system. As unwanted materials travel through your pump, particles can get stuck and clog the system, eventually corroding it. Repeatedly running your tank dry could also cause your pump to overheat, wearing it out prematurely.

Where debris is drawn by a fuel pump, the filter system can fill with crust and sediment that may prevent fuel from reaching the tank – eventually preventing the car from starting.

Can I call for recovery if I run out of fuel?

If you run out fuel, the RAC can come to help. 

We also provide Mis-Fuel Rescue as an optional service on Breakdown Cover and European Breakdown Cover. If you put the wrong kind of fuel into your vehicle, we’ll help to drain and clean out the fuel system. We’ll also add a quantity of the right fuel to get you moving again, and safely dispose of the unwanted fuel.

Is it illegal to run out of fuel?



While running out of fuel isn’t illegal in itself, any careless or dangerous driving that results from it could see you punished by law. 

You could receive a penalty of £100 and three points on your licence if you are forced to stop in the road and cause an obstruction. In cases where your empty fuel tank leads to an accident, as well as putting yourself and other road users at extreme risk, you could be taken to court, or issued with 9 points and an unlimited fine.

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