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24 Million Americans Continue To Drive On Empty And Could End Up Stranded

empty fuel gauge

According to a recent AAA survey, 24 million (11 percent) of American drivers continue to drive after the low fuel warning light turns on. Drivers who attempt to stretch a tank of gas too far could end up stranded like 135,473 Automobile Club of Southern California members did last year.  AAA cautions drivers that allowing their cars to run out of fuel can not only put them in a potentially dangerous situation, but also could result in costly repairs.


“Some drivers are trying to be resourceful and delay fuel purchases by driving their car until the gas tank is nearly empty, but this can do more harm than good,” according to the Auto Club’s Approved Auto Repair Program Manager Dave Skaien. 


Potential Costly Repairs from Running on Empty


Most modern cars have their fuel pump mounted inside the fuel tank.  These pumps require a constant flow of fuel to lubricate and cool them during operation.  Running a vehicle extremely low on fuel may allow air to be drawn into the pump, which can cause overheating and increased wear that eventually leads to pump failure, according to Skaien. The cost to replace a fuel pump can be $500 or more in parts and labor.


Dangers of Running out of Gas


Running out of gas can put the personal safety of a driver and their passengers in jeopardy if the vehicle stops on the roadway.  Power steering and brakes can be lost if an engine dies, and drivers may end up stranded in the middle of a busy highway.  “Fortunately, most out-of-gas situations can be avoided just simply by keeping an eye on the fuel gauge,” said Skaien. “And newer vehicles have a fuel light that can come on and warn motorists that they need to stop for gasoline,” he added.  


Finding the Lowest Price Gas Before Hitting Empty


AAA recommends drivers always maintain at least a quarter-tank of fuel. For drivers looking to save money when they fill up, the Auto Club can help with several free tools.  Both the AAA TripTik Travel Planner and the free app allow drivers to plan efficient routes and locate the least expensive places to stop for gas near their location. 


Safe, Smart Ways to Save on Gas


The Auto Club encourages drivers to make a few simple changes in driving habits that can greatly improve their fuel economy.  Instead of making quick starts and sudden stops, go easy on the gas and brake pedals.  If there is a red light ahead, ease off the gas and coast up to it rather than waiting until the last second to brake.  Once the light turns green, accelerate gently rather than making a “jackrabbit” start. 


Speed is also a key factor in conserving fuel. The fuel efficiency of most vehicles decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 miles per hour (mph). “Take it easy on the road and you’ll see more miles per gallon which will result in significant savings at the pump,” Skaien said. 



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The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.