How is Running on Empty Bad for Your Car? What Students in Automotive Repair Training Should Know

become a mechanic

High gas prices can sometimes make it tempting for motorists to ignore their low fuel light and try to run on fumes for as long as possible. While it can delay the inevitable cost of filling up, though, driving with very little gas in the tank might actually be more expensive in the long run.

The risks of running on empty can sometimes be overlooked, because the problems caused are relatively uncommon and may only add up over time, but they’re still worth being aware of, particularly for students in automotive training, who might be relied on to offer advice to car owners about how to maintain their vehicles.

Drivers Should Refuel As Soon As Possible When the Low Gas Light Comes On

The most obvious risk when driving on an empty tank is that a driver could end up stranded when their car finally dies.

When the low fuel indicator illuminates on the dash, then depending on the make and model, it could mean that the car has anywhere between 7.5 to 15 litres of gas left in the tank. This might give the driver somewhere between 50 and 160 kilometres, but it’s generally impossible to know for sure exactly how long until the tank empties completely.

Students in auto service programs might have also seen newer cars that display an estimate of how many kilometres can be driven on the current tank without refueling. These are based on averages, however, so shouldn’t be relied on when it comes to a very low tank, as a given amount of gas might run for more or less kilometres depending on road and driving conditions.

Some newer vehicles display the kilometres left, but drivers should be cautious
Some newer vehicles display the kilometres left, but drivers should be cautious

What’s important is that even if a driver can just barely make it to their destination, driving on such an empty tank will do damage to their vehicle.

Students in Auto Service Programs Should Understand the Risks

Students completing their auto mechanic apprenticeship will know that the fuel pump is what delivers gasoline to the engine from the tank. When leaving the tank, the gasoline passes through a strainer, before moving to another pump, and then going into an electric pump motor. Here, the moving gas acts as a coolant, preventing the copper windings in the pump from overheating.

If a car runs out of gasoline, however, instead of gas, these windings will be cooled with air. Since the air isn’t as effective a coolant as gasoline, it could cause the fuel pump’s electric motor to overheat, melting the windings and damaging the fuel pump.

Debris from the Bottom of a Gas Tank Can Damage Your Car

The other way that running a car on empty can damage it is by dredging up debris. The bottom of a gas tank can be lined with tiny particles, including sediment from contaminated fuel and harmful deposits from deteriorating metal. If a driver runs their car on empty, the fuel pump will suck up that debris along with the last of the gas, and it can then get stuck in the pump or clog the fuel filter. If this happens, the car can become difficult to run, as not enough fuel can reach the engine.

Debris from the bottom of the gas tank can cause damage if the car drives on empty
Debris from the bottom of the gas tank can cause damage if the car drives on empty

While neither an overheating fuel pump or a clogged filter are likely to take a car off the road the first time it’s driven on an empty tank, doing it repeatedly is harmful for a car in the long run and will only hike up future maintenance costs, so should be avoided.

Are you interested in a career in the auto service industry?

Contact Automotive Training Centres for more information about how to become a mechanic.

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