How Far Can a Car Go on Empty? Let’s Find Out

Published on March 30, 2017

Have you ever wondered how far can a car go on empty, but don’t quite have the Kramer-ness to find out? Well, we didn’t want to try either – that’s why we got our top tech geniuses on the case to find out (without driving hundreds of miles into the desert).

How far can a car go on empty – the scientific perspective

Answering the question of how far can a car go on empty is actually deceptively difficult because of the nasty problem that car manufacturers don’t generally tell you at what point your fuel light will go on. Because if you knew THAT, then you could simply do some basic arithmetic looking at your owner’s manual and calculate how much fuel you have in the tank when the light goes on.

Now obviously, your fuel efficiency, affected by things like how much weight is in the car, what sort of driving you’re doing (city vs freeway), and how old your car it (Model T Ford’s were not exactly aerodynamic) and what sort of tires you have.

But those factors aside, if you knew roughly how much gas was in the tank and if you knew roughly your fuel efficiency for that SPECIFIC trip, you could multiply out how far can a car go on empty.

But most manual’s don’t include that information.

Fortunately, as with all things automotive, Car Talk might be able to help.

They reported that if you run your car until the fuel light comes on, then fill up and subtract what you filled up from stated total capacity on your owner’s manual, you’ll get a good idea of how much gas is left in the tank when the empty light is on.

If you can guesstimate your miles per gallon, you’ll get a rough idea of how far a car can go on empty.

How far can a car go on empty – the popular route

Of course, this sort of scientific analysis isn’t for everyone. For those of you who are perhaps more Cosmo Kramer than Albert Einstien, you might be interested in the popular route.

Brought to us by the website, this is basically a website where people submit their car make and model and then record how far they got on the empty light. The laws of averages meant this approach should (in theory) actually yield pretty good results. For example, the Honda Civic has 300 data points (and an average distance of 43.36 miles).

But if you’re using this to know if you should fill up before you hit the open road, tread carefully. This data is questionable at best. That same Honda Civic data has a standard deviation of 23 miles, meaning that there are about 23 miles of leeway on either side of that average.

Basically, your car might go up to 66 miles before stopping, or it could only make it 20 miles. So while it’s great there’s a website dedicated to the spirit of exploration in finding out how far you go, it’s not really something you can take to the bank.

All in all, there’s no real way to know how far you’ll get when that little red E light pops on. To REALLY know, you’re going to have to Kramer it.

Good luck, and God speed.

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