It’s springtime! Time to start working on your project car, learn a new wrenching skill, discover what everything is under the hood (and how it works), or just spruce up your daily driver. All month, we’ll be looking back at our best informative, maintenance and DIY articles from Jalopnik’s near 20-year history to get your ride ready for the road.
There’s something strange I’ve noticed about human psychology when it comes to the “you’re almost out of gas” dashboard warning light. I have two vintage cars that don’t have the yellow low-fuel light, and two slightly newer ones that do. On the vintage cars, I’ll usually fill up when the gas gauge is roughly around empty. Sometimes I’ll push it until that needle’s really hugging E (or R, as the Germans like).
But I treat the l0w-fuel warning light on my modern cars completely differently. On those cars, I’ve been Pavlovian-trained to not even think about filling up until that light comes on. And then, perversely, I always try and see how much further I can go before I crack and fill up. Because I’m stupid.
But I don’t have to be ignorant and stupid, thanks to Tank On Empty. This website gives you a real-life number of miles you can drive when your low-fuel light comes on, for a whole variety of cars. The data is all crowdsourced from real-world drivers, so while I wouldn’t necessarily trust each estimate down to the tenth of a mile, it’s probably accurate enough to estimate how screwed you are (or aren’t) when you’re out on that desert highway and the next fuel stop is 4o miles away.
Plus, it’s interesting to compare the on-empty ranges of different cars. It allows for what may be the only time a Pontiac Aztek will beat a BMW 3-series: 61.98 miles to 43.46 miles!
We first wrote about this website in 2007, but it appears to have a larger database now.
One thing worth mentioning, though: lots of electric fuel pumps are very finicky about being run dry, and can burn out if you run out of gas too often. So while it’s okay to take some risks, it’s best not to drive around with your gas gauge on E all the time.