Driving on Empty: How far can you really drive with the fuel light on?
Whether we’re trying to beat the traffic, struggling to find a nearby petrol station, simply forgot, or want to save money on petrol, lots of us have driven with our fuel light on at one point or another. In fact, our recent research has shown that as many as 71% of drivers in the UK have previously driven with their fuel warning on before.
Our survey also revealed that on average, drivers believe they have only 15.5 miles left in the tank once the warning light shows, but how far can you actually go? We’ve delved a little deeper into how many miles on average you have left, and how much this varies depending on the make and model of your car. We’ve also taken a closer look at people’s refuelling habits, and the reasons why drivers might be running on empty.
Disclaimer: Never ignore your car’s fuel warning light. Driving your vehicle on an empty tank could also cause mechanical damage to your car, plus leave you stranded without fuel.
Which cars have the best reserve range?
On average, drivers have about 50 miles left in their tank once the fuel light comes on - around three times more than drivers believe to have. But, how much do reserve ranges differ depending on the make and model of your vehicle?
Our research has looked into some of the most popular car models, taking into account fuel tank capacity, mileage per gallon, and reserve capacity, to determine how far each vehicle can drive after their fuel light pops up.
With around 99 miles left in the tank after the fuel light comes on, the Toyota Prius has the best reserve range of all cars analysed. Given that Prius’ are a hybrid model, the combination of electric and fuel power means the engine uses less petrol than a traditional car. Prius’ also have the best mileage per gallon of all cars analysed, with an average of 65 miles. Prius drivers are in for a happy surprise too, as they tend to believe they can only drive for another 16 miles after the warning light appears.
In second place is the Mercedes Benz E-Class, which gives drivers around another 85 miles on the clock after the fuel light comes on. Mercedes drivers are a little more confident in their vehicles than those that drive a Prius, as they think they can go another 26 miles, on average.
With approx. 73 miles left in the tank once the petrol light comes on, Range Rovers also offer a great reserve range. Given that Range Rovers have the largest fuel tank capacity of all cars analysed (22.7 gallons), it’s not surprising it ranks so high on the list.
The Honda CR-V and Jaguar F-Pace come in fourth and fifth place with reserve ranges just under 70 miles on average after the petrol light comes on. Interestingly, drivers of both vehicles think they can only go a mere 6 miles once they see their fuel light, so they’ll be happy to find out they can actually go around ten times further.
In terms of which drivers need to be a little more cautious when it comes to their fuel gauge, the Suzuki Alto and the Kia Picanto both have just 31 miles left on average after the fuel warning light comes on, less than a third of the reserve range of a Toyota Prius. Picanto drivers tend to assume they have at least 26 miles left though, which, if tested, leaves them with approximately a 5 mile reserve before they completely run out of petrol.
How many drivers admit to running on empty?
Our research has also shown that drivers in the UK spend an average of 6 days per year driving with their fuel light on. However, over a quarter (27%) of people have admitted to travelling with their fuel light on once a week or more, which is slightly worrying given the risks involved.
Obviously one of the main consequences of driving with your fuel light on is completely running out of petrol altogether, which can be very dangerous if you’re not in a safe place to do so. Given that a quarter of people (23%) have admitted that they don’t refuel until their petrol light comes on, perhaps it’s no surprise that over a third (36%) of drivers have actually run out of gas when driving.
Don’t fuel bad habits
Driving with your fuel light on is dangerous for both your car and yourself. Running an engine with little to no petrol can cause severe mechanical damage to your car, and if you do completely run out of fuel, you could end up stranded on the roads.
Make sure you always keep an eye on your fuel levels, and when it does dip low, top up as soon as you can. If you’re going on a long road trip, ensure you have a full tank of petrol, and keep an eye out for petrol stations along your route.
Adopting efficient driving habits can help you conserve your fuel, so keep your driving smooth, stay at an appropriate speed, don’t idle your engine, and keep types pumped up to avoid using unnecessary energy.
If you do find yourself driving with your fuel light on, avoid driving at high speeds, turn electronics (such as your radio and air conditioning) off, and fill up as soon as you reach a fuel station. If there are no petrol stations nearby, pull over and call for help – the last thing you need is to be stranded with little signal, and no way to get home.
Sources and methodology
To determine the vehicles with the best reserve ranges, Compare the Market collated a list of the 25 most popular vehicle manufacturers based on the total number of inquiries per manufacturer on Compare the Market. The top three most popular models per manufacturer were then identified.
To calculate the miles remaining on empty per vehicle model, fuel tank capacity and miles per gallon data were sourced for each car, the data was then calculated using the following formula:
- Miles per gallon x (fuel tank capacity - 10% fuel capacity). To note: 10% capacity is, on average, the level at which the low fuel light shows on most modern cars, according to Popular Mechanics.
To determine the fueling habits of drivers in the UK, a survey of 2,000 UK motorists was also conducted in May 2023.
Julie Daniels - motor insurance comparison expert
Julie is passionate about delivering a great customer experience and rewarding people for saving on their insurance through our loyalty and rewards programme. She’s spoken to the media, including outlets like Sky News and Capital FM, about car and home insurance, as well as our rewards scheme.