You're driving along the road when all of a sudden your vehicle's low-fuel light blinks on.
That ominous-looking light elicits all sorts of reactions from motorists. Some make a beeline for the nearest gas station, thinking their car is on the verge of running out of gas. Others milk it and drive for tens of miles before finally filling up their tank. Then there are the few who take it too far and actually run out of gas.
According to Gary Bons, operations manager at club-owned auto repair centers for AAA Arizona, all cars have at least a gallon left in the tank when that light comes on. How many miles that can take you depends on the make and model of your car, and also your driving habits.
But the cost of running out of gas is a lot less than the cost of something else that can happen when motorists drive on fumes.
A fuel pump, which is essentially an electric motor, is found inside the tank of modern cars. The fuel in a tank keeps the pump cool. Because of that, Bons recommends that motorists keep gas tanks at least a quarter full at all times so the fuel pump remains submerged.
"The fuel pump can't dissipate the heat as well as it can when it's submerged," Bons said. "If you keep the fuel level low, it will shorten the life of your fuel pump. Since you have to buy gas anyway, don't let it go below a quarter-tank."
And at $400 to $800, replacing a fuel pump isn't cheap.
Plus, if motorists run the tank all the way down, then every time their car turns a corner, the fuel pump may start pulling in air with the fuel. That can cause cavitation, which means that tiny air bubbles mix with the fuel and may destroy the pump assembly.
It's even more important to take care of diesel engines, Bons said. Diesels have a couple of different fuel pumps, including a high-pressure pump on the engine. If that goes dry, the high-pressure pump will need the air purged.
"It's imperative that diesels do not run out of gas," Bons said. "Instead of running down to the gas station with a can, you'll be calling AAA for a tow."
Valerie Vinyard is a public affairs specialist for AAA Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 258-0518.