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Running a car

Why running out of fuel is a very, very bad idea

Trying to make a tank of petrol last until payday is a situation many of us face. You think of desperate, ridiculous ideas to spin it out - taking the car out of gear to go down hills, pouring olive oil in your fuel tank - but I'm afraid you just have to face facts.

Cars need fuel to run and they don't do well when the tank starts running dry.

Here's how it works

In most cars, you'll be told it's running low on fuel when the little float in your tank says the level has dropped enough to need topping up. Unfortunately, that float tells a different story depending on whether you're driving down a flat road or driving up and down hills. Eeek.

This float is a rudimentary device, making it pretty hard to calculate exactly how far you can get before your car conks out. "I can drive for another 30 miles once the light comes on" may not be true the next time you try it.

What happens to your car if you run out of fuel

If you run it down to nothing, you engine will start drawing air. A build-up of air can prevent the car from starting even when you've filled it up again, so carrying on because you've got some petrol in the boot isn't a good idea.

If you drive a diesel, you're risking serious damage to your engine. Drawing air can damage the seals, injectors and loads of other stuff I don't understand - but know this: you don't want it because it can cost you thousands to put right.

Even letting your car get to the very end of a tank isn't very good for it. The stuff left right at the bottom is full of sediment, which can clog up your engine like nobody's business. Yuck.

We're all at it

More than 70,000 drivers a month in the UK are breaking down due to running out of fuel. Of those unfortunate and silly souls, 6 out of 10 are men and it's under-35s who are most likely to be left standing despairingly by the roadside.

Updated: 03/09/2019