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Emergency Tips For When You’re Running On an Almost-Empty Tank

A part of being a responsible driver is prioritising the safety of yourself and others on the road. Running out of fuel while on the road or highway can create a potential traffic hazard. That’s why it’s good to always be aware of your fuel level before and during drives. If you know you’re about to embark on a long trip, fuel up beforehand if possible. While driving, also keep a close eye on the fuel gauge in case you need a top up.

That being said, while we can do these simple things to make sure we don’t run on empty, sometimes the universe deals us an unlucky hand. Unfortunate situations, such as extreme congestion, a lack of service stations, or a fuel outage can leave you without fuel with kilometres ahead of you. It’s a scary and unwanted situation for all – here’s how to get out of pushing your car to the next servo.

Why You Shouldn’t Drive Your Car On A Near Empty Tank

As Australians, dealing with the constant rise of petrol prices is tiring and sometimes prevents us from affording to fill up. We’ve all had moments where we’ve had to stretch out each drop of fuel as long (or as far) as possible, or where we’ve had to fill up embarrassingly small amounts at a time (five dollars, anyone?). Since the 80s, we’ve seen petrol prices steadily increase, and every few weeks, we see prices fluctuate enormously (at times, at a difference of 30c between the top and bottom of the cycle). Frankly, it’s exhausting.

We all want to avoid refueling at the peak of the cycle. However, while topping up mere dollars at a time gets you by, it also puts you in potentially risky situations, like running out of fuel while on the go. If you’re finding it difficult to regularly refuel, try these tips to preserve your fuel instead of risking a breakdown or an accident.

Did you know driving on an empty tank is more than just dangerous? It can also seriously hurt your wallet as it can damage your car. Constantly having the fuel running empty can cause problems with the engine, brakes, steering, and most importantly, your pocket. Remember, while vehicles indicate the distance you can travel once your fuel light comes on, this is just an estimate (some cars’ fuel gauge aren’t accurate after a while!). Don’t take the risk – especially if you’re not ready to push your car out of the way of traffic once it’s out of petrol.

Tips on Preserving Fuel

  • Buy the better fuel (meaning skip the E10) – while it’s more expensive, it goes further in the long run.
  • Get your car serviced regularly to check for fuel leaks
    Inflate your tyres to the correct psi – under or over-inflating also causes problems with car handling.
  • Remove any deadweight and travel light
  • Avoid using your air conditioning while driving (if you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel)
  • Opt for motorways instead of busy streets – driving fast without stopping is better for fuel economy.
  • Avoid peak traffic times (and congestion)
  • Drive a hybrid vehicle or electric vehicle to save money on fuel
  • Drive a vehicle with a smaller tank
  • Drive a newer vehicle that will burn fuel more efficiently

Of course, unless you’re in the market for a new car, some of these tips are not as applicable as others. Sometimes, while you may try your best to salvage that last morsel of fuel, you know the end is coming. In that case, it’s best to be prepared with the right knowledge. So, here’s what to do when you’re driving on near empty.

First, Know The Risks of Driving on Near-Empty

Your Engine

Your engine suffers when you drive on almost-empty as you unknowingly allow your fuel pump to be exposed. The fuel pump is designed to remain submerged, so when you drive on low constantly and it doesn’t receive the same level of lubrication as it usually would then it can become damaged from being over-stressed and overheated. In the long-term, this exposure can lead to the early deterioration of your fuel pump, and therefore engine. Having your fuel pump repaired also doesn’t come cheap – unless you have $500–$1000 to cough up on the spot. On top of an expensive repair, chances of breaking down because of a dodgy fuel pump are high, so there’s the cost of your tow to consider as well.

You Could Stall at Any Second

One of the dangers of running low on fuel is that you could possibly completely run out and then consequently stall your car on account of loss of power to the engine. If this was to happen on a busy motorway or road then you would put other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians around you in danger. When your engine cuts out then so too does your power steering and power brakes, making your vehicle very difficult to control.


Having to deal with a tank that’s running low puts you in a stressed state of mind wondering when the next servo is coming up or how far away it is. Then there’s the possibility of dealing with a stalled car. Driving can be an anxiety inducing experience as it is sometimes; dealing with the added layer of running out of fuel amps up the risks. Driving in a state of panic can increase your chances of being involved in an accident as your mind is preoccupied. That’s why it’s recommended to always drive out with at least a quarter of a tank ready to go.

It Could Leave You Stranded

If you run out of petrol, you’ll be stranded or potentially will need to leave your car stranded while going to find petrol. This is a safety concern to both you and your vehicle – do you trust the neighbourhood you’ve broken down in?

How Will Your Car Act When You’ve Lost Fuel?

Will you know when you’re actually empty? Chances are, you will. When your car runs out of petrol, it’ll be pretty obvious. Your first warning sign is likely experiencing some brief hesitation from engine misfires. If your engine begins shaking, stuttering, making odd noises, and you notice the ‘check engine’ light, your engine is misfiring. If you notice this happening, try to pull over to the side of the road and out of the way of traffic. Shortly after these warning signs, your engine will most likely completely shut down and your car will lose power.

What To Do When Your Car Is Running On Empty

Undoubtedly, the best advice is to fill up before embarking on a trip, particularly if you’re running on under a quarter of a tank. However, we know sometimes there just isn’t time to fill up on fuel. If you see the fuel light come on while driving, indicating you’re almost out of fuel, you should try to immediately go to a service station – drive to your closest if you’re local or look up your nearest on the GPS (many modern navigation systems have a function to search this).

Say you’re driving rural and there you won’t make it to the nearest station: if it is safe to do so and you have a jerry can and fuel funnel, you can trek to the nearest petrol station and fill up your can and pour the fuel into your tank. If there is no petrol station in close proximity or it is not safe to travel by foot to your nearest servo, then it’s a good idea to call roadside assistance. If you need to pull over, remember to put your hazard lights on to indicate to other drivers that you are a hazard. Also, to avoid rolling, ensure that your car is in park with the handbrake up.

Roadside Assistance is Your Hero

Roadside assistance is there for that very reason, to assist you while broken down on the road. With many companies that provide this service, you can sign up on the spot to use their services, in case you do not already have a membership with a provider.

If it’s an option for you, you can call a family member or friend to assist you in getting fuel. If for whatever reason, contacting family or friends or roadside assistance is not available to you, call a towing company to safely remove your vehicle from the site and store it in a safe place. You can also call the non-emergency number of the local police department to alert them of the situation or any resulting accidents.

Prevention is The Best Solution

Ultimately, if you want to avoid getting stuck on the road without fuel – fill up. On top of this, ensure you’re getting your full log book service when you see your mechanic. If you’re noticing yourself burning through fuel a little too quickly, check for leaks which might show up as puddles under your car.

For a full windscreen and window service, Novus can ensure you’re driving away safely with a fully repaired or replaced windscreen that has been properly installed according to strict safety standards. To book in your next service, fill out our online form and contact Novus to learn more about our products and services.

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