What should I do if I run out of fuel on the road?

There are steps to follow
by Joey Bernardez | Jul 13, 2018


I had this horrible experience just this evening. My car ran out of fuel because I forgot to refill this morning. I am aware that my fuel gauge is not functioning. I need your advice, sir. Will I take my car to an electrician so that they will change the floater of my gas tank, or just have my gas tank full then just estimate my gas consumption for a week?

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Either of the solutions you’ve presented should work, Chris. However, it would be wiser to have your fuel gauge fixed so that you’ll have an accurate reading of how much juice you have. The chances of running out of fuel and stalling on the road is much greater without a functioning fuel gauge.

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Stalling on the road is not only an inconvenience for yourself but also an inconvenience to other motorists. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) also gives penalties for stalling on main thoroughfares like EDSA, and the cost of the citation may end up being more than having your fuel gauge fixed. 

Just to make you and our other readers aware of what happens when you run out of fuel, here’s how it goes:

In newer fuel-injected gasoline cars, there’s a pump in the tank submerged in fuel, and running out of gas means the motor will just quit running. The most dangerous thing about this is that the steering and brakes—while still functional—will become very heavy because the belt-driven power assist and vacuum-assisted brakes will also cease to run. In the event this happens to you, try to steer your car to the side of the road where it can be safe from oncoming cars and not cause traffic. Then you can try to get some fuel into your tank.

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Once you get fuel into your tank, don’t expect it to fire up immediately. You’ll first need to get fuel into the system. Turn the ignition to the “on” position, and not the “start” position. Let it sit there for five seconds or so, and do this about three times. You’re engaging the pump to prime the fueling system. After the third try, start your engine and it should be just fine. Go to the nearest gas station and fill up your tank.

Understand that this is a best case scenario. There can be worse situations where the pump has sucked up dirt and rust from the bottom of your tank and your fuel lines become clogged. In such an event, your car may run roughly or even not start at all. You will need to be towed and brought to a shop to de-clog and clean the fuel lines and injectors.

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Now if you have a modern diesel engine, one of those common rail systems, I would advise you to avoid running out of fuel at all costs. When these types of engines go empty, they develop air in the fuel system. You can’t just put in fuel, prime the system, start it up, and go on your merry way.

In a modern diesel, the system will need to be bled. That means the air in the system must be taken out. Diesel injectors in modern common rail systems have very fine moving parts that use the fuel as a lubricant. This can best be done in a shop environment with special tools and diagnostic equipment.

Now this last part is very important: For both, gasoline and diesel engines, if you’re able to put fuel into your tank and the engine doesn’t want to start, just give it a few tries. Don’t keep on trying. If you do so you may burn out your fuel pump. As we said previously, the fuel pump is submerged in fuel which cools it. If you keep on running the fuel pump dry by incessantly trying to crank up the engine, the likelihood of it burning up is pretty high.

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Best to just keep your fuel gauge safely away from the empty mark.


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PHOTO: Gustavo Schonarth/Freeimages
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