Here’s why you shouldn’t drive around with your fuel light on

The level of in-car tech varies between the different used, seized and salvage cars we stock here at RAW2K, but all of them are fitted with the bare basics. That includes the fuel light, whose main job is exactly what it sounds like - it’s designed to tell you when your tank is almost empty. But increasing numbers of UK drivers aren’t quite treating that as the final warning that it’s supposed to be. 

Research shows that there are more drivers than ever running out of fuel on British highways, which increases the number of breakdowns every year. The AA itself says that it helps around 300 cars a week that have run out of fuel, and Highways England estimates that about one in 12 drivers who break down have run out of fuel. It’s not an ideal situation for anyone, and below, we’ll explain why it can be such a risk. 

Why do so many people drive with the fuel light on? 

It’s difficult to quantify without carrying out a specific survey on this topic, but it’s probably due in large part to the price of fuel. (And if we’re honest, possibly a bit of laziness or overconfidence mixed in.) When fuel prices are high, lots motorists shop around to try and save as much money as they can, and it’s not unheard of for some people to drive miles out of their way to get cheaper fuel.

It’s common knowledge, for example, that fuel costs tend to be a lot higher on motorways rather than residential service stations, so lots of drivers will sometimes try and wait until they leave the motorway to fill up, even if their fuel light is already on. 

When does a car’s fuel light come on?

That really depends on the make and model of the car in question. Research by Compare the Market found that 37% of drivers think they can only go for 20 miles once their fuel tank is empty. A spokesman for motoring manual Haynes has said that there’s no statutory amount of fuel that should be left in the tank before the warning light comes on, but it tends to be around 50 miles. 

A roundup by Motoring Research, on the other hand, found that the cars with the lowest fuel tolerances could go as little as 30 miles on a empty tank, whereas the ones which could go the furthest could manage well into the mid-70s. And while there are lots of drivers who will confidently assert that they ‘know their car’, trust us when we say that it’s really not something that you want to leave to chance!

Why you shouldn’t drive with the engine light on

To be honest the reasons are many and varied - we could go into a lot of depth but we’ll keep it to key details. The first revolves around your engine, and mechanical concerns. As the petrol gets low, you can start picking up detritus and debris from the bottom of the fuel. You don’t want to be running on the dregs, as it can damage the fuel filter and the fuel pump too, which will likely lead to an expensive garage visit. 

It’s also worth considering that your journeys might be using more fuel than you think. If you’re driving at higher speeds on the motorway you’ll automatically be using up more fuel than when you’re going at more leisurely speeds in residential areas. Overtaking in particular can use up a lot of fuel, and there might well be a long way until the next service station.

In short, without due care and attention you can needlessly find yourself on the side of the road, which can be frustrating if you know that technically it’s not your car to blame. 

Is it illegal to run out of fuel?

Not in so many words. In places like Germany, you can be fined quite heavily for running out of fuel on the autobahn, but here it’s not technically against the law. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a risk. Whatever the circumstances, it’s normally quite dangerous to break down on the side of the road, and if the authorities think it could have been preventable, they’re likely to take a very dim view of it. If you’re deemed to have broken down needlessly because you ignored your fuel light, you risk it being classed as careless driving, which can net you a triple-figure fine. Not an ideal scenario by anyone’s standards!

As long as you keep your tank topped up and generally look after your car, you might be surprised at how much use you can get out of it! And if you’re on the lookout for a used, seized or salvage car to get you started, you’re in exactly the right place. We’ve also got a great range of used cars from makers like NissanPeugeot and Renault, as well as bargains on luxury brands like BMW and Audi. Why not take a look around, and see what you can find?