An empty car fuel gauge

What is Distance to Empty (DtE)?

Running out of fuel could be the most embarrassing of all the kerbside breakdown causes, especially as there are literally dials and screens dedicated to ensuring we don’t let that happen. One of these displays provides you a “Distance to Empty” reading – but what does this mean, how does it work, can it be trusted, and what do you do if you’ve ignored it? Scrap Car Comparison guides you through all you need to know.

But first, if fuelling is the least of your worries, Scrap Car Comparison is here to help you get the very best price for your ailing set of wheels, no matter how badly damaged, old or simply tired they are. Speak to one of our team of friendly experts today and find out just how much your car could be worth, and it’ll be gone in just a matter of days, with the money landing in your bank account on collection. Get started today to find the very best quote in your area.

A car being filled up at a petrol pump

What does Distance to Empty (DtE) mean?

Distance to Empty, or DtE, to quote a famous wood sealing product, does exactly what it says on the tin. DtE calculates how far you can go on the road with the fuel that remains in your tank, taking into account how you’ve been driving for the past 20 miles.

How many miles can you drive on empty?

If your tank is literally empty, then you won’t be going anywhere, but luckily for you, there is a buffer in that your car won’t wait until it’s fully empty to tell you that it is. Most cars, although this of course differs across the myriad of makes and models out there, will illuminate the fuel light when you’re close to 10-15% capacity, leaving you enough time to get to the nearest fuel station. It’s important to remember that there is not a universal fuel tank size, either, so in theory the smaller the car, the fewer miles you’ll be able to cover before you’re fully empty. Experts predict that, on average, a small car can travel 20-30 miles with the fuel light on, versus 50 on larger vehicles, but again, it’s not worth the risk and once it’s on, filling up should be your priority.

Does driving on empty damage your car?

Yes, driving your car until it’s running on fumes is not a good practice, and you could actually find yourself doing significant damage to its internal gubbins in the process. For starters, the fuel pump is often found in the tank, and fuel acts as both insulation and lubricant. If it’s exposed and there’s nothing to fill this role, you could find your pump overheating fairly rapidly.

In addition, any debris will usually settle at the bottom of your fuel tank and often go undisturbed. That is until the fuel level is so low that the car has no choice but to suck up the remaining fuel at the bottom of the tank, and all the debris goes with it, which can get stuck in the pump and/or the filter.

What to do if you run out of fuel on the motorway

Running out of fuel is never convenient, but there are few places less so than on a motorway. Make sure you get over to the hard shoulder as quickly as possible if you can, tricky given your lack of fuel, but not doing so will be incredibly dangerous. As will the refuelling process, as you’ll need to do so on the hard shoulder, or get a tow to the nearest petrol station. Luckily, most major recovery companies will carry a jerry can to help top you off and get you to the next petrol station – just remember this will be a motorway petrol station and have a horrendous markup in price, but that’s the price you pay for not being prepared.

On the subject of price, you may find yourself with an even deeper bill if you’re slapped with a fine due to the incident. No, running out of fuel on the motorway isn’t worthy of a fine in its own right, but if you’ve entered the carriageway knowing you might run out of fuel, you could be slapped for a careless driving fine for putting yourself, your passengers and other road users in danger.

In a rural location

First things first, find the safest place possible to stop and put your hazard lights on to warn other road users, particularly if you’re in a dangerous place such as around a blind curve or on a hill. You’ll also need to take your warning triangle and place it at least 45 metres away from your car to give road users early enough notice that you’re stranded at the side of the road. Phone your breakdown cover (if you have it) and get them to help you, otherwise petrol-vehicle drivers may be able to ask friends or family to help by bringing a jerry can over to you. Diesel vehicles will likely need to be bled before carrying on if they’ve been run dry.

On a busy street

If you’ve conked out on a busy road, you’re going to want to try and get out of the busiest part if possible. Most cars should be able to freewheel their way along as they’re running out of juice, providing you use the momentum to your advantage. Once you’re in a safe space, then the same steps are taken as in the rural location – make your car safe (you won’t need the warning triangle so far out if it’s in the middle of a busy high street) and call for assistance, whether friends or breakdown cover.

How accurate is the Distance to Empty reading?

As a general rule of thumb, DtE is quite accurate and you’d do well to trust it, although it can only go with the information that it has been provided with up until that point. If you see that you’re running low on fuel and think “I need to get to the petrol station as quickly as possible”, then you’re going to do yourself no favours by flooring it to get there. If anything you’re going to deplete your mileage, and the best thing to do is drive more smoothly, lifting and coasting where possible (like a Formula E driver).

What should I do if my electric vehicle runs out of charge?

The majority of what to do when your EV runs out of charge is identical to that of an ICE car – pull over, make the car safe and all that jazz, however, unlike a petrol car, you can’t simply pop some fuel from a jerry can in and get going again – unless you’ve got a mobile charging unit but they’re hardly commonplace. Once the car is safe and out of the way, call your breakdown cover and you’ll need to be taken to the nearest charging point. It’s worth noting, however, that most EVs will give you plenty of warning if you’re running low, and some will actively direct you to a charging point, so if it’s got down to zero, it can be argued it’s your own fault for not listening…

If your car has been stranded due to a lack of fuel, or you sometimes wish it would so you could get rid of it, why not take the easy way out and sell your car as scrap or salvage with Scrap Car Comparison. No matter the condition of your car, we’ll find the very best price for you, and with certified buyers operating across the country, we can provide a free collection service to 99% of all UK postcodes. Just pick up the phone today to see how much your tired old car could be worth in a matter of moments.

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