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Runnin’ on empty

April 25, 2011 - Rob Weaver
The price of a gallon of regular, unleaded gasoline was $3.99 and 9/10ths Monday in Tiffin, with the cost of higher-octane grades and diesel already higher than $4. So it is an apt time, and an unfortunate time, to receive a warning from AAA about driving on empty.

In fact, while eying gas prices along West Market Street near Restaurant Row this afternoon, I saw a man pushing a sedan from Market onto Oakwood Drive. I’m not certain the car had run out of gas, but the scene illustrated one of the hazards of running on empty.

AAA warns running out of fuel can be dangerous to drivers. According to an e-mail from the auto club, “When a vehicle is out of gas, the engine dies and power steering and power assist for the brakes will be lost. Drivers can end up stranded in the middle of a busy highway without the ability to move their vehicle.”

Not only can running out of fuel be tough on drivers and passengers, it’s not good for the vehicle, either. “Running a vehicle extremely low on fuel may cause sediment in the bottom of the tank to clog the fuel pump pickup, the fuel filter or even the fuel injectors,” according to AAA. “In addition, when fuel levels are too low, the electric fuel pump inside the tank may overheat.”   The temptation to put off filling the tank is understandable, though, not just because it can cost more than $75 for a 20-gallon fill up. Every vehicle I ever owned got its best fuel mileage while running on empty. It didn’t matter whether I was getting 12 mpg or 30 mpg; when that needle was pointing to “E,” I was driving for free — and for a surprising amount of time, too. Often until payday.

I wonder whether electric-powered vehicles offer this sort of fuel-gauge leeway. I suspect when an electric fuel cell runs out of juice, the gauge — and other dashboard displays as well — go out, too.


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