What Happens When a Fuel Injected Car Runs Out of Gas?by Hunkar Ozyasar
When you run out of gas, your car will obviously stall. However, you may experience many further problems, especially if your engine uses fuel injectors, and may even find yourself in a life-threatening situation.
The car will stall
When you run out of gas, your engine will stall. Some drivers are under the impression that the engine will give them a warning sign first, by sputtering or shaking momentarily before running out of gas, but modern engines usually don't. Chances are, your engine will suddenly come to a standstill.
You will lose power for steering
As soon as your engine stalls, the power steering will feel much heavier and steering the car will become exceedingly difficult, or even impossible. Almost every modern vehicle is equipped with power steering and it is therefore extremely difficult to turn the steering wheel of the vehicle in the absence of the engine rotation that aids your maneuvers.
The brake pedal will feel much heavier
When the engine stalls, your brake pedal, too, will feel far heavier than before. If you were traveling at a relatively high speed when you ran out of gas, you may find it impossible to bring the car to a halt within a reasonable distance, especially when traveling downhill.
One bright spot, however, is that your lights, radio and windshield wipers should stay on. If you are curious as to which accessories will continue to operate when you run out of gas, simply get in your vehicle, turn the key halfway (at which point your instrument cluster should come alive) but do not turn on the engine. All accessories that are usable at this point will continue to operate when you run out of gas and your engine stops running.
Your fuel filter may clog
Your engine could suffer when you run out of gas. When you suck up the last bit of fuel from the tank, the thin sediment at the bottom of the tank will travel to the fuel filter and possibly clog it. Because of this, your car may not restart when you refuel it.
Your injectors can fail
You may damage your fuel injectors. As the injectors run at a high pressure and temperature, they need constant fuel flow for lubrication and cooling. When an injector desperately tries to inject fuel but receives none, as there is no gas left in the tank, it may permanently fail due to overheating.
Keep enough gas in your tank
As you can see, running out of gas can not only be annoying, but also quite costly. To avoid any such trouble, do not delay buying gas until the last possible moment. Keep in mind that estimating your precise mileage with the remaining gas in the tank is impossible. Even if you have enough gas to drive a mile or two on a flat road, you can easily stall going up or downhill as the little bit of gas in the tank shifts from one side to the other. So don't push your luck and you won't have to pay for new injectors.
Hunkar Ozyasar is the former high-yield bond strategist for Deutsche Bank. He has been quoted in publications including "Financial Times" and the "Wall Street Journal." His book, "When Time Management Fails," is published in 12 countries while Ozyasar’s finance articles are featured on Nikkei, Japan’s premier financial news service. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Kellogg Graduate School.