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Jason Fogelson

How low can you go?

By August 15, 2007

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I got an email from a loyal reader today, and she posed a very intriguing question:
I have a 2002 Toyota RAV4 and in my user guide it says "when the gas light comes on you should fill up soon." Well "soon" means different things to different people. Can anyone anywhere tell me how many more miles I can go when the gas light comes on... before running out of gas? My neighbor upstairs has a different car and his manual clearly says "when the gas light comes on you can go approximately 30 more miles." There should be a standard! Wondering... Michele
Well, Michele, just as "soon" means different things to different people, it means different things to different car makers, too. You've got a few choices how to deal with this issue.

You can choose the experiential method -- buy a high quality gas container, fill it up with some gas, and drive your RAV4 in a quiet residential area until the gas light comes on. Set your trip meter, and drive until you run out of gas. Now you know how far you can go in your SUV once the gas light comes on. Pour the gas from your can into your tank, and go fill up again.

Obviously, you have to be very mindful of how you perform this experiment. Don't put yourself in situations where you might run out of gas in hazardous intersections or other dangerous spots, and handle your spare gas with all the usual precautions. Consider this a disclaimer, and don't do anything dumb -- use common sense when you know you're about to run out of gas.

Or, you can do what I do -- never let your tank get more than three-quarters empty, and don't test your luck. I am a firm believer in keeping my SUV in shape for an emergency -- I always want to have at least 100 miles worth of gas in my tank in case of earthquake, flood or fire. My wife thinks I'm crazy, and regularly runs her car on fumes. But I follow that old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared."

Does anyone have any ideas for Michelle? How do you handle your fuel needs? Click "comments" below and share your stories.

Photo Jason Fogelson

August 15, 2007 at 4:06 am
(1) Carey says:

I have a 07 Rav4, which I love dearly and I have the exact same query, I don’t think there is 30 miles or Km of a reserve though and I couldn’t find it in the manual. I wouldn’t take a chance on leaving gas light on for too long!

August 15, 2007 at 11:37 pm
(2) Michele says:

Okay Jason you have good wit while being informative and you made my smile….I guess I am more like your wife but I should probably become more like you and Carey who wonders the same thing. Thank you for your response. On a side note, certain toyota SUV’s have to have some electrical reprogramming (something to with the check engine light). I will be at the dealer to have this free serive done and will ask them the question too :) I’ll post afterwards.


August 17, 2007 at 4:08 am
(3) Basem says:


My wife’s ’04 Toyota 4Runner runs for miles and miles after digital range display reads zero, and though she likes to play it safe and refuel immediately, I’m of the “live on the edge” variety and get a strange satisfaction from milking every last ounce of fuel before stopping for gas.

Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks, I guess…


August 20, 2007 at 3:49 pm
(4) Philip Powell says:

As a long-time automobile journalist I’ve had plenty of experience driving cars with “fuel low” warnings. Generally, this means there are 1-1/2 gallons left in the tank. I wouldn’t recommend counting on more than that so take a look at your average mpg and figure it out, bearing in mind whether you’re driving in the city or on the highway.

August 28, 2007 at 12:35 pm
(5) david says:

Ok.. you need to calculate your mpg… then you need to record how many gallons it takes to fill up once the light comes on. Do this a few times and calculate an average. Look in your manual to find the maximum capacity of your fuel tank. Subtract the average to fill up from the maximum.. that gives you the approximate amount left. Multiple that number by your mpg and you have approximately how many miles left in the tank

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