Who hasn’t played the “kilometres until empty” game? You know, the one that starts when the needle hits E, the gas-light fires up on your dashboard, and you realize that you suddenly need to figure out if you’ll be able to make it to the next fill-up or not.

Driving on E can be a stressful experience, as no one wants to end up stranded without a gas station in sight. Fortunately, you can relax, because 90 percent of the time, you’ll be able to get to the next fuel pump with kilometres to spare even if your gas gauge reads empty. And sometimes, you even have enough time to save some money by going to the cheapest gas station.

It’s Not Really Empty

The first thing to understand about how many kilometres you can drive is that the E indicator on your gas gauge doesn’t really mean you’re out of fuel. Wait, what? Yes, it’s definitely confusing, but on almost every modern car (built in the past 25 years or so), E simply means you’ve tapped into your car’s fuel reserves. Your vehicle is letting you know you’ve almost reached bottom, and you only have a short driving range left to find fuel. As scary as that gas light might be when it illuminates, it’s more of a helpful reminder than anything else.

How Far Can You Go?

The next logical question after your gas light has turned on is: how many kilometres do you have left before your engine shuts down? There’s no hard and fast measurement—each automaker turns the light on with different amounts of gas left in the tank—but a general rule of thumb is between 50 and 90 kilometres. You always want to make sure to aim for the low end of that estimate and find a gas station that’s within a 50-kilometre radius, maximum, of where you are once the needle hits empty.

Don’t Make It a Habit

Now that you know the gas light isn’t as scary of a warning as it seems at first, it might be tempting to simply use it as your regular reminder that it’s time to fill up. In actual practice, this isn’t the best idea. Over time, deposits and other debris can build up in your gas tank, whether it is from heat, the occasional low-quality batch of fuel or corrosion caused by moisture. This gunk sits at the bottom of the tank, which means if you’re regularly running your car down to E before refuelling, you’re risking that the fuel pump will suck in something it shouldn’t and potentially impact your engine’s efficiency, performance and longevity.

Fill up regularly and try to keep things above an eighth of a tank to prolong the life of your vehicle.

For more information on how many kilometres are left before your tank is truly empty, chat with an expert at your local NAPA AUTOPRO shop.