Oh no, the gas light just came on
, and you're on a two-lane highway in the middle of nowhere, at night.
It's a scenario that will send even the calmest among us into an anxious freakout. Could you imagine having to walk up to a strange house at night and knock on a strange door and ask a stranger if they happen to have any gasoline you could have? People have done this.
Do not be one of these people. Here's what to do if you're running out of gas.
It's true that your car gets better mileage on the highway, but it's also true that the faster you go, the more fuel it takes to keep you moving. Most cars get their best mileage at about 50-60 miles per hour, so try to keep it in that range as much as possible while you hunt down a gas pump.
Turn off the A/C
Your air conditioner is a pump, and that pump is driven by a belt that is ultimately attached to your crank shaft, which is the thing that spins around inside your engine and is attached to the transmission and, eventually, the drive wheels. So ... you want to reduce the amount of drag on that whole apparatus as much as you can. The only thing you can do on that front without doing some serious wrenching is to just shut off your air conditioner. It isn't going to make a huge difference, but it could be the difference of a mile or two, and that's a big deal in a situation like this.
Back when fuel prices were up around $4 a gallon, a trend called "hypermiling" popped up. Basically, people used every trick imaginable to conserve fuel as they drove. This included over-inflating their tires, taping cardboard panels over wheel wells, drafting behind 18-wheelers, etc. It was pretty crazy, and not safe, but there was one key tenet of hypermiling that can be put to good use in a situation such as this: Coasting. If you're on the downslope of a hill, take your foot off the gas and put the car in neutral. If you're coming to a stop sign, coast up to that stop sign. You'll save a few drops this way. Just be careful that when it's time to accelerate again, you're going super easy on the pedal. If you can time it so you barely have to increase speed at all with the gas pedal, all the better.
We know, we just told you to turn off your air conditioner, and now we're telling you to keep the windows up. You're just going to have to tough it out until you find that gas station. It's a matter of aerodynamics. Your car is most aerodynamic with the windows up, meaning it will require less power to move it along. Admittedly, the difference is small, but you're in a spot where a few drops of fuel could mean the difference between driving up to a fuel pump and getting out and walking a mile or two, buying a bottle of washer fluid, dumping out the washer fluid, filling the bottle with gasoline, then hoofing it back to the car again.
And that's about it. Beyond that, you are in the hands of fate. Keep in mind, however, that on most vehicles, you still have a gallon or two left in the tank when the fuel light comes on. Depending on your vehicle and the driving conditions, that could be 20, 40, 60 miles. It would be a good idea to know that number, and here's how you find it out: Drive the car until the fuel light comes on. Fill up immediately. How many gallons did it take? Now, look up the fuel tank capacity on your vehicle (in the owner's manual), and do the math.