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Running on Empty

My husband has been asking me for years to not let my vehicle get low enough on fuel to have the light come on. He says it will suck up the “sludge.”. I always say that I understand this concerns him, but I don’t believe it. So, I typically run my car way past the point of the low fuel light coming on. Mostly because I don’t like taking the time to stop at the gas station, but I think a tiny part of me likes the satisfaction of doing this when I know it would drive him crazy. Recently, the van went in to replace a low oil pressure sensor that had gone bad (it had been running fine; the light just came on). We got it back from the car place (they also put new struts on it and aligned it) and the light was replaced. When I drove it next, I noticed it was running a bit rough at an idol, and then after a day or so, also while I was driving (meant to tell my husband and forgot). I got gas a few days later, and the check engine light came on a mile or so later. I told my husband and he asked if I had let the van run low on gas. I said yes but not THAT low, the low fuel light had only been on for less than 10 miles (I’m thinking I had a good 15 miles left before I ran out). He said I had probably cost us “hundreds of dollars” by running the tank so low. I think the oxygen sensor is bad because this is how my subaru used to act when it went bad. He thinks the fuel filter is clogged. But what I really want to know is, what do you think?

Thanks guys. Love your show.

Dawn Roush

“I don’t like taking the time to stop at the gas station”

Can you explain to me how waiting until the tank gets really low will save you time at the gas station?
If you were to regularly fill the tank when the gauge indicates…let’s say…that you have 1/4 of a tank remaining, how would that take more time out of your week than if you run the tank down to the point where you are running on gas fumes?

“I think a tiny part of me likes the satisfaction of doing this when I know it would drive him crazy.”

Well, recognition of a behavioral problem is the first step toward trying to resolve that behavioral problem.
Do you really think that trying to “drive him crazy” is a healthy way to approach your relationship?
Have you considered what your refusal to comply with his reasonable request tells others about your personality?

All of that being said, the illuminated Check Engine Light is not likely to be directly related to the low gas situation. It could be a bad oxygen sensor, or it could be–literally–a few hundred other possibilities. Only by having the van’s OBD system scanned for trouble codes will you know the probable source of the problem.

As to whether the fuel filter is clogged–when was the last time that it was replaced?
If it has not been replaced in 30k miles or more, then it may be clogged, and that may be attributable to the fuel pickup sucking up debris from the bottom of the tank.

I would suggest that, after determining the exact trouble code(s), you take the van to a competent mechanic.
It is very possible that the vehicle is suffering from lax maintenance.
It is also possible that your marriage is suffering from needless stress over your refusal to comply with a very simple and reasonable request on the part of your husband.

There usually is a fine mesh screen on the fuel pump that the fuel has to pass through and keeps any debris that may be inside the tank out of the fuel to the engine. While running the tank real low won’t cause any issues in my opinion I don’t think it is a good idea to run around with a low fuel tank. Things can happen on the road you have no control over and I for one don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road due to lack of fuel in the tank.

The CEL light may be on due to a loose gas cap but it could be many things. Have a place like Autozone read the codes and let us know what they are. We can let you know you what needs to be done then.

Your fuel pump uses the fuel to cool itself. You just might end up costing yourself hundreds of dollars if you fry the pump.

Besides, if you drive up even a slight incline and you have just barely enough for the pump’s pickup tube to reach, that small amount will pool in the end of the tank, the pickup tube will be left high and dry, your engine will stall, and you’ll probably end up waiting for the tow truck and reading by the light of the Check Engine Warning Light…wich will surely illuminate.

You practice is not good for your pump or for your marriage.

Regarding the currect Check Engine Light, don’t assume anything until the ECU has been scanne dfor codes. There are hundreds of them.

Think about this for a second ;

The “EXTRA” time you take
the “EXTRA” money some people gipe about

will only be expended ONE TIME !

Yes, just once. After that you revert to the EXACT time schadule or dollar budget that you’ve always done yet that “EXTRA” quarter tank is always there instead of the dreaded E.

I’ve been driving company cars for 30 years. I drive it a lot, between 30 and 40 thousand miles per year. I don’t like to stop for gas any more often than I have to, so I fill it as full as I can and drive it until it’s as empty as I dare. This typically means that I am putting a little over 20 gallons of fuel in a 20 gallon tank. I do exactly the same for my personal cars.

In those 30 years I’ve had exactly one fuel pump failure, and that was in a personal car with about 110 thousand miles on it. I’ve never had any of the gloom and doom typically predicted for those who top off their tank.

This evidence is all anecdotal and proves nothing, except that topping off and running the tank low will not always result in failure.