The days of hoarding toilet paper are (hopefully) behind us, but now there’s a new shortage that should concern drivers in some parts of the country. The Colonial Pipeline, a critical supplier of gas to the East Coast, was forced to cease all operations Friday following a cyberattack. Despite reports that the pipeline will be up and running by the end of the week and federal pleas not to hoard gas, human irrationality has struck again: Drivers raced to gas stations to fill up their vehicles and extra canisters, causing a growing list of gas stations in the Southeast to run out of fuel.
What happens if you arrive at the nearest gas station to find it’s sold out of gas while your fuel gauge inches closer and closer to E? These tips from AAA and Universal Technical Institute experts will help you stretch what’s left in the tank until you can safely find an open station to refuel.
Here are six things you should do (instead of panicking) when you’re running out of gas:
1. Get Your Bearings
It seems like common sense, but the first thing you should do is pull over and locate the nearest gas station using your vehicle’s navigation system or your smartphone. Don’t waste fuel by driving around aimlessly in hopes of finding an open gas station. GasBuddy’s website is being updated with gas stations that are operating or sold out during the pipeline shutdown.
2. Slow Your Roll
Cars are the most fuel-efficient at 35 to 45 mph, and fuel economy dips significantly after 50 mph due to aerodynamic drag, according to AAA . If you can avoid it, stay off the interstate highways and use local roads to find the closest gas station in the area.
3. 86 the A/C and Accessories
Scott Keene , education manager at UTI in Lisle, Ill., explained that turning off the air conditioning reduces engine stress, saving precious fuel, and should be done immediately. In addition to the air-conditioning compressor that runs off a belt (in most cars), air conditioning also turns on the cabin fan and a more power-hungry fan behind the car’s radiator.
For the same reason as above, turn off the stereo, especially a high-powered one, along with all other electrical devices, such as charging phones.
4. Roll ‘Em Up!
Keep your windows rolled up to reduce wind resistance on your vehicle. We know, we know, but yes: You have to turn off the A/C and keep the windows rolled up. (You should’ve thought of that before your tank got low.)
5. Smooth Moves
AAA recommends avoiding “jackrabbit” starts and hard acceleration as these habits significantly increase fuel consumption. Instead, accelerate smoothly to upshift sooner and reduce engine rpm. It’s also a good idea to avoid hard braking if you’re trying to conserve fuel. When approaching a red light or stop sign, slowly take your foot off the gas and coast until it’s time to break.
6. Drive Downhill
OK, it’s unlikely you’ll have the choice, but if your navigation app finds two nearby gas stations and one is downhill, pick that one. It takes less gas to coast downhill than to climb a grade.
What you shouldn’t do is shift into Neutral when coasting. There was a time when this made a little bit of sense, but today’s cars are designed to turn off their fuel injectors and save gas while coasting, even though the car’s inertia keeps the engine turning. Putting the transmission in Neutral is actually more wasteful, because it requires gas to keep the engine running so you don’t lose power steering and brakes.
With these six suggestions and some luck, you’ll be able to make it to an operating gas station in a pinch. Remember that you don’t want to make it a habit of driving on low fuel since it can harm your vehicle as crud settled at the bottom of your tank can get sucked into the engine and possibly cause the fuel line to freeze.
Create Fuel-Saving Habits
According to David Bennett, repair systems manager at AAA, car maintenance is an important factor in maximizing fuel economy. He recommends the following maintenance tips to get the most out of each fill-up.
- Check the tires for proper inflation at least once a month. Underinflated tires have increased rolling resistance that reduces fuel economy. They can also overheat and blow out.
- Make sure the engine air filter is clean. A dirty filter can reduce fuel economy on older carbureted cars, although it only affects maximum power output on modern fuel-injected engines.
- Head to an auto repair shop for service as soon as possible if the check-engine light comes on. This light indicates a fault that can increase exhaust emissions and decrease fuel economy.
- Regularly track your car’s fuel economy. A sudden drop in mileage may indicate a need for car service.
- Remove unnecessary items from the vehicle. An extra 100 pounds can reduce fuel economy up to 1%. Note that cargo weight affects the fuel mileage of smaller vehicles more than larger ones.
Need a good reason not to hoard extra fuel? A big “don’t,” is carrying an extra gallon of gasoline in your car for emergencies; it’s a fire hazard, plus the gas goes bad eventually. Instead, make it a habit not to let your fuel gauge dip below a quarter-tank (or a half-tank if you live in a rural area).
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