Millions of drivers at risk of fines from common fuel error

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New research suggests that 42 percent of drivers wait until their fuel light comes on before putting fuel in their vehicle. A further 16 percent admitted trying to use up every mile of fuel before refilling – risking serious damage to their engine.

One expert, Tim Rodie, from Motorpoint, said drivers do not need to wait for the fuel light to come on to visit the petrol station.

It is something which he would encourage drivers to get out of the habit of doing, as it can lead to numerous issues.

The fuel light is designed to warn drivers that they are beginning to run low on fuel and help prevent unnecessary breakdowns.  

Tim explained: “As a general rule, the warning light will only come on when the total capacity of your fuel tank drops below 10 to 15 percent.

“How far this will get you is completely dependent on how good your fuel economy is and the way you drive.

“There isn’t a standard distance you’ll be able to travel with your fuel warning light on, so it’s always better to be cautious and fill up as soon as possible. 

“The longer you leave it to fill up, the greater the risk is that you’ll unknowingly cause damage to your engine – which will cost you much more in the long run to fix.”

While it isn’t illegal to drive with a fuel light on, if someone’s car breaks down as a result of not filling up and causes an obstruction or accident, they could find themselves on the wrong side of the law. 

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According to the Highway Code, if someone runs out of fuel when driving and causes an obstruction or accident this can be viewed as “careless and inconsiderate driving”.

Generally, this carries an unlimited fine and drivers can receive between three and nine penalty points on their licence.

Based on current driving habits, Motorpoint predicts that 5.3 million drivers are at risk of running out of fuel in 2023. 

Mr Rodie said: “As a motorist, you have a responsibility to drive in a way that won’t put yourself or other road users at risk and running out of fuel can be dangerous. 

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“Breaking down and having to wait at the side as a result of your fuel running out is completely avoidable and can lead to accidents – particularly if it were to happen on a motorway or other busy road.” 

Beyond the risk of breaking down and having to call for help, driving with low fuel can damage parts of the engine.

Making a habit of driving with low fuel can affect the health of the whole fuel system, particularly the fuel pump and filter, which are essential to keep the car running smoothly.

Tim said that if this habit continues, air can be drawn into the fuel system, which can lead to the vehicle stalling or refusing to start.

As the fuel level starts to run low, any debris that has been collected at the bottom of the tank can be picked up and run through the fuel system.

Over time, this debris can clog the fuel filter, limiting the amount of fuel that makes it to the engine, potentially causing a failure.

Tim concluded: “It might seem counterintuitive to head back to the petrol station while you still have fuel in your tank, but it really is the best thing you can do for your vehicle and might even save you miles, as you can plan to fill up when passing a petrol station rather than needing to go out of your way.  

“No one likes holding their breath and wondering if you have enough miles left to get to the nearest petrol station, so always having some fuel in your tank is the safest way to drive. Not only is it the only way to prevent running out and any of the other issues that can arise from driving on empty, but it could also save you a costly repair bill down the line.” 

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