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Over half of motorists could be at risk of costly repairs because they wait too long to fill up their vehicle, a new study reveals.

Research carried out by Motorpoint found that 42% of drivers wait until their fuel light comes on before putting fuel in their car, and a further 16% admitted trying to use up every mile of fuel before refilling – risking damage to their engine.

Explaining why you shouldn’t wait for your fuel light to come on before filling up, Tim Rodie, driving expert at Motorpoint said: “You don’t need to wait for the fuel light to come on to visit the petrol station – it’s something I would encourage drivers to get out of the habit of doing.

“Whether you have a petrol or diesel vehicle, regularly running your car close to empty can cause a range of issues that can be expensive to fix. It’s important to remember that the fuel warning light is designed to make it clear that you must fill up your car, nothing good can come from trying to run down your remaining mileage.”


How much fuel is left when the warning light comes on?

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

As Tim Rodie explains: “As a general rule, the warning light will only come on when the total capacity of your fuel tank drops below 10 – 15% – 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.”

Is it illegal to drive with low fuel?

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

According to the Highway Code, if you run out of fuel when driving and cause an obstruction or accident, this can be viewed as ‘careless and inconsiderate driving’, which carries an unlimited fine and between three and nine penalty points.1

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

Tim 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. 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.”

What can happen if you drive with low fuel? 

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

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

“When it comes to your fuel pump, there are a couple of things you need to be aware of if you make a habit of going too long between fuelling up. Not only can air be drawn into your fuel system, which can lead to your vehicle stalling or refusing to start, but your fuel pump isn’t designed to work without fuel running through it, which can cause it to overheat.” 

“As your fuel level starts to run low, any debris that has collected at the bottom of your tank can be picked up and run through your fuel system. Over time, this debris can clog your fuel filter, limiting the amount of fuel that makes it to your engine, potentially causing a failure. 

When should you be filling up your car? 

Rather than waiting for the fuel light to come on, Tim recommends filling up your tank when it gets below a quarter full. 

“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.”



For more information, visit:  https://www.motorpoint.co.uk/press/uk-motorists-will-see-nearly-400-added-to-fuel-bills-new-report-finds  

Survey conducted by SurveyGoo on behalf of Motorpoint with a sample of 2,083 UK car owners in January 2023. All statistics and findings have been rounded to the nearest whole number. A full data set is available on request. 

1) https://www.highwaycodeuk.co.uk/penalty-table.html

Tim Rodie

With over a decade’s experience in the automotive industry, Tim heads up Motorpoint’s YouTube and TikTok channels, where he reviews a huge range of nearly new cars, pointing out their useful features, flaws and surprising extras.

Check out his latest video here: https://www.youtube.com/@motorpoint


Established in 1998 Motorpoint is the UK’s largest independent retailer of nearly new cars and vans. All vehicles are under 30,000 miles and less than four years old.

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