car runs out of gas on highway

5 Things to Do if Your Car Runs Out of Gas on the Highway

Whether you underestimated the number of miles your vehicle could run on low fuel, or you simply got stuck in the unenviable situation of passing the last gas station in forever, there may be a time when you run out of gas on the highway. As this is a situation that likely occurs infrequently, most drivers are highly inexperienced on how to handle this situation.

When your car runs out of gas on the highway, the best thing to do is get to safety, determine your location, and call for help. Whether it be AAA, your motor vehicle insurance, family, or friends, or 9-1-1, several resources can help you out of the jam.

While common Hollywood methods, flagging down traffic for help or walking to the nearest gas station should not be your first plan of action. However, there may be some cases when you are stuck in truly remote stretches of highway where calling is not an option, so alternate means of assistance must be considered.

Who Do You Call When You Run Out of Gas?

When you run out of gas, the most important thing to do is keep a clear head and realize that there are a plethora of numbers you can call to help you out of your sticky situation:

  • Mach1 – If you run out of gas you can quickly download the Mach1 Services app and in just 2-3 minutes Mach1 will have someone en route to assist. Mach1 has background checked and qualified providers read to help you for all your roadside assistance needs.
  • Car Insurance – If you do not have AAA, it is a good idea to give your auto insurance company a call. Most auto insurance policies come with a towing provision that covers one tow per year, so you may choose to use this to get you to a gas station.
  • Friends or Family – While it may be unlikely that you run out of gas in a vicinity where friends or family can come to the rescue, it is at least worth giving them a call to apprise them of the situation if the first two calls do not pan out. At the very least, they should be able to help you by making some calls of their own.
  • 9-1-1 – Although running out of gas may not seem like an emergency, there is no shame in calling 9-1-1 if all else fails. If you are blocking traffic in any way or feel like the location of your vehicle causes danger for you or other drivers, then this call should move to the top of the list.

How Does Your Car Act When You’re Running Out of Gas?

The “good news” about running out of gas is that your engine does not simply die when the gas tank is empty. There will be several warning signs that, when combined with the empty sign on your fuel gauge, should give you plenty of warning that your fuel stock has been depleted and that it is time to pull your car safely to the side of the road.

When your gas gauge is on empty, look for these symptoms to confirm that your car has, in fact, run out of gas:

  • Loss of Power – This will be one of the earliest signs of an empty gas tank and will be most noticeable when going uphill. If you press the gas pedal and the vehicle does not accelerate, then fuel starvation is a likely cause.
  • Engine Sputtering – This will make it seem almost like the engine is burping or hiccupping; this is caused by there being too much air—and not enough fuel—entering the cylinder.
  • Surging – This will be felt in the form of a jerking sensation from behind the wheel, almost as if your car momentarily stops and then thrusts forward; this is the result of inconsistent fuel supply.
  • Backfire – While uncommon in newer vehicles, a loud pop in older vehicles, like a firework going off, coming from the tailpipe, may also be a sign that you are out of gas.

5 Things to Do if Your Car Runs Out of Gas on the Highway

Now that you have an idea of who to call and how your vehicle will behave when it is out of gas, the following five steps provide an in-depth breakdown of how to handle an out-of-gas situation on the highway.

1.   Pull Your Vehicle to Safety

The most important thing to remember about running out of gas is that you do not want to turn an inconvenience into an accident.

Therefore, when your low fuel indicator is on, and your vehicle is demonstrating one of the low-fuel symptoms, immediately turn on your hazard lights and ease your vehicle to the right shoulder of the road as safely as possible.

While it is ideal to get your car completely off the road in a pullout location, do not risk your car completely stalling out in the middle of traffic by attempting to push it a little further to a better spot. Simply get the vehicle as far off the road as possible to allow for traffic to get by. Remain in your car with the seatbelt fastened.

If you are not able to pull your vehicle a safe distance off the road, exit your vehicle, and find a safe location to stand well off the highway.

2.   Ascertain Your Location

It is essential to know the exact location of your vehicle so that no confusion is caused when help comes on the way. In addition, if you need to leave your vehicle, you will not want to be wandering around looking for it on the way back.

If possible, take note of your GPS coordinates. If you are unable to pull GPS coordinates from a smart device, carefully note the name of the highway, direction you are traveling, significant landmarks, and nearest mile marker to help specify your location.

3.   Call for Assistance

Using one of the resources from the list mentioned above, make a call to let them know that you are stranded without gas. If they are bringing gas to you, make sure they know what type of fuel your vehicle requires. If not, ask them to bring a gas can and wait patiently for them to pick you up and take you to the nearest gas station.

4.   Flag Down Help

Calling for help should be the standard for handling running out of gas on the highway.

However, there will be certain situations in which you will be stranded without cell phone reception. If this is the case, then you may need to consider flagging down another vehicle for help.

When flagging down help, it is vital to make sure that you are in a visible location, well out of the way of traffic. Avoid standing on curves and corners, and try to use bright clothing or any other articles that are likely to catch the attention of passersby.

Whether or not you flag down help, there are likely to be good Samaritans who notice you stranded and stop to offer help. While most people have good intentions and will offer you valuable assistance, there are several things you should remember to help protect yourself:

  • Ask them to bring you some gas. If another vehicle stops to help, the best way they can assist is by bringing you some gas while you wait with your vehicle.
  • Ask them to make a call for you. The next best option for getting help from passersby is to ask them to get to an area of cell reception and make a call for you. Once they do this, ask them if they can come back and update you on the status of when to expect the help to arrive.
  • Ask them for a ride. The last recourse should be to ask for a ride to the gas station and back. Be especially cautious if a stranger stops and asks to give you a ride, unsolicited, or refuses one of the above options and insists on giving you a ride.

5.   Go to the Nearest Gas Station

The last line of defense is to try walking to the nearest gas station. While it is highly unlikely that all the above options will fail, walking may become necessary as a last-ditch effort.

If you are unable to place a call or flag down help and do have to walk to find gas, remember the following pieces of advice:

  • Walk back from the direction you came. If you run out of gas in an unfamiliar area, do not go walking into the great unknown. Walk back in the direction from which you came, as you will be more familiar with the terrain.
  • Take snacks and water. Do not attempt to walk for gas if you do not have food and water to last you for an extended hike.
  • Keep yourself visible. Make sure that passing traffic can see you as you walk to safety.

If you do not have food or water, the distance is prohibitive, the weather is treacherous, or you do not feel safe walking for any reason, it is best to stay in your vehicle and wait for somebody to stop and help.

What to Do If You Run Out of Gas While Driving

In summary, if your car runs out of gas on the highway, remember the following five pieces of advice discussed above:

  1. Pull your vehicle safely off the right side of the highway, put it on park, and turn on your hazards
  2. Ascertain the exact location of your vehicle to help potential rescuers.
  3. Make calls to AAA, insurance, friends, or family, and 9-1-1, as necessary.
  4. If you cannot call for any reason, try to flag down a passing vehicle for help.
  5. If all else fails, walk to the nearest gas station to get help.

Is it Bad to Keep Your Gas Tank Full?

It is not bad to keep your gas tank full. In fact, it is actually a good idea to keep your gas tank full.

Not only does keeping a full tank offer insurance from ever running out of gas on the highway, but a low gas tank that is full of air can cause oxidation and gunky buildup in your tank. This may ultimately negatively impact your vehicle’s fuel economy and engine performance.

In Summary

While running out of gas is inconvenient, it doesn’t have to be an emergency as long as you keep a level head and ensure safety in your surroundings.

A fuel-deprived engine will lose power and start to sputter, so when you start experiencing these symptoms on a low tank, pull your vehicle as far off the road as possible and turn on your hazard lights. Determine your GPS location, remain in your vehicle with the seatbelt fastened, and call AAA, your auto insurance, friends, and family, or 9-1-1, as necessary, to get help.

If calling for help is not an option and you are stuck on a remote stretch of highway, consider flagging down help and asking them to bring you some gas. As a last resort, it may be necessary to walk to a gas station if you have adequate provisions.