What to Do If You Run Out of Gas
And why you shouldn’t keep gas in your trunk
You’re driving home from work or on a road trip and your car sputters to a stop. Apparently you failed to notice the fuel needle on “E” because you were too busy gabbing on the phone, singing along to the radio or listening to a news report of the latest stock market crash.
Now you’re stuck. What should you do?
Hopefully you managed to pull into a parking lot or onto a side street or at least the shoulder before you stopped moving entirely. “A good time to pull over is when the engine loses power, or when you sense a sputter or jerking motion happen while driving,” says Brian Guerro, pacesetter roadside assistance general manager at AAA Colorado. “Immediately move to the right lane and continue to pull over to the shoulder, if you can.”
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Once you’re there, what now? Here’s advice from Guerro.
- Put the vehicle in park and turn on your hazard lights.
- Call for emergency roadside assistance. Your car insurance’s road assistance program (if it’s in your policy) or an organization like AAA (if you’re a member) can deliver gas to you. Stay in your car while you wait, and keep your seat belt fastened, especially if you’re on a highway.
- If you don’t have roadside assistance, ask a family member or friend to use an approved gas container to deliver a small amount of gas to get you as far as the nearest gas station.
- If you’re stuck somewhere remote or help won’t arrive soon, don’t hesitate to call 911. Your car can be towed, if needed.
Why not try to walk to the nearest gas station?
“My recommendation will be to call for help, even if you have an empty gas container in your vehicle,” says Guerro. “It is a lot safer to wait for help than to walk to a gas station. But, it also depends on [how remote] the breakdown location is.”
If you’re not in a remote area and you decide to hoof it, use the map app on your cellphone (or an app such as GasBuddy) to find the closest gas station. Before you set out, call a friend to let them know your breakdown location and where you’re heading.
If you don’t have a gas container in your trunk, the gas station may have one to sell you. Never use a glass bottle, plastic bottle or any container that’s not approved for carrying gas to transport fuel, warns Guerro.
AAA Colorado recommends a container, 5 gallons or less, approved by the DOT (Department of Transportation) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). It must have a spring-closing lid and spout cover, a means of relieving internal pressure and a flash-arresting screen, according to OSHA.gov.
The safe way to fill a gas container
Once you arrive at the station, use extreme caution when filling up your gas container, says Guerro. An analysis done by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found there have been at least 11 reported deaths and 1,200 emergency room visits involving gas can explosions during the pouring of gasoline since 1998.
The American Petroleum Institute (API) advises the following to safely fill your container:
- Manually control the nozzle valve at all times.
- Fill the container slowly to minimize any static, spilling or splattering.
- Keep the nozzle in contact with the rim of the container opening while refueling.
- Fill the container only about 95 percent to allow for expansion.
- Screw on the cap tightly once you’re finished. If you spilled any gasoline, notify the gas attendant immediately.
- If it doesn’t seal properly, do not use the container.
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Should you keep a can of gas in your trunk?
The answer is no, says Guerro, “Most gas containers are not designed to store fuel but rather to transport a small amount of fuel to a breakdown location. Driving around with a container full of gas not only can cause the occupant of the vehicle to breathe in the fumes, but also can potentially lead to a spill and fire hazard.”
But you can keep an empty gas container in your trunk. Carrying one in case of emergency is a good idea, says Guerro. Just make sure it is absolutely empty after each use. You can do this by leaving it open so the gas evaporates on its own, says API.
Of course the best solution to running out of gas is not to run out in the first place. “Common sense and practice will save a lot of time. When the gas gauge indicates less than a quarter of tank, it is time to fuel,” says Guerro.
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