I once owned an ancient Volkswagen Beetle that had no fuel gauge. If the engine began to sputter for lack of gas, VW instructed the driver to quickly flip a lever under the dash that provided an additional bit of fuel, presumably enough for the car to reach a gas station.
I once forgot to reset my Beetle’s lever after a fill-up, and when the engine sputtered, there was no reserve. I was pushing 65 mph on the freeway with a big semi nipping at my exhaust pipe as my engine was dying, causing me to anticipate my own demise unless I pulled off the road fast enough.
Today, it’s unimaginable that a car wouldn’t have a basic fuel gauge. Most modern vehicles also have electronic doohickeys that calculate a car’s fuel economy and show how many miles remain before the tank runs dry. Despite all this information, folks still run out of gas—AAA’s Roadside Assistance gets about a half million such calls a year.
Running out of gas can be dangerous for you and your passengers—and for your bank account, too. Unlike my primitive Beetle, which had a mechanical fuel pump that wasn’t damaged by a lack of gas, modern cars typically have an electric fuel pump buried inside the gas tank that is lubricated and cooled by the gasoline. The electric pump serves a finicky, finely tuned fuel-injection system. Without gasoline, the electric pump can self-destruct, sending debris into the fuel injectors and requiring costly repairs.