In Defense of Running Out of Gas, Repeatedly

I have run out of gas eight times. I think. There are eight times that I remember, and that’s the number that I usually mention when telling my running out of gas stories, but it might actually be more than that.

Yes, I have running out of gas stories. Don’t you? It’s not just me, is it?

A quick internet search revealed a post on the popular Freakonomics blog called “Why Don’t People Run out of Gas Anymore?

So maybe it is just me. And come to think of it, the only other running out of gas story I recall hearing is from my dad. So maybe it’s hereditary. (Sorry, kids!)

Anyway, before you think that I’m a complete nincompoop, let me explain.

It all started in high school. The high school parking lot, to be exact. I’d been driving my dad’s beatup 1978 Chevy Caprice for a few days. The thing was huge. My friends and I used to pile six of us in there. Comfortably. It had plenty of room. It also had a large hole in the floorboard, which meant that I could see the road pass beneath me as I drove.

What it didn’t have was a working gas gauge. So when it stalled after school one day, I immediately knew the problem. And when I looked down at the gas gauge the needle rested on E, just as it always did.

And that’s when I learned one of the bedrock lessons of my life: gas gauges can’t be trusted.

That needle rested on empty every single time I got into the car. How the hell am I supposed to know when the thing’s really empty and when it’s just pulling my leg? I’d pour twenty gallons of gas into its cavernous tank, and still the gauge would taunt me with the needle resting on E, as if to say, “Give me more!”

“Well that was five or six cars ago! What’s your excuse now?” a skeptical reader might ask.

And to that reader I’d say that a working gas gauge is not much better.

Automakers try to fool us into thinking we can trust the gauge. They’ve gone and made it digital on some cars, as if disappearing LED bars are more reliable than a needle. Or even worse, they’ve included the deceitful, “Miles to Empty” calculation on my minivan’s dashboard.

I’d like automakers to explain to me how I had 357 miles to empty after I filled up, then drove 80 miles, and now only have 263 miles to empty. Are some miles longer than others?

Since gas gauges are unreliable, deceitful, and enjoy mocking me, I treat them the same way I’d treat a person with similar characteristics: I ignore them!

And what happens most of the time? Nothing.

Not a damn thing happens because the gas gauge is lying when it says that the tank is empty. There’s more gas in there. Automakers tried to get around this inconvenient truth by adding a warning light, which just proves my point. If the gauge were accurate, we wouldn’t need a light, would we?

The warning light’s no better though. The “Check Gauges” or “Low Fuel” or, my favorite, the picture of a gas pump, all light up as if to say, “You’re low on fuel, and I mean it this time.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go suck on a gas pump.

Maybe I’d take these things more seriously if there was some universal standard by which they operated. If automakers would agree that the light would come on when one gallon of gas remained, fine. SUV owners would know to rush to a gas station, and Prius owners would know they could only drive for another week before filling up.

That’s not going to happen though. There’s no uniformity in the world of gas gauges. E doesn’t really mean Empty. It means something more like Almost Empty. If it meant Empty then the needle should never pass it, should it?

So until there are better gas gauges, I’ll continue to ignore them. Sure, maybe I’ll run out of gas again, but I’m happy to report that the last three times I ran out of gas I was able to coast to a gas station, so I’m not too worried about it.

Besides, running out of gas makes for good stories.

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Tags: Cars, Logic

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