How and when people spend money is a personal choice, as life has different demands for different folks. And when it comes to filling a car up with fuel, there's no hard-and-fast rule for when exactly those dollars should be turned into gasoline before the car hits empty. Some people fill up every trip, some wait until the light comes on, while others just fill up at the Sunday Costco run no matter the amount or price. Then there are those who play with fire and wait until the needle is below the last hashmark.
When we asked our readers about their fueling habits, the results varied across the spectrum, but rising gas prices are changing how people approach their spending. These $5-per-gallon pumps have drivers rethinking when to get gas, so let's go to the tape to see what you all had to say.
On Fuel Prices
As expected, there were several comments that referenced the current spike in gas prices. Per-gallon costs vary throughout the country, but no matter the location, the numbers are near or above all-time record highs. Seeing those numbers is changing the way people visit the pump.
@Moparman: "Years ago, I would fill up and drive down to almost empty, and fill up again. Nowadays, the price of gas rises much faster than it goes down! My new modus operandi now is, anytime I see gas the same price or cheaper than my last purchase and there's room in the tank, TOP IT OFF! Generally, though, half a tank is as low as I prefer to get. :-)"
@FixitAgainTony: "The longer you wait, the more expensive gas gets."
@Rollk1: "Until I absolutely need to spend $6.00/gallon"
@M Kizzy: "I used to wait until I was below 100 miles to empty before visiting the gas station. Now with fuel prices rising so quickly, I tend to fill up when I'm at half a tank. It almost feels like rising fuel prices are preparing drivers to change their refueling habits for our EV future, where many owners will likely treat their cars like iPhones and plug in to top off the battery every chance they get."
@krose: "I used to let it get pretty low. The stations I use limit [credit card] fuel purchases to $100. My last fill-up the pump stopped at $100 and it wasn't full. I'll be filling up at 1/2 tank from now on."
@ToasterStrudel: "Somewhere between a quarter and half a tank left. My dad gave me a $50 gas card for Father's Day, and I stopped at the Shell. Got me less than 8 gallons of gas. I know it's only psychological, but filling all the way up in CA could give you PTSD afterward. $6.50 x 26 gallons for our F-150…"
When they're not thinking about gas prices, some people (like our own Andrew Collins) are worried by the thought of an earthquake ruining the day and stranding them in place.
@Youks1: "Never below 1/2 tank. I used to live in SF and heard too many stories about people in the '89 quake running out of gas. Plus, I do tend to wake up each day expecting the Apocalypse (which is so relaxing…) ;-)"
@86LX50: "It cost just as much above the half tank as it does below minus burning up a fuel pump,."
If this were "Goldilocks and the Three Bears," the quarter-tank crowd is probably the middle bowl of porridge. Not too early, not too late, just right. The only stress here is when the credit card bill shows up.
@Mr Miller: "no less than a quarter…I have a 35-gallon tank, so even a quarter is a good amount of gas.
@James Copeland: "1/4 tank is my line in the sand."
@AFondoConFe: "1/4 is my call to go to the gas station. Anything below that just makes me a tiny bit uncomfortable."
@Fun is greater than Fast: "1/4 tank is my usual limit to stop and find gas. Occasionally I struggle to find 93 Octane while traveling, so it's good to have some margin. The fuel in the tank is used to cool the fuel pump on a lot of vehicles, so running it well into E can allow the pump to warm up or even over heat."
You don't have to ride a motorcycle to take risks on the road. You could also play the guessing game of how many miles the car will drive after the fuel light goes on.
@AKBrian: "Depends on the time of year, but in the winter I'll usually try to keep it above the ~1/8th to 1/4th tank level to minimize potential condensation issues. In the summer I have no problem going down to the E indicator line (on my 4Runner) or the ~5-10 miles of range remaining on my Fiesta ST.
"Having said that, if I'm on the roads and away from home, stations can get pretty spaced out. There are spots where if I've got less than a half tank, that's a problem. I've only once or twice dipped below the 'Remaining range: 0 miles' point on the FiST - the first time it happened I was able to catch an exit about two miles down the road and fuel up. The second time it happened, the station I stopped into was fully shut down, and the next stop was 15 miles away. It made it, but the pucker factor was quite high. I don't plan on ever testing what happens if I were to push it further, but I'm glad there's a small idiot buffer built in beyond the normal low fuel indicator light (which comes on at ~35-40 miles from 0)."
@MC R: "I always drive down to the final line, mainly to track my mileage by resetting my trip meter. I drive a 2010 Holden (Chevy) Cruze, the 2.0 Turbo Diesel, manual, sedan. Suburban driving gets me about 750km (466miles) from 55L (14.5 gal) of diesel (the tank is 60L/15.8gal). Inner City is closer to 550km (340mi). On the interstate highway, the only time I can use 5th gear, I get a glorious 900km (560mi) - which just happens to be the driving distance between Melbourne and Sydney :)"
@Arrow_True: "When the low fuel light turns on I stop when its convenient and fill it all the way back up, or as much as they let me put in $125 worth. Rinse and repeat."
As we said, there's no right or wrong way to buy gas. Do what fits your lifestyle and your finances. Just don't risk getting stranded in a dangerous place.