AAA warns drivers to not fully rely on ‘miles-to-empty’ fuel warning displays

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FILE – In this Tuesday, June 28, 2016, file photo, a customer puts gas in their vehicle in Miami. Fuel economy standards for new vehicles would rise a little in a new Trump administration proposal made public Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020 but still fall far short of Obama-era standards, bringing howls of protest from environmental groups and a key Democratic senator.(AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

NEW YORK (WWTI) — With gas prices at a seven-year high, many motorists may be tempted to drive their vehicles until its gas tank is near empty. However, new research is explaining the dangers of these habits.

As stated in a AAA consumer survey, 74% of drivers use their “miles-to-empty” display when they are low on gas to decide when to fill up. However, to avoid running out of gas, the insurance company recommends that drivers watch their gas gauge and fill up when it reaches a quarter of a tank.

However, it is not uncommon for motorists to run out of fuel. AAA Western and Central New York stated that it typically responds to more than 400 fuel calls per month. The company added that higher gas prices in 2021 may now cause motorists to continue to stretch time between gas tank full ups.

AAA in collaboration with the Automotive Research Center of the Automobile Club of Southern California just released new research that showed the accuracy of in-dash fuel economy and “miles-to-empty” displays. The research tested accuracy of these systems and found their estimates may vary significantly.

“People want to get the most out of a tank of gas, especially when prices are higher,” Automotive Research Center in California Manager Megan McKernan said. “Collectively, the systems we tested were relatively accurate, but a closer examination of different driving scenarios revealed significant variability based on changes in speed, acceleration and distance.”

According to AAA, these varying estimates are specific for shorter trips or are dependent on the consistency of factors that may affect gas mileage, such as speed and acceleration. AAA warned that this means drivers could be taking unnecessary risks if they loyally rely on these displays.

AAA’s research found that on average, the fuel economy displays of the vehicles showed a relatively low error of 2.3%, as compared to the fuel economy measured by the dynamometer. However, individual vehicle error varied greatly, ranging from −6.4% to 2.8%. AAA stated that the negative number indicates that one test vehicle overestimated fuel economy by 6.4% or 2.2 mpg, while another underestimated it by 2.8% or 0.9 mpg.

Testing of the “miles-to-empty” display found similar results with accuracy, which changed across driving scenarios. AAA assumed that some historical driving data is also used to determine the vehicle’s fuel efficiency for future driving. Therefore, the range estimation, at any given point, is affected by the vehicle’s most recent driving conditions.

“We ran our test vehicles through different driving situations ranging from cruising at highway speeds to being stuck in traffic to typical city driving,” McKernan said. “Despite the irregularities our testing found, a vehicle’s fuel economy display is an important tool to understand how different driving styles impact how efficiently a vehicle uses fuel.

AAA suggested the following tips to maximize fuel economy as gas prices reach a seven-year high:

  • Plan ahead and run multiple errands in one trip, and when possible, avoid times of day when traffic is heavier
  • If you own more than one car, use the most fuel-efficient model whenever possible
  • Avoid hard acceleration to maximize fuel economy and always inflate your tires to the recommended pressure found inside the driver’s side door or owner’s manual
  • Remove unnecessary and bulky items from your car. Minimize use of roof racks and remove special carriers when not in use
  • Consider minimizing use of air conditioning
  • In hot weather, park in the shade or use a windshield sunscreen to lessen heat buildup inside the car

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