When we started to plan our first major(ish) trip after the coronavirus, it became clear that we would be going on a road trip. Having taken several of these trips as a child, I remember some of the things that can happen when you travel in your car for hundreds or thousands of miles from home in your vehicle.
For instance, I remember when we suffered the blowout of three of our tires (including the spare) while towing a pop-up trailer. The memory of having to unhitch a trailer to change a tire during the rain on the side of I-95 is still burned into my mind. I blame the person we bought the used car from (who we knew personally) that replaced all of the tires with bald ones before we purchased the car.
A vehicle breakdown was high on my list of things to worry about when taking a 9-hour road trip to/from northern Georgia. We took my relatively new car, which I’ve taken good care of. I even took her in for a check-up before the trip for good measure, so we had little worries. My car ran great the entire way there.
I had no worries about the way home since the drive there was uneventful. I had over 1/2 of a tank of gas when we left the cabin. My car told me that I had 200 miles left until the tank was empty. This was more than I would have expected but I’d never drove the car on highways for the majority of a trip. MPG is always different for local and highway.
During the drive, I got an alert that my fuel level was getting low. I had 60 miles left until empty. I asked Sharon what exit the Stuckey’s was located. It was 15 miles away. Plenty of gas left to get there. I had a slight worry but once I saw the exit sign I started to feel relief. The car said I still had 30 miles until empty on the gas gauge.
That’s when it happened. The car just stopped accelerating. Hitting the gas did nothing. The check engine light came on. I hit the flashers and managed to get over to the shoulder.
Once stopped I turned off the car and put it into park. I tried to start the car. Nothing. Nothing but warning lights on the dashboard.
Honestly, I went into freakout mode. This was one of my worst fears come true. Sitting in a broken car on the side of the highway in the middle of south Georgia. Sharon had the sense to get my AAA card and to call for help. While she was sitting on hold, I went through options. Would we have to stay overnight to have the car repaired? Could we rent a car to get home? What about a hotel?
While the AAA operator was telling us that a driver would take hours to reach our location, a HERO (Highway Emergency Response Operator) truck pulled up behind us. I masked up, got out of the car (which was much easier because of the truck telling people to change lanes) and talked with the HERO driver. He asked what was wrong.
I told him that the car just stopped accelerating but I think I might be out of gas. He asked me if the fuel light came on, which I sheepishly replied, “Yes, it did.”
He said that he had a gallon of gas in the truck and we could see if that would help. I thanked him and popped the fuel tank lid. His little red container dumped a gallon of gas into my tank and I turned the key.
My car wasn’t broken. I just ran out of gas. Simple as that. The gallon of gas from the HERO driver would get me to the Stuckey’s at the next exit so I could fill the tank. I asked the driver if I needed to pay him for the gas but he wouldn’t take payment. We even asked him if he wanted a bottle of water, which he, in his best Georgia accent, respectfully declined.
His last words to us before getting back into his truck was to say that if we ever had a problem again, all we had to do was dial 511 for help.
We spent about 30 minutes stuck on the side of the road but it felt like hours. The arrival of Georgia DOT roadside assistance was a lifesaver. His 1 gallon of gas saved our trip home and several hours waiting for a tow truck to arrive.
From this experience, I learned something. Never trust the miles until empty that your car tells you. When you get to 1/4 tank, find the nearest gas station and fill ‘er up.
I’ll remember that on our next road trip.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary
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Seriously? You take your car in for a 1970’s style “check up” before your trip, yet you let it run out of gas? And no, you should not believe the “miles to empty” number – which is just an estimate. You should never let the tank get less than 1/4 full. Never. Once the low fuel light turns on, you have 20-30 miles at best. Oh, and had your vehicle been a diesel, merely putting a gallon in wouldn’t have done it. Diesel engines hate being starved of fuel and have to be primed before starting them again.
Rookie traveler move here….
Guilty as charged. I know my car and I usually have at least 60 miles once the light comes on under normal conditions. The highway driving messed up my estimate.