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June 22, 2012

Car Talk

Are there really risks to always running on empty?

Syndicated columnists

Dear Tom and Ray:
I am a 76-year-old woman, recently engaged to an 80-year-old man. We are truly best friends and agree on everything, except one thing. He drives a 2004 Lincoln Town Car that we affectionately call the "Pimp Mobile." He won't fill up the gas tank until the light comes on and it pings. I tell him this is hard on the fuel pump and that I have heard you state this. Would you please clarify this? Our future wedded bliss is in jeopardy. We both enjoy your radio show and your columns. Thanks. — Annie and Jack

Tom: Gee, Annie, we have mentioned that, in our opinion, habitually driving a car on empty can shorten the life of the fuel pump.

Ray: The reason we think that is because the pump sits inside the gas tank, and so it's cooled by the gasoline it's submerged in. Or not cooled by the gasoline it's not submerged in, if you never put more than two gallons of gas into the car.

Tom: Now, by how much might it shorten the life of a fuel pump? We have no idea. It just makes sense to us that a pump that's constantly running hot will conk out sooner than a pump that is properly cooled.

Ray: But as long as he's filling the tank completely when it's empty, he's probably doing little to no damage. And at a certain age, you have to worry more about his pump failing than the Pimp Mobile's!

Tom: I'm guessing what really bothers you, Annie, is the anxiety that comes with running precariously low on fuel all the time. If you're not someone who's eager to hike five miles back to the nearest gas station if he miscalculates, this can cause a certain amount of continual, and unnecessary, stress.

Ray: So we think that in the interest of marital harmony, Jack should be less concerned with how often he has to stop for fuel, and more concerned with his future wife's peace and comfort.

Tom: That may mean altering his habits a bit, but so what? He's still a young fella. You can't tell me he's stuck in his ways at a mere 80!

Ray: Instead of making this a mechanical argument, Annie, if driving on fumes causes you stress, tell Jack that. And ask him if, for your peace of mind and comfort, he would be willing to fill up the tank when it gets to a quarter-full.

Tom: And then you can do something equally considerate for him. Like not swap his Preparation H with his Dentu-Creme when he's not looking. Have a wonderful time, you two!

(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)

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