Breaking News
More () »

Here's how to find out how long your car can idle before running out of gas | FOX43 Finds Out

Thousands of people were stuck on I-95 in Virginia for more than 24 hours. How long could your car run and keep you warm if it happens to you? FOX43 Finds Out.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — It's the biggest lie we tell ourselves: "Oh I'll get gas in the morning." 

Now that it's winter and your car is running on fumes to get you to work, what happens if you get stuck like all those people in I-95 in Virginia?

FOX43 Finds out how long your car could keep you warm while you wait before it runs out of gas.

Thousands of people were stuck for more than 24 hours on one section of Interstate 95 in Virginia during a recent winter storm.

You also might remember back in 2016, when more than 500 drivers were stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in western PA overnight.

Seeing these images may make you think "how long would my car last?"

Brian Moody from Autotrader.com says that depends on several factors.

"You can safely leave your car idling for many, many hours," he says. "How long that is going to last depends on two things, the amount of gas in your tank and the size of your engine." 

Moody says on average, a vehicle burns about half a gallon an hour while idling. Some may last longer, and some less -- but it's a good starting point.

Next, how much does your gas tank hold?

The average tank is about 15 gallons. Cars can be less and trucks have more. If you really don't know or can't remember, just google your make and model and you'll get an idea. 

You'll need to do some math.

Let's use a Toyota 4Runner as an example.

It has a 23-gallon gas tank. If you have 3/4 of a tank left, that's roughly 17.25 gallons. If your engine burns half a gallon of gas per hour, you would run out of gas in 34.5 hours. 

So here's the math equation:

(Gas tank size) X (amount of gas in your tank) / .5 = how many hours before you run out of gas.

Moody says no matter how high or low you run the heat shouldn't impact your gas usages, but using the defroster might. 

For electric vehicles, that's a different story.

"How hot you make it and how long you run the heater in an electric car may very well have an impact on how long the batteries last," he says. "And in addition, electric cars tend to have less energy the colder it is."

If you want to know exactly how long your EV will last while idling, Moody says there's no real math equation for that.

"An electric car, with nothing running, just sitting there, can go for a very, very long time when the battery is full," he says. "Because most of the energy is used up by you driving."

There are a ton of factors here: gas or electric, how old your car is, fuel efficiency - all that fun stuff.

Just consider this a general guideline and a reminder to fill up your tank before a storm.

Also throw an emergency kit with food, water, shoes, and extra clothes in your car each winter.

"I think just, personally, that having your car be below a quarter of a tank, there's just no reason for that because there are gas stations all over the place," says Moody.

So what do you do if you didn't fill that tank up and you run out of gas?

Moody says to abandon ship.

Yes, you'll likely have to pay for your car to eventually be towed, but with freezing temperatures, it can become a life or death situation to stay or try to find somewhere else warm to wait. 

If you have a story you want Jackie to look into, FOX43 wants to find out. Send her a message on Facebook or send an email to FOX43FindsOut@FOX43.com. 

Download the FOX43 app here.