One third of drivers don't fill up until their gas light turns on. Here's why.

person filling car with gas

Waiting until your gas light turns on to fill up can be a risky move. So when it comes to getting gas, why is America prolonging the inevitable?

Running on empty?

If you've ever run out of gas on the road, you're not alone: while most can agree it seems totally avoidable, running out of gas is nonetheless a common mishap. But it begs the question: why? We figured that if there's a tangible snag, then there must be a tangible remedy. So naturally, we wondered: how many people stay on top of their gas and how many wait until the last minute … and why the holdup?

To find out, we surveyed 2,000 Americans and asked them the following questions:

  • At what point do you typically fill up your gas tank?
  • Why have you put off getting gas?

Read on or jump forward to learn:

One third of drivers wait until their gas light turns on to fill up

We all need reminders sometimes, especially on the road. That's why our cars have a variety of warning lights to let us know when something's not quite right. When your gas light turns on, you know it's time to hit up a pump ASAP. Despite the fact that you can easily see when your tank's getting low, 32% of drivers still wait until that final warning light comes on to fill up their tanks.

32% of drivers wait until their gas light turns on to fill up their tank

Proactiveness at the pump increases with age

The tendency to fill up when your tank is still half full increases with age. Only 12% of people ages 18–34 fill up at half a tank, versus 51% of respondents 55 or older.

There's a general perception that the older you get, the fewer risks you take — and science actually backs this up. According to a study in Current Biology, older people were less likely to select risky gambles for a higher reward in a gaming app. And when you think about it, driving with your gas light on is a bit of a gamble, too — with all of the risk, but none of the reward.

Graph: Age of respondents who fill up when their tank is still half full

Price pushes 30% of people to stretch their tanks

Most people (1/3 of respondents) put off getting gas for price-related reasons. Nineteen percent said they look for cheaper gas, and 11% said they don't have enough money for a full tank. With rising prices, Americans struggle to pay at the pump. In May 2019, average gas prices reached $2.85 — a 27% increase from January, when they hovered around $2.25.

Chart: National Average of Gas Prices

The second most common reason for putting off getting gas was time. One fourth of respondents said they were too busy to fill up or that stopping at a gas station was inconvenient. Distance was the least-cited reason for not getting gas, which might suggest that people are willing to travel further for cheaper gas.

Infographic: Why do people put off getting gas?

Get gas price predictions with Fuelcaster

Enduring the crush of traffic after a long day's work, say, can wear anyone down. Top that off with steep gas prices, and putting off a trip to the pump is all the more alluring. Besides, you have your handy mileage tracker, right? But the problem with that is, it's only an estimate — it doesn't account for driving style, terrain, tire pressure, or headwinds … all of which impact how far you can stretch your gas. When it comes right down to it, every time we stretch our fuel to the nth degree it's not unlike backing the horses and never collecting.

Luckily, whether your biggest snag with getting gas is money or time, Esurance has a way you can budget for both.

Enter: Fuelcaster®.

Fuelcaster is an online tool that predicts if gas prices are expected to rise or fall within 24 hours. So, if exorbitant gas prices are discouraging, it can clue you in on when to get the biggest bang for your buck. If it's timing, it can show you where the cheapest and closest stations are — or, hey, if it's better to hold off on getting gas altogether.

The best part? You don't even have to be an Esurance customer to use Fuelcaster … it's Free for anyone to use! Simply enter your ZIP code and Fuelcaster will suggest whether to buy today or wait for possible lower prices tomorrow.

At Esurance, we know that if an empty tank is a nuisance, then insurance can be downright painful. That's why we're on a mission to make insurance surprisingly painless. Get a quick, free quote today and see for yourself.

Sources: Repair Pal | GasBuddy | FRED Economic Data | Statista | AAA | National Association of Convenience Stores | US Energy Information Administration


This study consisted of two survey questions conducted using Google Surveys. The sample consisted of no fewer than 1,000 completed responses per question with non-drivers removed from the final results. Post-stratification weighting has been applied to ensure an accurate and reliable representation of the total population. The survey ran during July 2019.

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