Running out of gas = damage to car

A co-worker told me that her daughter ran out gas in their new car and it caused $1000 dollars of repair bills. She claims that new cars use an injection system that will be damaged by an empty gas tank. I know it’s a silly question but she’s a a smart woman and she swears it’s true.

AFAIK, the theory goes that sediment in the bottom of the gas tank will get sucked up in concentrated form by whatever feeds the fuel injectors and gunk up the engine. Having a full gas tank keeps the sediment from concentrating.

That’s the theory, anyway. I’m not sure if it’s true, but anecodtally, I can tell you that I haven’t known anyone that this has caused damage to.

In-tank electric fuel pumps (pretty much standard for years now) are designed to remain immersed in liquid, which lubricates and cools their moving parts. Running dry can damage them. Some pumps are more sensitive to this than others, but it’s not unheard of for even a single incident of running out of gas to cause a pump to fail in short order. Pump replacement costs vary with different vehicles, but I’d say an average is in the 500 range. If it’s a European car, 1000 would not surprise me.

Neither have I. I’ve heard that explanation for decades now, but never seen evidence that it actually occurred. The fuel pick-up tube is always in the same place, very near the bottom of the tank at one spot. I would think sediment would have to travel laterally across the bottom surface in order to collect in such a way as to matter, and I can’t see how that would happen.

Note also that in the OP’s case, it’s a new car which wouldn’t have any sediment to speak of.

Could it possibly have been a diesel engine. They don’t like to be run dry and bleeding air from injectors is a pain.

I had a very expensive repair when my fuel gauge died and my boyfriend ran out of gas in my car. The problem was that fuel stuff cooling issue, all sorts of assemblies had to be replaced, and it cost me a thousand bucks before the day was done. In Charleston. Which is not where I live.

Can you be more specific as to what happened? Did you fill up after and the car started misbehaving? If so, in what way – what would be the symptoms?

Some cars can be repaired with replacing just the pump (and intake strainer) rather than replacing the entire assembly. GM is common this way where Dodge is not:(
This could save a lot of money.
I have also heard that water will destroy a fuel pump very rapidly.
I was also told that an injector cleaner or similar product could dislodge buildups in the intake strainer.
And a gunked up intake strainer can starve a pump leading to failure. The last pump I replaced in my pickup had a very clogged strainer.
Therefore regular use of fuel system cleaners is better than waiting for symptoms and then trying to preform miraculous things.

You could pour a friggin bucket of sand in the fuel tank if you wanted to; it won’t make it to the engine. The pump (the first thing fresh, sediment-laden fuel sees) might get destroyed, but there is a filter immediately downstream of the pump, so nothing else will be harmed.

$1000 sounds like an awful lot for a new fuel pump, even including labor to drop/reinstall the tank (pump typically resides in tank). If OP hasn’t seen the actual repair bill, I’d guess:

A) the coworker is exaggerating/lying, or
B) the coworker’s daughter got scammed by the mechanic for a bunch of extra crap she didn’t really need.

I was told by my father, who drove a Prius, that it would be disastrous to allow it to run out of gas; I don’t know exactly why, but my impression was that it would really mess up the (very elaborate) electronics. So ask if the new car was a hybrid, maybe that’s why it was so expensive to fix.

I’m trying to remember exactly what had to be replaced (and I called around to a few local places to make sure I wasn’t being taken for a ride, and they all said it was the same thing - evidently a very high labor job.) The boyfriend was driving down to Charleston and the car just, you know, stopped running. (Because it was out of fuel.) The fuel gauge had stopped at a quarter tank or something and he hadn’t noticed. So that broke first, and then he drove it completely out of gas. They told me that the whole fuel system is cooled by the fuel itself, so the fuel pump and I guess everything associated with it were completely fried and it all needed to be replaced, including of course the faulty gauge assembly that started the whole thing. I can’t for the life of me remember exactly which things needed to be replaced, but it was just under a thousand bucks with labor.

There’s nothing special about the fuel injection system on a Prius. Same as other modern cars: fuel circulates through pump, filter, injectors, backpressure regulator, and (whatever doesn’t get squirted out of the injectors) back to tank.

The fuel pump does rely on fuel for cooling, but there’s nothing else in the fuel system that runs particularly hot. The only other thing that gets slightly warm is the injectors themselves, and that’s almost entirely because of engine heat. They are cooled by fuel flowing through them as a result of injection events; they aren’t particularly cooled by the fuel circulating past their top end in the fuel rail. And as soon as fuel stops flowing through the fuel system, guess what - the engine stops running! As far as the injectors are concerned (and anything else in the fuel system except the pump), it’s exactly as if you had simply turned the key off.

I’ve never personally seen it, but have seen it on TV. On the first episode of “Mythbusters,” they bought a 1967 Chevy (for the Jet Assisted Take Off Car myth) which suddenly stopped running. The reason, the fuel filter was clogged by rust from the gas tank. Simply replacing it got the car running.

My son’s wife ran his ~ '00 Chevy S-10 truck out of gas, just once, and he had to replace his fuel pump. About a year ago, fwiw. It took him and another person most of a day to lift the bed off the truck to get at the pump and reinstalled. It took four more trips (and install/pulling-out ‘new’ pumps) before he was given a ‘working’ pump from the parts-store (!). Parts-store (national chain) had lots of complaints/returned pumps with a manufact-rep coming to town to see what was up…piss-poor workmanship basically.

In the end, it took five pumps, with each one installed/pulled, to get it running again. All from his wife running out of gas after passing the store with cash in pocket she was given to purchase gas…all in all, it could’ve easily hit $1000 in labor alone if he, me, and a friend had no idea of what to do for repairs. Things are not as easy/cheap as the ol’ shade-tree fixing-cars days :wink: Just sayin’…

I think you need to insist on this lady telling you what was damaged and the procedures they had to do that cost $1,000.

If I may add that the needle has to stay at “E” for some time. John Stossel, formerly of ABC, drove over 40 miles (correct me if I’m wrong) on an “empty” tank. Apparently European gas gauges are more accurate where “E” is actually empty while we Americans want some insurance. You know you’re low on gas and then it hits “E” and you keep going?

Personally, I’ve run out of gas once. I had the fuel pump replaced in a 77 Nissan (my father’s friend did it all in the street), but the wire for the fuel gauge wasn’t re-attached. Fortunately, I was 2 blocks from home and a 5 gallon gas can, which was for my lawn mower.

I’ve never run out of gas, but I once bought ten gallons of gas and two gallons of water. It totalled the fuel pump. The cost of replacing the pump, cleaning the injectors and draining all the lines was around $1300.

I have seen that, but that’s different from what statsman1982 brought up. Debris in the tank can clog the in-tank fuel strainer attached to the fuel pick-up tube, and it can clog the external (to the tank) fuel filter. What was being discussed, which I have not seen, is the debris lying on the bottom of the tank suddenly getting sucked in en masse when the fuel level gets low enough to run out of gas.

Taking off on a tangent here, this situation sometimes occurs in 20+ year old vehicles with steel gas tanks. The inside of the tank is coated to prevent rust, but given enough time the coating can disintegrate. Rust formation is then rapid and prolific, and simply replacing filters and strainers only provides temporary respite. The long-term cure is to replace the tank or have it recoated.

The fuel pump for my truck is $300.00 plus tax and that includes my NAPA discount for buying alot from them and the owner is a friend of mine. I would guess close to $400.00 taxes in for someone off the street, add in the labour to drop and drain the tank, install a new filter and pump and a grand does not seem to be all that much. Just getting the bolts out that hold the tank straps can be a pain in the butt not to mention the ring that holds the pump in on the top of the tank. Keep in mind that these things generally get pretty rusty and using a torch to loosen them is not an option.