The way vehicles run has improved tremendously over the past few decades. The human population has learned a lot about how to better use electricity and we’re beginning to see the benefits of it. But most vehicles still require gas nowadays.
Motorcycles are no exception to that. Without gas, you can’t really get anywhere on your beloved machine. Running out of gas during a ride can be a bit scary as well as extremely annoying, especially if you’re not familiar with the signs and symptoms of it.
What happens when your motorcycle runs out of gas? When a motorcycle runs out of gas, the motorcycle will begin to sputter for several seconds and lose power. Some motorcycles may even simply quit without warning. You will be able to coast for several feet so it’s important you find a safe place to coast to and park your motorcycle.
Some of us like to push our gas gauges to the limits which sometimes results in getting us stranded. I have run out of gas many times in the past and some of the situations were a bit embarrassing. This article will explain what I’ve learned and what you can do to better help your situation.
What Happens When You Run Out Of Gas
Whether you purposely try to stretch the limits of the fuel’s ability in your motorcycle or you simply were unaware of the low amount in your tank, just know that running out of gas is something that happens to most motorcyclists.
Anyone who drives any sort of vehicle will likely run into a situation like this. It’s just a fact of driving something that uses gasoline. It can be a little tricky when it happens to a motorcycle because of how different they are compared to other vehicles.
Most motorcycles have two types of fuel delivery systems: a carburetor or a fuel injector. Fuel injectors are seen as more modern and efficient when it comes to fuel delivery. But whether you have a carburetor or a fuel injector on your motorcycle, the symptoms of running out of gas are similar.
When fuel is delivered to the combustion chamber, the appropriate amount of air is also delivered. The fuel and air mixture ignites with the help of the spark plug which is what pushes the pistons in the engine up and down. Without the fuel, the mixture is unable to combust thus the pistons will no longer be able to move, causing the engine to stop functioning.
When your tank runs out of gas, your motorcycle will first start showing signs by starting to sputter. The carburetor or fuel injector are delivering smaller amounts of fuel which is what causes the sputtering. It’s similar to sipping those last few drops of a drink through a straw: you get a few driplets then it’s completely gone. Some motorcycles, however, may simply quit without any warning.
You’ll likely still have electrical power for headlights, blinkers, etc., because you still have current from the battery. Don’t plan on using these lights for too long unless needed because the battery can soon drain from lack of charging from the stator.
When the motorcycle looses power, you’ll still be able to coast. You’ll need to coast and steer towards a spot that is safe to park. You may need to leave your motorcycle parked there by itself while you go fetch some gas.
When people run out of gas on their motorcycle, they often worry about the cause being some other underlying issue. It is possible for a motorcycle to quite because of something else, but if your motorcycle was running just fine prior to it quitting and you’re unable to get it started again, your likely culprit is that you just ran out of gas.
If you have found that an empty gas tank wasn’t the cause of the sputtering, see my other article here for other reasons why a motorcycle sputters. To be sure, you can simply look inside the gas tank through the gas cap.
What To Do When Your Fuel Is Empty
Some motorcycles come equipped with a fuel gauge, others don’t have that luxury which leaves the owner in the guessing game most of the time. Being aware of how much gas your tank has is one of the fundamentals of owning a motorcycle.
Again, don’t feel bad if your motorcycle runs out of gas. Most of us motorcyclists experience this one way or another. If you find yourself in a situation like this, there are a few things you need to do to ensure your safety as well as the safety of your bike.
It may be your lucky day if you have a reserve setting on your petcock. Reserve draws from a lower outlet than the main setting. The level of the gas is lower than the main outlet but still above the reserve outlet. You can set it to reserve which will likely give you enough gas to get you to the nearest gas station. This was designed by engineers as a warning to the rider that they only have enough fuel left to get to a gas station.
If you have a phone handy, you’ll first need to call those you had appointments with that you’ll probably not make it to. This can include work, a meeting, family get together, etc. Once you explain your situation and cover your previous engagements, you’ll then need to contact someone you know for help. Hopefully you have a family member, friend, or co-worker that is available to come to your aid.
It’s best if that is person is able to go and get gas for you and bring it to where you are. If the weather is too hot, rainy, or in any way unsuitable for you to be standing in, have them come get you first to fetch some gas at the nearest station. If someone you know isn’t available and a gas station isn’t near, you may need to call a tow truck.
If you don’t have a phone handy, try to figure out how close the nearest gas station is. If it’s somewhat close, you can either walk there and leave your motorcycle parked and bring some gas back or you can push your motorcycle to the gas station, whichever you’re more comfortable with.
You also have the option of tracking down other vehicles that are passing by. I don’t recommend you catch a ride with them unless it’s your absolute last resort (you never know with people these days). Rather, ask if you can borrow their cell phone or if they’d be willing to go get you some gas at the closest station.
Is It Bad For Your Motorcycle When You Run Out Of Gas?
At this point, you may be wondering if running out of gas is harmful for your motorcycle. The sputtering sound it can make before it goes out can sound a bit disheartening so it’s natural to wonder if you did something bad to your motorcycle.
You can rest easy knowing that you likely haven’t broken your bike. Occasionally running out of gas while riding shouldn’t do much harm to your motorcycle. I have run out of gas probably a dozen times throughout the past few years and have seen no harmful effects happen to my motorcycle. You’ll just have to have patience trying to start it back up when you get some gas in the tank because it takes time for the new fuel to enter the fuel system.
Some people may argue that running out of gas can ruin a fuel injector because the gas is what cools down that system and can overheat if there’s not fuel running through it. While it is true that gas does cool down a fuel injector, you do need to remember that the motorcycle quickly stalls when there’s no fuel. A fuel injector can’t overheat when the motorcycle isn’t running.
How To Avoid Running Out Of Gas
There are a few things you can do to completely avoid a situation like this altogether. If you aren’t already doing some of these, I highly recommend that you start. Since I’ve started practicing some of these, I’ve never had an issue with running out of gas on my motorcycle.
The first thing I’ll recommend is to never let your tank get lower than halfway. This may seem a bit extreme, but it seems that the second half of a motorcycle tank gets spent a lot faster than the first half.
Don’t assume that because your gas gauge light just came on, you still have several miles left before you really do need to get gas. Any time that light comes on, immediately get gas because those gauges on motorcycles aren’t as reliable as you’d like to think they are.
Peer into the gas tank before every ride. Gauges can tell only so much, but it’s much more of a confirmation looking inside the tank and seeing physically now much gas is left inside.
What kind of gas do motorcycles use? Motorcycles should use ethanol-free higher octane gasoline (no less than a 91 rating). Ethanol is an additive in gas that is used to boost the octane but it can eventually clog up motorcycle carburetors. See my article here for more information.
Can you fill up your tank while the motorcycle is still running? While it is possible to fill your tank while the motorcycle is still running, it is very dangerous to do so. You run a higher risk of static electricity build up when the motorcycle is on which could cause an explosion. It’s best to leave your bike off when fueling up.