How Far a Ford Transit Can Go On Empty

Here’s what to know about how far a Ford Transit can go on empty: 

A Ford Transit can go between 35 to 80 miles when the fuel warning lights are on. Your fuel tank is about 1/16 full when the indicator shows E (empty). However, the distance you can go on empty varies depending on your van’s average mpg, the road conditions, and your driving habits.  

Before we go any further, I’d like you to know that intentionally driving on empty is a terrible idea. If anything, it doesn’t help you save money on fuel as other people wrongly think. It’s as dangerous to your van as it is to you, so please don’t make it a habit.  

In this guide, I’ll help you estimate how far you can go on empty, and that’s strictly for emergencies. You’ll also figure out why it’s possible and why you shouldn’t rely on the Distance to Empty feature. Since this is really important – I’ll highlight the potential dangers of driving your Ford Transit on empty. 

Buckle up, and let’s take a tour. 


There’s Reserve Fuel When You Go on Empty 

Your gas tank is never fully empty when the fuel indicator dips low. Ford says your tank’s fuel level is usually 1/16 of its total capacity when your fuel level indicator shows E, and you hear a chime.  

In my experience, there are usually about 2 gallons of fuel left in the tank when the fuel indicator of a Ford Transit issues a warning. That’s why you can drive on empty before your engine finally stops inevitably.  

Since your van may not have the exact fuel economy as mine, I can only advise you to estimate this based on your van’s mpg and driving habits, which I will now explain. 


How Far You Can Go on Empty Varies 

According to Ford, you can go on empty for about 35 to 80 miles. However, you’re likely to do 50 miles or less, and that depends on various factors, including the following: 

  • The van’s fuel economy: A Ford Transit Connect has a combined mpg of 22, meaning it could go on empty for longer than a full-size Ford Transit van. 
  • Road conditions: Your van will go on empty for fewer miles if the road is on an incline. And if you’re sitting in traffic, the numbers will drop dramatically. 
  • Driving habits: Folks with heavy feet will likely get fewer miles on empty because hitting the gas to the floor empties the tank faster. 

I’ve driven on empty at least once, and I was caught on an unusual route the first time. The Distance to Empty indicator of the Ford Transit Connect I was driving showed 16 miles remaining. Fortunately, I still went for about 23 miles (with sweaty palms on the steering) before getting to the nearest gas station. 

A van-savvy person will tell you that compact cargo vans have a decent fuel economy, but doing those seven extra miles was a surprise, if not a miracle, to me. I’ve also driven my family’s 10-passenger Transit and got 33 miles with the fuel lights on. Impressive, I know, but there’s a punchline. 

I did it purely out of curiosity, and I don’t recommend it no matter how fun-loving you are. That’s because I came to an unexpected halt before getting to the nearest gas station, which was a couple of extra miles ahead. This was of course dangerous, as it could have happened on a busy road where there is heavy traffic and other such situations! 


The Distance to Empty Feature is Inconsistent 

Newer Ford Transit models have a Distance to Empty feature in the instrument cluster, in addition to the conventional fuel level indicator. It shows you how many miles you have left once the fuel lights come on. But that’s the point – it only gives you a rough estimate of how far you can go until you run completely out of gas. 

The Distance to Empty feature may give you an earlier alert when you have about 80 miles remaining on the highway. And if you’re towing or idling a lot, it could warn you when you have 35 miles or less. 

It uses previous data of your mileage and fuel efficiency at the time it shows you the readings. That’s why you may find different readings each time you refuel. However, variables change, and it does not account fully for those. In my experience, it’s not something you can fully rely on, or else it will get you stranded. 


Driving on Empty Puts You in Danger 

Having a rough idea of how far you can go on empty sounds reassuring, but it’s very risky. Getting stranded on the side of a freeway is obvious, but that’s only one thing. Think of a horrible situation where you’re a thousand and one miles away from civilization in Nevada, it’s sizzling hot, and you have kids in the van. 

Driving on empty could also land you in a situation where your van breaks down suddenly on a blind turn. A car traveling at 60 mph could easily rear-end you, and I can only imagine the catastrophe. 


Driving on Empty Will Damage Your Van 

Going on empty once is not a big deal, but it can be harmful if you do it repeatedly. Here’s what driving on empty does to your van in the long run: 


1. Your Fuel Filter Will Get Clogged 

Your van’s gas tank gradually collects dirt and sediments, which settle at the bottom. When you drive on empty, there are high chances the pump will draw in the materials. Then they clog the pump’s fuel filter, and you’ll have trouble with the flow of gas to your engine. 


2. It Spoils Your Fuel Pumps & is Expensive to Repair 

In my experience, driving on empty is the quickest way to damage the fuel pumps. Remember, the fuel pump is usually submerged in the gas tank. With proper driving and maintenance, it can last for the life of your van.  

But if you drive your Ford Transit on empty, the fuel pump is no longer submerged in the gas. It could, therefore, overheat and get spoiled. 

A mechanic must then drain the gas tank before replacing the pump (which has its own cost), meaning the whole thing could make you part with as much as $1K! 


3. The Engine Misfires 

Driving your van on empty means the engine draws in more air and not the fuel it constantly needs. It then starts to misbehave by misfiring frequently. You’ll notice it in the form of vibrations, hesitations to start, and loss of power on the fly. It’s not good for your engine in the long run, and it could land you in bigger problems on the road. 


Always Refuel When Your Gas Tank is 1/4  Full 

As a rule of thumb, I nowadays always maintain filling my tank when it’s just 1/4 way above empty. This has kept me from driving on empty, and I never have to deal with the trouble that may arise from it. It’s therefore reasonable to keep your fuel level at 1/4 way of the tank capacity or thereabouts. 


What To Do if You Completely Run Out of Gas 

Your van could run out of gas completely for various reasons. For example, your fuel indicator may not have been working properly, and you kept driving. In rare circumstances, your fuel may have been leaking at the same time your gauges and warning lights are malfunctioning. 

In such a challenging situation, I recommend you don’t panic. You’ll know your tank is completely drained once you feel the engine misfire. Regardless, you have to keep yourself, your passengers, and other road users safe. Here’s what to do when your van’s fuel tank runs completely out of gas: 

  1. Turn on your hazard lights to warn other motorists. 
  1. Pull off the road to a safer location if possible. 
  1. Call for help. If you know someone who lives nearby, call them to inform them of your situation. If there isn’t any friend or family around, you could contact an emergency roadside service provider. If you’ve entirely run out of options, I can only advise you to call a towing truck or the police. 


Closing Thoughts 

I’d like to think we’ve all been in this situation at least once – driving down a busy road with illuminating fuel lights. You can’t help but panic and feel overly anxious. And it doesn’t matter whether you were running late or weren’t just careful with the instruments on the dash.  

At times you’re just massaging your ego, and tempting fate like I once did. 

But before letting your Ford Transit van run on empty again, it’s worth noting how many or how few miles you have left. A Ford Transit can go between 35 to 80 miles on empty, and it depends on other factors. It’s also crucial to know what else you’re staking when your gas tank runs to depletion. 

Driving on empty is understandable if you’re caught once or twice in an emergency. But making it a habit is wrong and dangerous, so please don’t do it.