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Running out of fuel in the middle of a highway can be a hassle. Luckily, most modern vehicles come equipped with a feature that alerts drivers when they’re almost running on empty. This computer function is called DTE or Distance to Empty.

What Does DTE Stand for In a Car?

DTE is short for Distance to Empty. Located on the dashboard, it tells drivers how far they can drive before they run out of fuel so that they can stop and refuel. The DTE reading could display the distance in miles or kilometers, depending on the vehicle’s specific make and model.

Does My Car Have a DTE Indicator?

Not all vehicles come equipped with a DTE indicator. It’s common in cars manufactured from 2000 onwards. If you’re not sure if your vehicle has it, you can review your owner’s manual or contact your dealership.

How Are DTE Readings Calculated?

Distance to empty info is based on two factors: your vehicle’s average miles per gallon (MPG) and the amount of fuel left in your tank.

Let’s take a car with an MPG rating of 30 and 15 percent fuel left in the gas tank. To determine its distance to empty, you’ll have to multiply these two numbers (.15×30).

If your car has a DTE indicator, you don’t have to manually calculate these figures because the reading will flash on your dashboard automatically.

Is a DTE Reading Accurate?

The DTE on your dash provides a reasonably accurate estimate. According to experts, distance to empty readings can have an error of plus or minus 15 percent.

Remember that this reading is based on your ride’s MPG rating or fuel efficiency. Factors like your driving style and the road conditions in your area can affect how soon you run out of fuel.

Also, if you’re using other features that consume more fuel, your vehicle might run on empty sooner than what’s indicated on the DTE on your dashboard.

Factors That Affect DTE Readings

Your ride’s distance to empty readings could change depending on the following factors:

Vehicle Weight

The heavier your car is, the more fuel it consumes. So expect to run out of gas sooner if you’re carrying heavy cargo or transporting a lot of passengers.

Road Condition and Terrain

The roads you often travel on can affect how quickly you run out of fuel. For example, driving in mountainous terrain can impact your ride’s fuel efficiency, as it burns more fuel to perform its best on uneven ground.

Driving Habits

How you drive your vehicle affects how much fuel you consume. For example, you’ll run out of fuel faster if you often drive on busy city roads compared to when you’re driving on a highway. This is because your vehicle uses more fuel if you press the brakes more often because of traffic.

Also, if you want to conserve fuel, make sure to avoid aggressive driving. After all, frequent acceleration and hard braking push your ride to consume more fuel than usual.


If it’s cold outside, expect your vehicle to consume more fuel, as it needs more fuel to heat the engine. So keep an eye on your fuel gauge and DTE reading whenever you have a long trip during the winter months.

Do I Need to Reset My Car’s DTE?

Not really, as it automatically resets when you refuel your vehicle. However, you may have to reset it manually if you’re having your car serviced.

Resetting your DTE is easy. First, find the button “RESET” or “SET” on your dashboard controls (it’s usually near the odometer). Then, press and hold the button until the DTE resets.

These steps can vary depending on the vehicle. Your owner’s manual would have more information about the process.

Signs of a Malfunctioning DTE Indicator

Like any other system in your vehicle, the DTE mechanism can malfunction. Watch out for these telltale signs that can indicate your DTE reading can be inaccurate:

DTE Reading Constantly Changes

If you notice that the distance to empty data on your dash is constantly fluctuating, it could indicate a problem with the DTE feature. Don’t rely on the DTE once this happens.

DTE Stuck at Zero

Your DTE indicator might also be faulty if it’s stuck at 0. Take a trip to an auto repair shop to determine what’s wrong with the DTE. There might be battery issues or bad components that are causing the sensor to malfunction.

Is Running On Empty Harmful for Your Vehicle?

Running on empty or driving with low fuel levels can cause issues. When your engine doesn’t get the fuel it needs, it’ll start to sputter or misfire. The fuel pump can also suck in the air.

Driving while low on fuel also strains critical components like the fuel pump, engine, and even the catalytic converter.

When Is It Best to Fill Up Your Gas Tank?

You don’t have to wait until your tank is empty before you gas up. The less fuel you have in your tank, the more likely you are to run out of gas in an unsafe or inconvenient area.

Experts can have different suggestions on when to fill up your gas tank. Most suggest that you refuel your vehicle when you have half a tank or a quarter of a tank left.

About The Author
CarParts Research Team
Written By Research Team

Automotive and Tech Writers

The Research Team is composed of experienced automotive and tech writers working with (ASE)-certified automobile technicians and automotive journalists to bring up-to-date, helpful information to car owners in the US. Guided by's thorough editorial process, our team strives to produce guides and resources DIYers and casual car owners can trust.

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic. The accuracy and timeliness of the information may change from the time of publication.

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