Running One

Published in the July 2010 Issue July 2010 Ryan Harris

There's something about refueling that is so inconvenient.

I really enjoy the benefits of a full tank of diesel in the truck, but stopping when you're on your way somewhere is annoying.

Like this one time, my wife and I are on our way through Montana. There's an 80-mile stretch of I-15 between Butte and Dillon where there's not a fuel pump to be found. Which is alright, as long as you stopped to fill up in Deer Lodge or Butte.

I didn't, and our '04 6.0L Power Stroke consumed fuel with a vengeance. I started worrying about 40 miles south of Butte, when the on-board display read something like "8 Miles to E." We pulled off on one of the farm access exits and located a small bar, filled with about all seven of the locals. I found a slightly inebriated guy who was willing to sell me a few gallons of farm fuel-we just had to drive out to his dad's farm. This was the source of some excitement on this Sunday afternoon, because everybody in that bar except the bartender hopped in the back of a pickup and led us out to dad's place.

If the truck hadn't ran out of fuel by the time we hit the bar, it was sure going to on the way to this guy's farm. But we lucked out. The guy sold us 10 gallons of red diesel for $20. And I think the party carried on at this guy's farm for another couple hours.

You'd think that would be enough to learn a lesson, but despite that and all the technical things that can go wrong when a diesel is starved, its happened again.

This time, I was driving a Duramax with an aftermarket large-capacity tank. You get used to ignoring the low fuel light in this situation, because that typically comes on when you still have about 9 gallons in the tank. What I didn't account for, was that we had just installed a 1/2-inch pickup straw in the tank, and it wasn't quite reaching the bottom. In fact, I think I made it about 12 miles from when the fuel light came on until the truck was dead on the side of the road. Now that sucks, but it was the middle of winter and about 5 degrees below outside. I hiked half a mile to a friend's house and borrowed a car. We brought fuel back to the truck the next day, when the weather had warmed to the positive side of the thermometer.

I know it's not just me. I was riding in an '03 Cummins with a couple guys, and just as the guy was bragging about how he'd gone so many miles on this tank, the engine cut out and we're all left staring at each other on the side of a highway.

And another guy drove about 700 miles on a 56-gallon fuel tank without filling up, and his truck literally ran dry as he pulled into a fuel station. That one took us a few hours to bleed and restart.

So what's the moral of this story? If your fuel gauge is on empty, you've got a good 40 miles left in the tank...

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