A year after launching "Tank on Empty" -- a site dedicated to collecting data and anecdotes about how far cars can drive once the warning light goes on -- the project has managed to land Justin Davis in hot water with worrywarts, motorheads and statisticians ... not to mention his own mother.
No matter, though, as the 24-year-old freelance Web developer has also won a wide audience among Krameresque thrill seekers and plenty of positive attention from bloggers and the press, including a star turn on 20/20 with John Stossel.
Whatever the nitpickers think of the site's data, the personal stories of derring-do and irresponsibility that "Tank on Empty" has collected are a hoot to read ... and we'll point you to a few of the better ones in a moment. First, though, I caught up with Davis last week to see how things have been going with the site.
"Google Analytics says I've had about 600,000 page views and over 110,000 visits since it started," he says. "My server, on the other hand, would disagree -- it's transferred closer to 3 million page views."
The "Tank on Empty" concept is simple: Your light comes on, you hit the trip meter, drive for as long as you can -- or dare -- and then go to the site to submit the number of miles you travelled beyond E. For example, 129 drivers have entered data for the Toyota Corolla, which I drive, logging an average of 44 miles after the light.
Davis continues: "The feedback I receive usually identifies three types of people: The ones who think it's a fun idea (my favorite); people who don't think the information is detailed enough because it doesn't take into account engine size or number of passengers or something (the pedants); and, the people who have to warn against driving on low gas because it'll hurt your car or could kill you or something (the overreactors). It's fun to categorize them as people leave messages."
Then there are those who warrant special categories of their own, such as Mom.
"My mother was driving a couple months ago and the gas light went on," Davis says. "She had heard that those lights usually give you a rather large range (I can't imagine where she came up with this idea) and in the process ran out of gas. ... She's become more skeptical of her light as a result."
As for the stories from those "Tank on Empty" contributors, they prove once again that it takes all kinds:
There's the Brit who insists that Austins never run of petrol ... and he has the mechanic's bill to prove the point.
Rolling into a gas station powered only by gravity is a common theme, as you might expect, but not many characterize the experience as "one of the proudest moments of my life."
Any parent who's ever started Monday morning by staring at a gauge gone empty will relate to the Dad in this college student's tale (bonus for the '66 Mustang).
As Mom's will this one.
Good rule of thumb here: Don't use your car to push one that's run out of gas.
Need we remind everyone that the warning light is only helpful if heeded? And if it comes on before the car stops moving.
And my personal favorite:
"There isn't a month that goes by without a phone call from my wife wanting me to bring her some gas," writes this fellow, who goes on to explain how she acquired the habit. ... "Even with all of my inconveniences leaving work to get her gas, she is a wonderful wife and mother."
She had better be.
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