Web site tackles age-old question

How far can you drive after the gas-tank warning light goes on?

Now there's a question that can drive a driver around the bend. In fact, it has dogged motorists ever since Henry Ford first uttered those immortal words -- "Hey, guys, this thing needs a gas-tank warning light" -- and even inspired a memorable "Seinfeld" episode called "The Dealership."

Most of us muddle through life not knowing the answer to the question -- not daring to find out the hard way -- and living in mortal fear that we're letting the needle slide too close to its final resting place.

Not Justin Davis, though: He's no muddler, he's a seeker of knowledge.

Which brings us to TankOnEmpty (www.tankonempty.com), a so-called crowdsourcing site just launched by Davis. From the site's "about" page:

"During a road trip from Michigan to New York, the gas light went on and we wondered how far we could go before stopping. Since there wasn't a way to find out without calling AAA, we decided to let some Internet collaboration help out. If enough people vote, we can get a better idea of how far you can go once your gas light goes on.

"After thinking this over, we realized there must be some great stories out there about people on car trips or just about their car in general. Why not have a place to share these stories with other people too? So if you've got a great story about a road trip, or a just an entertaining story about driving, share it with us and the community."

A series of drop-down menus let you find the data-collection page for your vehicle, at which point you're asked for the maximum mileage you've pushed things after the light goes on. You don't have to have risked being stranded to participate, and mileage estimates are OK.

The site will tally up all the mileage entries and spit out an average, maximum and standard deviation for each make and model.

A 24-year-old freelance Web developer working at a start-up, Davis lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., and tells me in an e-mail exchange that he's been tinkering with TankOnEmpty "for a couple weeks on and off."

I mentioned to him that I couldn't help noticing from the anecdote he tells about the idea's origin that he has yet to really test his own car's outer limits.

His reply: "Hmm, that's a good point. Part of the reason is that it would really only answer the question for my car. With the collaboration of users, we can get a better idea about how far all cars go. The other part of the reason is that I had no audience until last night, so if enough people add their 2 cents, it will make sense."

 Suddenly I can't wait for the next time my gas-tank light comes on. Can't promise a full-tilt Kramer, because I'm just not that kind of guy, but I do intend to suck up some fumes.28,000 pay $10 apiece for free forms  Here was my first thought on reading that 28,000 of my fellow Bay State residents had paid $10 apiece for Registry of Motor Vehicle forms that are available free online: Maybe Massachusetts isn’t as smart as we all like to believe.  Second thought: Maybe those duped really had no chance. I mean, what exactly about the government charging $10 for anything – even a form – would strike the average person as suspicious?  Third thought: Don’t be smug, those of you who live in the other 49 states. Tell you why in a minute.  From The Boston Globe: "The state has filed a lawsuit accusing an upstate New York man of charging about 28,000 consumers $10 each to obtain Massachusetts motor vehicle forms online that were free on the Registry of Motor Vehicles Web site, in what state officials call an Internet scam.  "Prosecutors say consumers searching the Internet for the registry Web site stumbled onto Chris Wiesner's Web page, which said they could obtain forms to renew their driver's licenses, car registrations and other services if they paid a $10 subscription fee. Many consumers evidently mistook Wiesner's Web page for the actual registry page."  The fellow denies doing anything wrong.  Wiesner, who allegedly operated similar sites in 18 other states, told the newspaper something else, and it was that something else that prompted thought No. 3 above: He claims – and of course there is no way of knowing whether this is true or not – that no one in any of those 18 states complained.  In Massachusetts, at least people complained.

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