Driver IQ memo: ‘E’ means empty

My driver?s test never had any questions to discern whether I am smart enough to figure out when it is time to refill my tank.

And it?s a good thing it didn?t, because I would have failed.

It?s usually suggested that when the needle on the meter dips below the bottom fourth, it?s time for the driver to begin considering stopping by a gas station to fill the tank.

In fact, most new models even have a little warning tone, which conveys this message: ?DING DING DING.? This is an annoying tone that could mean any number of things is wrong with your car.

?DING DING DING. Check the warning lights on your dash, you idiot.

?DING DING DING. I?m going to continue dining until you swerve this car off the road in a fit of rage.

?DING DING DING. Isn?t this obnoxious?

?DING DING DING!?

My car, Max, does not have this feature. Actually, half of the warning lights on the dash don?t even work.

Max is a 1994 Camaro that has, for the past three years of my life, ensured that just when I think I?ve saved up a significant amount of money, something mechanical goes wrong.

Last week, for example, I noticed a white wisp of smoke curling out from right above my radio. It was as if someone had set a lit cigarette right behind my stereo inset.

Most people would find this fairly alarming. But, I reasoned, Max was just throwing a temper tantrum because I hadn?t spent $200 on him recently.

So I drove the rest of the way home with my own, miniature fog machine. (Had it been nighttime, I would have gotten out my little LCD auto flashlight and had myself a mini light show.)

One of the few warning lights on my dash that does actually work is the ?Low Traction? light, which illuminates the fact that I am sliding on the ice across the parking lot with no possibilities of regaining control until I have either slid to a stop or smashed into another car.

But I have no ?Low Gas? light. And apparently I also do not have the necessary IQ points (two) to figure out that a needle on ?E? means ?Empty.?

I realized that I had waited too long Sunday night when Max began dry heaving.

I don?t know why I always wait so long to refill my tank. If my memory serves me correctly, I had run out of gas mid-trip two times prior to this incident. Both of these times were en route to a gas station.

I like to think it?s a subconscious attempt to get even with Max for all of the expenses he?s caused me. However, I was taught to turn the other cheek, or fender in this case. So, apparently it?s just basic stupidity.

I was pulling into the driveway of my house to pack to go back to college (a five-block trip) after Thanksgiving break. I had barely gotten into the driveway when Max began revving, then almost dying, then revving, then almost dying etc.

I figured Max was just acting up again because the smoke incident merely turned out to be a faulty air condition knob. That was a cheap repair so, I assumed, Max was just getting even.

Stubbornly, I put Max in reverse, backed out of the driveway, and drove to the nearest gas station with Max heaving all the way.

I was maybe 30 feet away from the gas station entrance when the gas tank went completely empty.

I coasted into the lot and managed to inch up next to a pump right when I lost momentum. A crisis averted, I thought.

Silly me.

In my adrenaline rush to get to a pump, I failed to take into consideration what side of the car Max?s gas tank is actually located.

This is the part of the story where I seriously began to doubt my qualifications to be a card-carrying driver.

I began to consider my options. I could abandon the car and walk home and then to my dorm and never go back for the car. I could set the car on fire. I could set myself on fire. Or?and this was the least desirable?I could surrender all pride and call my parents for help.

I opted for the latter and eventually got Max filled up again.

I really should have just set him on fire. I would have gotten the final laugh. But I did the right thing, and turned the other fender.

* * *

UFO: The Curved Dash Oldsmobile, which debuted in 1901, was sold for $650. Olds?mobile manufactured 425 of them that year.

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