My Gas Gauge Reads Empty When It Is Full Of Fuel

One thing I see and hear quite a bit of from customers is that they complain that their fuel gauge is inaccurate or acts very erratically. I’ve been dealing with these type of problems since I got into the business almost two decades ago. The one common factor in most of these complaints is the fuel level sensor.

Late model fuel injected cars and trucks all have their fuel pumps located in the gas tank. There is also a fuel level sensor, or you may know it better as a ‘sender’. It holds the float assembly along with a resistor board that has small little metal ‘fingers’ that touch the board and send the signal to the fuel gauge to display the proper amount of fuel in the tank. What happens when the fuel gauge becomes erratic is that the little metal ‘fingers’ start to deteriorate from fuel additives, corrosion and just plain bad gas.

Now, once there is any type of gap from a small amount of corrosion, these fingers start to touch the resistor board less and less which will send the wrong signal to the fuel gauge. Once this starts to get worse, there will be portions of the fingers that are barely touching and others that are kind of flopping on and off the board. This will send the crazy signal to the fuel gauge. This would be the time you see the gauge going from full to empty on it’s own, or usually after you fill up your vehicle it will act up from the sloshing around of the gasoline.

This can get quite annoying, and will leave you not knowing how much fuel you actually have. These are the times people run out gas because the gauge showed more fuel than they had. Usually now is when they bring it in to the shop!

I’ve replaced hundreds of these fuel level sensors, and every time I take one off I inspect the float arm and resistor board and metal fingers. Every single time, I can physically see the deterioration of the metal. Customers are especially happy to see this so they know what was causing their problem. Repairs like this aren’t usually cheap. Fuel level sensors on newer cars are usually 100 – 200 dollars just for the part, plus usually two to three hours labor depending on the vehicle, sometimes more.

Getting this diagnosed is fairly easy. Just about every mechanic has seen this type of problem. Late model GM vehicles will usually set a trouble code for the fuel level sensor when there is a problem with it. If your car has a code for this, you definitely need a new sensor.

The only bad thing is, there is really no way to completely stop this from happening. Running a good quality gasoline definitely helps and prolongs the life of fuel system components. Just keep in mind when you see your fuel gauge acting funny, get it checked out! You don’t want to be left on the side of the road, alone, and out of gas!

Picture of the gas gauge sending unit inside the fuel tank.


Live Chat
I’m looking for the location of a sensor on or near the gas tank. Fuel pressure sensor? It is a 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix.

ProTech:
Do you mean the fuel tank pressure sensor?

Unsure, but it sounds like it. Yes

I’m guessing you have a check engine light with a code related to the sensor?

Yes but i do not have that info with me.my ex says basically its the gas cap but that has been replaced.

OK. The fuel tank pressure sensor is located on top of the fuel pump assembly, on top of the gas tank. But without knowing the code, i would not just go and have that replaced. There are codes related the the system that can be another parts problem. Most of the time when people think a bad or loose gas cap has caused the engine light, the problem is usually what is called the “EVAP system Vent valve”.

He says that it might be a sensor. Where would i find this EVAP system vent valve?

That is located inside the drivers side rear wheel well. Again, the code number is the key to deciding what part has failed.

I will ask for the code and get back to you or some one else. thank you for your time. and know how.

Your welcome.


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16 comments to My Gas Gauge Reads Empty When It Is Full Of Fuel

  • Rascogins

    If my fuel level sensor is bad, but my tank is full, would my vehicle think it is out of gas and stall?

    Answer: No. But if the sensor is bad, and your are out of gas it will.

  • doug

    I have a 2003 grand prix. when it is in park the fuel gauge reads full and when yo put it in gear it will read empty and the fuel light will come on. Any ideas on what would cause this?

  • Nick

    I realize this is an older article, but I have an older vehicle. A 97 gmc safari van to be exact. The gas guage reads empty when the van is on, and sometimes above empty (a little less than 1/4) when it’s turned off. As you noted the common problem with the sender it was my first guess that the fuel sending unit was bad as well. 3 hours of labor later, and around $300 bucks for the new pump/sending unit, I find the same problem still exists. Not really sure where to go from here. Instrument Panel? I read a post where the motors on the IPC can go bad. I’ve also heard talk about ground wires. I dont know where to go though.

  • Bruce

    Replaced fuel sending assembly on 04 Bonneville and gas gauge reads full until tank is 3/4 empty then gas gauge starts to move.

    • Rick

      If this is the same problem as before replacement, you have a corroded wire to the sender. If this is a new problem, you got the wrong or a faulty sender.

  • Terri

    i have a 2002 Saturn sl100 series and my security light is on and my fuel guage reads empty but before this problem started I got gas and on the way home my battery died and I got a jump start when I reached my house the car was puttering like it wanted to cut off I figured it was due to the battery dying so I shut it off myself ever since haven’t been able to start it back up it turns over just wont start. replaced the fuel pump because it was running but when I tested the old one it also still worked. I did the relearn for my security and my light went off but sill nothing on the gas guage.

  • Anonymous

    because it wasn’t running no noise when I turned key on checked all my fuses and there good

  • Kris

    I drive a 78 Jaguar XJ6, I accidentally left one of my fuel caps open after leaving the pump and drove on the highway at 100kms for about 15clicks before realizing and pulling over. After this happened the fuel gauge stopped working and sits at “E.” Its never done this before and the car is well maintained. The jag has two gas tanks which can be switched using a button on the instrument panel, even when the tanks are switched the gauge still reads Empty even when full. Got any ideas?

  • scott

    I have a 2005 Pontiac sunfire fuel gauge is all over the dash any clues whats causing this ?

  • Kathy

    I have a 2001 Lincoln Town Car. Everything was working fine until I filled it with gas today and the guage stayed right where it was before I put 13 gallons in it. Would a fuse go out to cause this problem?

  • kara

    i have a saturn vue 2003 the gas gage is on e i fill it up and its still says E. i took it to get fixed he said both of the fuel pumps are fine and the sensors on it are good. could this be the fuel level sensor that makes the needle move that need to be replaced .

  • Denvor

    I have a Ford Fiesta 2005 model and my gauge read empty but the tank is full i have replace the fuel pump and replace the cluster but still shows empty can it be that there might be something other than that can be faulty what can i check next,this is so frustrating please help

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