What Does DTE Mean in A Car?

Among lots of lights, messages, and error codes that a car shows, drivers often overlook the DTE signal. Many drivers don’t know what does DTE mean in a car and find them trapped in the middle of the road.

DTE stands for distance to empty setting which indicates the distance a car can be driven before refuelling. It’s the latest version of spindle gauges that estimate the remaining distance based on average fuel economy which isn’t completely accurate. Still, the DTE setting is helpful for a long tour and enjoys improved gas mileage.

What does DTE mean in a Car?

Distance to empty (DTE) is a function of a car that provides an estimation of the distance that you can drive before refuelling the car. A car calculates the DTE constantly depending on the amount of fuel remaining in the tank and the car’s fuel consumption. Car updates the DTE’s estimation every 30 seconds.

The DTE mode of a car also consists of a low-range warning function. If the fuel range of a car drops down, the DTE model is activated automatically and the digit start blinking continuously to alert the driver. 

However, some cars allow you to deactivate this feature by pressing the button. The DTE light will still be blinking until you refuel the tank. The DTE mode can also activate momentarily, particularly when driving rounding curves or uphill as it shifts the fuel in the tank.

The driving styles and towing load largely affect the DTE estimation. If the DTE value drops under 30 miles or 48 km, the car will activate the low-fuel warning light.

Where Did DTE Come From?

In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, sophisticated engine management systems could measure fuel consumption accurately and provide tank estimation. The DTE is the modern version of it. Most automobile companies decided to avoid “running days” on diesel engines. Running day means being stuck in the middle of the road due to an empty tank and severe engine damage that is beyond repair.

Hence DTE mode was invented to avoid both problems. It displays several miles you can drive on the remaining fuel so you can refill the tank at the right time and avoid unwanted experiences.

This system is a blessing for the car owner as helps prevent engine damage and drained battery. Now, the DTE system becomes mainstream.

How Accurate is the DTE?

DTE is a complex function and it calculates the distance by multiplying the remaining amount of fuel in the tank by the guess of fuel consumption in the future. It calculates the guess using a formula that uses a weighted average. The weighted average is the average of recently used fuel like fuel used in the last half hour or ten days. The older and larger the information, the less weight the formula use.

How Accurate is the DTE

DTE systems don’t also consider factors like weather, driving condition, traffic condition, and the car’s external condition that affect the MPG. You may have different DTE estimations in the downhill and the traffic with the same amount of fuel.

So DTE estimation might not be accurate. Instead of depending on the DTE estimation, you should consider it as an alarm. This means if your DTE estimate 30 miles, consider it as 25 miles to avoid risk. Different cars also use different formulas to calculate DTE, so the estimation varies.

Is it Possible to Reset the DTE Setting?

If you want to reset the DTE system so it can again start calculating the distance from zero, the option is limited. Most vehicles don’t allow resetting the DTE settings manually except for the car that has a dedicated button. The DTE system reset automatically after passing a certain time.

Is it Possible to Reset the DTE Setting

In some cars, the DTE setting can be reset by removing the battery from the car as it reset all the electronics.

However, doing so can only reset one specific value like average fuel consumption that the DTE system tracked recently instead of resetting the whole data. It may provide you with even more wrong estimates. So it’s wise the letting system reset automatically.

How to Reset DTE System?

If your vehicle has a dedicated button, you can easily reset the DTE setting. Simply press the button whenever you want to reset the calculation. If your car doesn’t have the dedicated button, follow this procedure:

How to Reset DTE System
  • Turn off the car’s engine
  • Take the ignition key out
  • Wait for around 2 minutes
  • Insert the key into its position

Benefits of Having DTE Setting in a Car

DTE setting is a very helpful feature that does far more than alerting for refuel. It can help save money on fuel ad improve driving habits.  You can use the DTE setting as a reminder for more efficient driving. Noticing higher DTE means you are having good fuel mileage while lower DTE means you should be more careful.

Benefits of Having DTE Setting in a Car

You can also schedule refuelling time depending on the DTE reading. You can measure the refuelling time before going out for a long trip and avoid being trapped in the middle of the road. If the car activates the check engine light, frequently check the DTE. A faulty engine can impact the DTE and gas mileage negatively.

How Far can you drive on an Empty Tank?

AAA reveals that they receive around 488,000 out-of-fuel calls in 2019. So running out of fuel is common for drivers even if they have a DTE indicator. But what should you do if your car runs out of fuel? Fortunately noticing an empty signal on the dashboard isn’t the end of the world.

How Far can you drive on an Empty Tank

You can still run the car a few miles even if the DTE goes 30 miles to zero or even a line of dashes. How is this possible? Car manufacturers understand human nature and allowed a reverse. So the DTE indicator may tell you the tank is empty even if it has around a gallon of fuel.

So you can expect to run around 50 miles with an empty tank depending on the car’s brand, road condition, and driving style.  For example, your Chevrolet Silverado can run around 35 miles on an empty tank while your Honda Accord can run over 45 miles. However, you shouldn’t drive the car with an empty tank as it can affect the engine negatively.

Sign of a Malfunction DTE

Like other car components, DTE can malfunction due to plenty of reasons and provide incorrect estimates. It can cause you to be trapped on the road. Keep these DTE malfunctioning signs so you can fix the problem and get accurate readings.

Numbers Aren’t Moving

If you notice the DTE reading isn’t changing for a long time, the DTE isn’t functioning properly. The DTE should update every 30 seconds and change the estimate to be aware of the remaining mileage. The number on the display should become smaller at regular intervals.

Empty DTE Reading

A malfunctioning DTE can cause stuck the reading at zero. A faulty battery can also prevent the DTE from functioning properly and cause inaccurate DTE readings.

Empty DTE Reading

Unusual Fuel Consumption

If your vehicle consumes more fuel than usual, the DTE can fail. The car can consume excessive fuel due to faulty fuel injectors or jammed air filters.

Unusual Fuel Consumption


Does every car come with a DTE setting?

No, older cars don’t have a DTE setting. Instead, these vehicle features gas gauge. Modern cars that are made after 2001 come with DTE indicators.

Why does the distance to empty drop so fast?

The DTE reading can drop down too quickly due to excessive fuel consumption. A car can consume more fuel than usual due to dirty fuel injectors or damaged oxygen sensors.

Is it bad to drive a car with low DTE reading?

Yes. Low DTE reading means your car’s fuel level is drop-down. Keep driving in this condition can damage the fuel pump quickly. The reason is that driving on low fuel can let the settled dirty debris in the tank enter the pump.

Final Words

Hope you understand what does DTE mean in a car and how it works. So you should now be able to refill the tank at the right time and avoid being trapped in the middle of the road. Overall this system should help you improve gas mileage and make the long trip safe and comfortable.

Though DTE estimation isn’t completely accurate, still it’s a helpful reminder to avoid making the tank empty and experiencing negative consequences. 

My name is Tom Vanderbilt. I am an automotive expert and renowned for my profound knowledge of automobiles. I have made significant contributions to the industry through my experience and expertise. I have a natural curiosity and fascination for cars. My journey is to explore the intricate dynamics between people, their vehicles, and the ever-evolving transportation landscape.

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