Expression: To Be Running On Fumes

Learn Australian English in this Expression episode of Aussie English where I teach you the expression TO BE RUNNING ON FUMES.

Expression: To be running on fumes

G’day guys.

What’s goin’ on?

Welcome to this episode of Aussie English.

I hope you guys are well.

I hope you’ve been having a good week.

It’s been interesting down here in Melbourne recently, because, well, in Australia not just Melbourne, but we had kind of a bit of a full on heatwave that’s hit the east coast of Australia.

And, it’s been a little peculiar, because usually when we get heatwaves Victoria cops it as well.

And, if you “cop” something it means you kind of like receive it, you get it.

If someone was to punch me in the face I could say, “Oh, I just copped a punch to the face” or, you know, if someone gave me a fine I could say, “I just copped a fine. I got it.”

So, when there’s a heatwave in Australia, especially on the eastern coast, we often get that in Victoria as well.

But at the moment there’s been this incredible heatwave over New South Wales and, I think, southern Queensland where they’ve had days of above 40 (C) for, I think, the last week or so.

It’s been ridiculous.

But, Victoria has actually been quite cool.

And today I noticed was the first day this year, probably actually since November, since then, that I have actually worn a jumper.

So, I put a jumper on today to walk home because it was probably 20 degrees.

It was actually getting quite cold, which is weird because it’s 40 or so degrees in New South Wales.

Anyway, so they’ve been enduring that kind of heat at the moment, and I’ve been watching the news a little bit in the mornings when I get up.

I usually get up and put my computer on, say hello to everyone who’s on Facebook and (has) commented, and I have a coffee.

That’s my little morning routine.

And I put the news on.

I watch ABC 24 News, which is streamed 24 hours a day, and they’ve been showing that there had been a lot of warnings and restrictions on being able to have fires and everything up in New South Wales the last few days, or the last week, because of the danger for bushfires.

So, in Australia, especially in summer, whenever we get into these times of heatwaves, dry conditions, especially conditions when it’s really windy and dry and hot, they’ll often have restrictions on having fires out in public.

So, you just… you’ll have a total fire ban and you won’t be able to have a fire.

And this is because obviously bushfires are a dangerous thing that can burn down farms, burn down houses, and potentially kill people.

Anyway, so I’ve been seeing that on the news quite a bit, and there had been a few bushfires, but I haven’t heard anything too bad.

So, I hope they’ve got the… that all under control and that the cold weather will come through soon.

So, that was a little intro there guys.

I hope you enjoy that.

We’ll dive into the crux of the episode today. And, today we’re going to be tackling the phrase or the expression, the idiom, TO BE RUNNING ON FUMES. TO BE RUNNING ON FUMES.

So, as usual, we’ll go through and define the different words in the phrase TO BE RUNNING ON FUMES.

TO BE, you know this verb, guys. TO BE, I am, you are, he is. TO BE.

We won’t go over that.

RUNNING. RUNNING has a lot of different meanings, and it’s the gerund form of the verb TO RUN when it’s in the infinitive.

So, the two most common kind of definitions for this word would be:

  1. To move at a faster pace than say walking. So, if you’re moving faster than walking you’re running, and this is when you don’t have both feet on the ground at once. So, you’re moving incredibly fast. You’re running. “I’m running through the park”, for example.
  1. And another common definition for RUNNING is to function, to be working. So, functioning. So, “The car engine is running well” just meaning it’s functioning well, it’s working well.

And the definition of the word FUME or its plural form, FUMES, is an amount of gas or vapour that smells strongly or is dangerous to inhale.

So, for example, if you were to stand behind a car or a tractor, something with an engine, and you were to see, I guess, the smoke, the gas, the vapour coming out of the exhaust pipe, those are FUMES.

They could be toxic FUMES, if they’re bad for you, or they could be harmless FUMES, if they were say just steam, you know, condensed water that has evaporated.

So, the expression TO BE RUNNING ON FUMES means:

  • To continue to do something even when you have no energy left.
  • To stay awake even when you’re incredibly exhausted or tired or wrecked.
  • And also, to operate when you have really low resources or money.

So, the origin of this phrase is quite simply just referring to an automobile or some kind of tractor that is running out of fuel, it’s incredibly low on fuel, but it’s still running.

So, it’S RUNNING ON FUMES. That’s kind of suggesting that if you were to look inside the fuel tank all you would see are fumes of the fuel that was once in there.

So, it’s right before the engine is about to run out of fuel and then turn off. TO BE RUNNING ON FUMES.

So, as usual, let’s go through some examples guys.


So, as I’ve just sort of stated, the first literal example would be a car’s almost out of fuel.

So, imagine you’re driving in your car and the arrow on the fuel metre has just gone past the “E”, the “E” symbol for “Empty”.

So, your fuel tank is almost empty. You’re about a kilometre away from a servo.

So, you’re about a kilometre away from a service station, a petrol station, or as they call them in America, a gas station.

So, you’re about a kilometre away, a K away from a servo.

You need to get there so you can get fuel.

You hope you make it there before your fuel runs out and your car stops, because you don’t want to be stranded.

You don’t want to be left out, say, in the desert somewhere and not have any fuel, and thus have to walk all the way to the servo.


You’re almost completely out of fuel.

The car’s well past empty on the fuel meter.



A second example could be that you have had an all-nighter, and an all-nighter is when you stay up all night.

So, we turn it into a noun there.

If we stay out and party all night and then come back we can say that we have had “an all-nighter”.

So, we’ve had an all-nighter.

We’ve been partying like crazy.

We haven’t slept.

We’ve gone back home.

We’ve had a bit of breakfast, and then, say, we have to go to work, and we have to work 12 hours.

So, we work 12 hours, and we get home after that ready to sleep.

If someone was saying, “How do you feel? How’re you going?”, instead of just saying that you’re tired, that you’re exhausted, that you’re wrecked, you could say, to sort of emphasise the fact that you are out of energy, you could say, “I’M RUNNING ON FUMES”.

So, it’s like that, “I literally have barely any energy left. I am at the point of collapse. I’m at the point of passing out. I’M RUNNING ON FUMES. I’m exhausted. I’m wrecked.”.


A third example could be that you own a company or a business, and the business is losing money, and it’s almost completely out of money.

So, “money” here being the resource that that business has. So, it’s not earning enough money through business, through sales.

Maybe it needs to do repairs to the building that that business or company is in.

Maybe it needs to pay its employees.

So, it has all these bills and fees that it has to take care of, but it’s down to its last few grand.

So, “a grand” is $1000.

So, “To be down to your last few grand” would be “To be down to your last few $1000”.

So, you could say in this case, because the business is almost out of its resource “money”, that the business IS RUNNING ON FUMES.


The company’s almost out of money.

The business is almost out of money.


So, as usual guys let’s do a little listen and repeat exercise here.

This is the chance for you guys to practice the Australian accent.

So, just listen and repeat exactly as I say these phrases.

Let’s go.

Listen and repeat:

I’m running on fumes.

You’re running on fumes.

He’s running on fumes.

She’s running on fumes.

We’re running on fumes.

They’re running on fumes.

So, if you haven’t already, guys, make sure you come over to the Facebook page and give me a thumbs-up.

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Send me a message if you need help with anything, if you’re having any issues in English.

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Also, if you want to check out my free ebook and audio course go to the website at and you can submit your email address and download my ebook and audio course on An Introduction To English Contractions Like A Native.

So, this’s an ebook and audio course where I try and teach you the basics of words like “Going to” becoming “Gonna”, “Want to” becoming “Wanna” and “Have to” becoming “Havta”, and there’s a few others in there as well.

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Go check that out.

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So, we sort of go backwards over what has already been used in the episode.

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Anyway, if you’re interested in taking your English to the next level, guys, I recommend checking that out.

There’s free examples online.

And that’ll do for this episode, guys.

Chat to you soon!

See you later.

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