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TO BE RUNNING ON EMPTY or ON FUMES means continuing to operate with no or very little enthusiasm, energy, or resources left; being particularly ineffectual, insubstantial, or unsuccessful.

"I've been working overtime for two months and at this point, I’m running on empty."

You're typically running on fumes if you stay awake even when you are exhausted.

"After two nights of continuous work, I'm running on fumes today." 

If a person or an organization is running on empty, they have no new ideas or are not as effective as they were before. 

"This project has been running on empty. It's better if we close it." 

This idiom refers to a car running when the gas gauge indicates it is out of fuel and is pointed to 'E' for 'empty'. Most cars, at that time, were calibrated to still contain a gallon or two in the tank when the indicator pointed to empty. 

"When I worked in retail I always felt like I was running on empty."

The idiom came into use in the 1960s, when most of the American middle class became car owners and took trips for pleasure. It is typically used in the continuous tense.

"There were times in my life in growing my business and managing my family that I was running on fumes."

Generally, RUNNING ON FUMES is a more dire circumstance than running on empty, as it conjures the image of only the barest trace of gas being left in the tank. 

A: "Don't know about you but I'm running on empty." B: "I'm running on fumes."

'Running on empty' is a somewhat more popular phrase though, probably due to an extremely popular song of the same name written and performed by Jackson Browne in 1977.

"Running on, running on empty running on, running blind." [Jackson Browne]

Browne wrote the song while driving to the studio each day. "I was always driving around with no gas in the car." It appeared in the 1994 film Forrest Gump, featured in the scene where Forrest was running across the US. 

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