Fuel Tank Buyer's Guide
- A fuel tank is a container that holds a car’s fuel in both its liquid and vapor phases safely.
- It supplies the fuel pump with gas that is delivered to the engine.
- Rust can compromise your fuel system. Switching out a rusted tank will help your car churn out the right gas mileage and power.
- Check your fuel tank's specifications and research your replacement options well to find the best one for your car.
- An OEM replacement fuel tank can cost anywhere between $120 and $2,400.
- Changing a leaking fuel tank on your own is possible with the right tools and know-how.
Pumping gas into your car is one of those things you do so frequently, it becomes mechanical. But have you ever considered how your car safely carries combustible material every day? The fuel tank is a car part with a straightforward use, but serves an important role that warrants a closer look. It is meant to hold highly combustible and flammable material and it’s vital for car owners to keep it in good shape along with knowing exactly when it needs to be replaced.
What is a fuel tank?
An automotive tank is a container that holds a car’s fuel in both its liquid and vapor phases safely. It is filled through a small hole that’s fitted with a cap. The tank and underbody design determine where the filler tubes could be routed, ultimately determining where the fuel filler door is located. Fuel tanks are often built into the rear of the vehicle. It could either be affixed to your vehicle’s undercarriage or fitted in between the axle and trunk.
How do fuel tanks work?
The tank is part of a car’s fuel system where the fuel pumping process begins. Connected to the tank are one or more fuel pumps that deliver the fuel into the fuel lines, through a filter, and finally to the engine. Older vehicles typically have mechanical pumps under the hood, but most modern cars have pumps near or even inside the tank itself.
An evaporative emission system is built into it to collect and burn fuel vapor. By reusing these vapors, the vehicle can get better fuel mileage while minimizing its emission of air pollutants.
Types of Fuel Tanks
Metal has been a reliable material used for vehicle fuel tanks. But in recent decades, other materials like Kevlar and plastic have grown in popularity and have carved up their share of the market. Let’s take a closer look at each material and see how they stack up against one another.
Metal fuel tanks
Coated steel is one of the most common materials used in building automotive gas tanks. Most North American auto manufacturers use a terne or zinc-nickel coated steel substrate. Metal sheets are stamped and welded together, making its fabrication easier and faster.
While coated steel and aluminum tanks have been around for a while, there has been less success in fabricating fuel tanks out of stainless steel. Despite its compatibility with flexible fuels such as methanol/gasoline mixtures, tests have shown that the material is prone to breaking during stamping. It also costs five times more than terne steel to manufacture.
Generally, metal is considered a safe and effective fuel container because of its ability to limit fuel emissions. Carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide are trapped by steel and aluminum materials, helping vehicles minimize the release of these pollutants.
One of the most common concerns for metal tanks is corrosion. Contact with fuels can cause corrosion internally, while exposure to the elements affects its exterior. Paint coating with aluminum-rich epoxy and hot-dipping tin are just some ways of preparing metals against corrosion.
Plastic fuel tanks
Plastic tanks are an innovation borne out of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) push for vehicles to have less impact on the environment. Made from high-density polyethylene or HDPE, plastic fuel tanks are known for being lighter than their metal counterparts.
Working with HDPE gives manufacturers greater flexibility when it comes to designing cars. Lines of polyethylene are blown into molds, creating a single seamless piece. Custom molds allow manufacturers to create tanks that will fit whatever space is left in the cavity.
Aside from design flexibility, plastic tanks meet crash requirements well. Since these are blown into a single mold, there are no seams that can be prone to leaks. The material also allows the tank to deform and return to its original shape after impact, keeping it from rupturing or exploding. It also helps in preventing under-car fire by slowing the rise of fuel temperature. On the other hand, metal tanks can get deformed and cause pressure to build, making welded seams vulnerable.
The only challenge with using plastic is managing its ability to withstand extreme temperatures between -40 °F to 172 °F. Hot temperatures can cause the plastic to sag, while below freezing temperatures can cause it to crack. To prevent both, tanks must be made from heavier gauge plastic which can ultimately cancel out its weight advantage over metal.
Other types of fuel tanks
Besides metal and plastic, other materials can now be used in fabricating fuel tanks. Kevlar or ballistic nylon is commonly used in creating self-sealing car gas tank systems carried by armored vehicles. Bladder tanks are collapsible fuel storage that expand or contract according to changes in the volume of gasoline in the tank.
The benefits of replacing a faulty fuel tank
A crack in a vehicle’s fuel tank or the gas cap can cause fuel to leak. It can also cause gas vapors to escape. Hydrocarbons are a major air pollutant that contributes as much as 20% to ozone damage. Replacing a faulty tank can help you get the most out of your fuel consumption while minimizing your car’s fuel emissions.
Lubrication problems often occur when water gets inside the fuel tank. Since the system is built to draw fuel from below, water’s higher density makes the pump work harder just to move the fuel. Rust can also compromise your fuel system. Switching out a rusted tank will help your car churn out the right mileage and power.
How to find the right fuel tank for your vehicle
The automobile is known as a powerhouse of energy-this piece of machinery does not only possess parts that produce mechanical power, but also stores substances that are capable of creating high energy levels. The fuel tank can be considered as the vehicle's seat of power; without this tank, any auto won't be able to carry the fuel it needs for the long haul. In case your tank starts showing any sign of wear, which may include corrosion, you have to get it switched as soon as possible.
But how do you go about the search? With all the choices available out there, where do you start? This guide can give you some tips on how to sift through the options and find the high-quality tank that perfectly matches your ride.
Check your vehicle's fuel tank specifications.
Every tank varies in shape, fuel storage capacity, and size. For example, a Chevrolet Suburban's fuel tank isn't the same as a Camaro's. Though both vehicles are from the same manufacturer, the storage capacity and size of their fuel tanks are different because the two vehicles differ in size. Tank locations for every model could also differ; some vehicles have tanks at the rear, while others install tanks on the sides or at the front. So before you purchase a replacement, get your ride's fuel tank specs to make selection easier: storage capacity, location, and dimensions (length, width, and height).
Perform research on the brands and tanks available in the market.
Now that you know your vehicle's tank specifications, you can narrow down the choices to certain product lines. The next thing you have to check is the set of features that comes with the different products. This includes material, construction, price, manufacturer, and warranty.
- Material - Tanks can be made of plastic, polyethylene, metal, polyurethane, steel, and galvanized steel. Fuel tanks crafted from steel and metal may be prone to corrosion, especially if they are regularly exposed to moisture. On the other hand, plastic, polyethylene, and polyurethane tanks provide longer service life because these are more resistant to rust.
- Price - Galvanized steel, steel, and metal fuel tanks cost a lot less than plastic, polyethylene, and polyurethane tanks. If you're the type who's willing to spend a lot for long-term performance, you should get the more expensive replacement. But if you're working with a limited budget, perhaps you can make do with a steel tank.
- Manufacturer - You can choose to get original parts to make sure that it really matches your vehicle's specs. The downside, however, is that original parts can be really pricey. Another option would be to check out OEMs. These brands (though not all of them are highly recognized) provide high-quality tanks that are constructed similarly to the original (some companies are even direct suppliers of the parts used by automakers).
How much do fuel tanks cost?
OEM replacement fuel tanks can cost anywhere between $120 and $2,400. While replacing this part on your own is possible, it’s highly recommended that you consult your mechanic immediately if you think that there is a problem with your fuel tank. Extreme caution must be taken when working on automotive gas tanks as there is a risk of igniting fuel. Accidental gas leaks into organic material may also lead to health and environmental risks.
Repair guide: changing a leaking fuel tank
Apart from functioning as storage of fuel, the fuel tank is the safety net of the vehicle-it keeps the fuel from being in contact with heated components and other sensitive auto systems that could cause fire or worse, an explosion. Be sure you're fuel tank is always at its best; if it shows any sign of leaking or wear and tear, replace it at once.
Things you'll need:
- Replacement fuel tank
- Fire extinguisher
- Jack and two jack stands
- Screwdrivers, wrenches, sockets, and other hand tools
- Fuel container
- Fuel line
- Hand siphon pump
- Hose clamps
- Pry bar
Step 1: Keep a fire extinguisher near you just in case the replacement causes a fire. Make sure you use PPE (personal protective equipment) such as gloves while working. Work in a well-ventilated area; you'll be dealing with highly combustible material, so you should follow all precautions before starting. Raise your vehicle using the jack and the two stands.
Step 2: Locate your ride's fuel tank and see if it shows signs of leaks (check your owner's manual if you don't know where it is). Remove your fuel pump fuse, and then turn on the engine to relieve tank pressure and fuel system pressure. Afterwards, disconnect the battery cable from the negative terminal.
Step 3: Place a fuel container under the tank and start draining. Use the hand siphon pump and disconnect fuel lines if necessary. You can also use the drain plug if your vehicle's tank has one. Make sure it is drained completely.
Step 4: Remove all the components of your old fuel tank, including fuel hoses, hose clamps, straps, bolts, screws, and everything else that secures it on the system.
This isn't a necessary step for all vehicles, but you might need to drop your suspension if you can't remove the actual tank because it is too high. After you've pulled the suspension down, use a jack to support the beam or drive assembly, so you can remove heavy components.
Step 5: Get your replacement gas tank and assemble all of its components. To install it, follow these steps in reverse and re-attach all the components you took out.