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How And Why: Cleaning Your 4x4's Fuel System

Replacing all of your fuel filters are very important steps to keeping your 4x4's fuel system, and your motor, running smooth and strong.  Photo Credit: Eric McGrew

Don’t you just love it when you’re out in the middle of nowhere and your 4x4 breaks down on you? Only for the night to get worse as you find yourself under your 4x4 with fuel running down your arm, dripping on your face, and splashing in your eyes and mouth. If you’re fortunate, you’ve never had to undergo that kind of “Off-roading fun”. From time to time, these oddities do happen. You can avoid most of these situations though. All you have to do is regularly maintain your fuel system. Here are a bit of information on why it's important and how to do the maintenance.

Why It Needs Maintaining

Put basically, your fuel system gets dirty. When it’s dirty, trash and debris tend to clog your lines, filters, pumps, and possibly even your injectors.

While off-roading, mud, dirt, sand, and debris, can get just about anywhere. One place that mud tends to sit is the top of your fuel tank. When this happens, the in-tank fuel pump can eventually rust, potentially causing a passage for dirt, water, and flakes of rust to enter your fuel system. This trucks fuel tank had about 4 inches of mud packed on top of the fuel tank when I went to change the filters and lines for a neighbor.  Photo Credit: Eric McGrew
Once the worn out fuel lines, and old filters where replace, we tested the system by activating the fuel pump. Since the weakest link had been removed (the split fuel line), the system showed us the next weakest link. This time it was the nipple that connects the out going fuel line to the in-tank fuel pump. As can be seen in the photo, the mud and water had rusted the nipple thru. In fact, when tapped with a screw driver, a 3/16" hole opened up instantly. This means that water, and the decaying tubing had been settling into the bottom of the tank for years. Providing even more contaminants to the already dirty fuel system.  Photo Credit: Eric McGrew

How It Gets Dirty

Generally there is a small amount of trash in the fuel as it gets put into the service stations storage tanks. If a service station has old, or damaged tanks, the fuel can become even more contaminated.

With time, your fuel tank on your 4x4 also gets trash in it from filling it up. Using “Jerry Cans”, or other long distance fuel storage canisters can introduce trash into your system also.

Tips For Maintaining Your Fuel System

Fuel filters are you last defense for keeping debris out of your injectors and motor. Changing them regularly will insure a better, cleaner, and safer running 4x4.   Photo Credit: Eric McGrew

Change your fuel filters regularly. If you’re using fuel storage containers, it may be a good idea to change your filters even more frequently. Make sure and clean out your fuel storage containers too. Having less trash in them, means less trash in your 4x4"s fuel system.

This photo is courtesy of Dean Harris, who's tray bed modded Ute, is equipped with long distance fuel storage containers. While these canisters are extremely useful for long stretches of remote areas, they can introduce a good deal of trash into your fuel system if they are not cleaned from time to time.  Photo Credit: Dean Harris
This Nissan Patrol own by JP, is prepped for traveling long distances in Chile's more remote areas. Due to the extreme climates in most portions of Chile's, wilderness, "Jerry Cans" tend to get dirty while traveling. Because of this, dust and dirt may be introduced into your 4x4's fuel tank during refueling. To help prevent this from happening, it's a good idea to clean off fuel storage cans before tipping them up to top off your tank. This will help avoid adding debris while refueling out on the trails.  Photo: Courtesy of Juan Pablo Velasquez Mast

Dropping your fuel tank and cleaning it is also a good idea. If it’s extremely caked up inside, or if fuel has sat in it for some
time, you’re probably better off swapping it out.

One of the best ways to keep your fuel system clean is by cutting out debris at it's source. Dropping your fuel tank and cleaning out the inside is a really good idea. If your tank has become rusted, or caked up with dirt and debris, it's worth the money to install a new tank instead of trying to clean out the old one. This way you are insure of having a clean and solid tank.  Photo Credit: Eric McGrew

When you change your fuel filters, don’t forget to change the in-line filters, as well as, the in-tank fuel pump.

Another good idea is to unplug each section of fuel line and blow the lines out with an air compressor. Make sure to disconnect all fuel filters before blowing out the line.

Some times, while rushing to get our fuel system maintenance done, we may over look cracked fuel lines. We may even tear the end of a hose trying to get it onto the fuel pump, injector rail, or fuel filter. If this happens, replace the line as quickly as possible. Even if the line hasn't split all the way thru. Many times the inner lining of a hose isn't water proof. Therefore, water can seep thru the hose and into your fuel system. Another concern with cracked lines, is that while driving your 4x4, these hoses may tear open due to the constant vibrations caused during daily driving or off-roading. A leaky fuel line can be a potentially serious hazard.  Photo Credit: Eric McGrew

If  fuel has been sitting in the system for years, then you will want to evaluate the condition of the fuel lines. If they’re cracked, gunked up, or clogged, you may want to replace them all together.

Fuel injectors can also become clogged with time, from regular use, or from having old fuel sit in them for long periods of time as well. Inspected, clean, and calibrate them as needed. In time you may need to purchase new injectors.

Cleaning and maintaining your 4x4’s fuel system may seem like a lot of work, but it’s really not that bad once you learn how your system is installed, and what tricks are needed. More often than not, after cleaning the system a couple of times, you’ll find it becomes much easier.  Plus, you're less likely to break down in the rain, having to suck on a clogged fuel line on the side of the road.

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