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In-Situ Step 2: Fuel System Restoration

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Beginning note, this step, like all the steps that follow consist of two phases: planning and execution. The planning segment involves examining your vehicle to determine what is needed and, more importantly, what parts and tools will be necessary to complete the work. The execution phase is the point at which you do the work and get the segment completed. On in-situ retores I like to do the planning one weekend and then the execution the following weekend (or, whatever time period in between is necessary to gather the parts).

Also keep in mind that while this is very similar to doing maintenance, it is a restoration. So bodging and reusing unrestored parts is a no-no! If you're not familiar with how the fuel system works, lease read the Fuel System article in the components section.

Since this the fuel system we'll be working with, we will be looking at the gas tank, fuel lines, fuel pump/sender, and any sort of return lines or evap controls that may be involved.


Fuel Tank/Gas Tank

When checking the gas tank I like to get the car up on jack stands so that I can slide underneath it easily and safely. An alternative is to put the car up on a lift, but I doubt that most of us have one of those at home (man I wish I had one). Before going underneath double check that the car is safely in the air and won't shift. Then put your safety glasses on, grab a screwdriver, flashlight and camera and slide underneath.

The thing to look for on the tank itself is areas where road debris, dirt, etc can collect, hold water and rust. Check these areas with the tip of the screwdriver to make sure it's not rusted through. Also tap the handle of the screw driver across the bottom of the tank. If there are thin spots in the metal of the tank it will sound different from the solid areas. Use the tip of the screw driver to investigate any rusty areas. While you're down there take bunches of photos so that you'll have something to refer to afterwards.

If the tank appears sound then you'll want to add materials to restore the tank to your list. I really like the Gas Tank Restoration kit from POR-15. At this point I'd also recommend getting some regular POR-15 paint (stands for Paint Over Rust) and Chassis Coat (a UV proof paint that seals over the POR-15.

Fuel Sender / Fuel Pump

Most fuel tanks also have a fuel sender inside the tank. This sends information to the fuel gauge to tell you how much gas is in there. If the sender isn't working or isn't accurate you have two options. Plan on rebuilding it (if possible) or replacing it. While you can't see the sender itself (as it's in the tank) you can see the wiring leading to it. Check it to see what sort of shape the wiring/connectors are in.

Next is the fuel pump. Fuel pumps are either located on the block (mechanical ones), in line between the tank and the engine (generally in proximity to the tank) or inside the gas tank. If it's external, check it and the wiring that it connects to. Plan on rebuilding (if possible) or buying a new fuel pump.

Fuel Lines / Return Lines

Your fuel lines will most likely be an amalgam of steel and rubber lines. Steel is used where integrity is most needed, rubber where flexibility is most needed. Hopefully your car was designed and maintained well, and this is as it should be. Now, the problem with this is that both rubber and steel react to fuel over time. Rubber disintegrates and steel rusts. Because of this I always replace all the rubber pieces and plan on replacing the steel bits.

In many popular cars you can go to the parts store and they will have the steel fuel lines pre-bent for installation. While these may be available, you pay to have someone do all the bends for you. For those of us who are cheap, you'll want to learn how to bend the lines yourself. The first step (and this is true for rubber and steel lines) is to figure out their length. The easy way to do this is take a roll of kite string or twine. Tape it to the starting oint of the line to be measured. At the outside of every bend, tape the line down to ensure it follows the profile of the line. When you reach the end of the line, sever the twine. At the center point of every bend mark the string/twine with a sharpie. Then use an Angle-Dividing Protractor to measure the angle of the bend. Here's where you need to take notes. You need to know the bend angle, but also how it occurs three-dimensionally. The combination of the distance measurements (string) and angle measurements (protractor) will allow you to recreate the line outside of the car. This is imperative for the in-situ restoration because you won't have the piece out on your workbench to compare against. Luckily, for the rubber fuel line segments, you only need to know the length and how it falls. Again, take lots of pictures!

Planning Summary

Now that we've accounted for the basics: tank, lines and pump, you need to account for anything specific to your vehicle. In many cases, this only comes into effect when you're restoring 60's and later cars, and especially the 70's cars. You may have return lines and evap controls. You'll need to deal with this within your vehicle community.

Outside of vehicle specifics, you've now got all the information you need. This should also help define what you need to buy in advance of your restoration work.

Shopping List

  • Gas Tank Restoration Kit
  • POR-15 (or equivalent)
  • Chassis Coat (or equivalent)
  • Rubber fuel line (note there's a difference in the pressure rating between carbureted and fuel injected lines)
  • Steel Lines (Either pre-bent, straight, or if your lines are in good shape you can try restoring them)
  • Fuel Pump (or rebuild kit)
  • Fuel Sender (or rebuild kit)
  • Any other vehicle specific items (return lines, charcoal cannisters, etc)

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Contents copyright 2008, 2009 - Jody F. Kerr

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