Keep Fuel Flowing: Tips For Maintaining Your Race Car’s Fuel System

Fuel system maintenance is a critical component of a successful racing program. As a racer, you have to be proactive and make sure your fuel system is healthy if you want to win. Today, we’re taking a look at the big picture of fuel system maintenance and what to look at before, during, and after the racing season.

The fuel system in a racecar needs maintenance all year long. You need to think about how you store your fuel, how you prepare your fuel system for storage, what to inspect prior to each season, and what will need to be maintained during the season. If you don’t have a fuel system maintenance schedule already, this article will help you identify the areas that need to be addressed, and how to take care of them.

A fuel system has many different parts that could fail if they're not maintained properly. It's important to look at every inch of your fuel system before, during, and after a racing season.

Getting Your Fuel System Ready For The Season

Racers should have a checklist of things they do before they fire up a car for the first time each year. There are a variety of items inside and outside of the car that need to be inspected to make sure there are no issues, and the fuel system needs to be at the top of the list. If you don’t look over the fuel system for problems, you’re setting yourself up for possible headaches all year long.

Weldon High Performance’s Jim Craig has made many a lap down the track himself and attends countless events to support racers. Craig has an abundance of knowledge about fuel systems, so he knows what you need to look at before each racing season to make sure your fuel system is ready to go.

“First, you’ll want to make sure the foam inside the fuel cell hasn’t dried out and started to break down. You’ll also need to make sure that none of the fuel lines and fittings are seeping, or look as if they’ve been leaking. You also need to inspect the fuel line for any soft spots or restrictions. As well, look for any leaks that have occurred while the car has sat during the offseason; dirt around fittings that looks wet is a telltale sign of a leak. This could be due to a seal or O-ring failing,” Craig states.

Fuel filters are the number one thing you need to think about when it comes to yearly system maintenance. – Jim Craig, Weldon High Performance

When you’ve completed the visual inspection of the fuel system and have found there are no issues, you can move on to finish getting the rest of the fuel system ready. You’ll want to uncap the vent on your fuel cell and clean the vent tube thoroughly. The fuel that was kept in the system to make sure everything stayed wet during the offseason will need to be drained, and then the system will need to be completely flushed before fresh fuel is added back in.

A fuel system will require certain parts to be replaced at some point during its life cycle. You’ll want to create a schedule and list of items that should be replaced each year — by doing this you’re going to stay ahead of the curve and prevent problems before they occur. The system’s fuel filter should be the first thing you look at each season.

Fuel filters are the guardians of a fuel system and they should be checked regularly.

“Fuel filters are the number one thing you need to think about when it comes to yearly system maintenance. You should replace any paper cellulose fuel filters with a new one each year. If a stainless steel filter is being used, it needs to be cleaned and inspected. The stainless steel filters aren’t something that will last forever, and should be replaced if they are damaged or don’t look right,” Craig says.

When you’ve finished looking your fuel system over and replacing parts that are suspect, it’s time to toss some fresh fuel in the tank and turn the fuel pump on. You’ll want to do two things while the pump is running for the first time: one, make sure you’ve got the right amount of fuel pressure, and two, listen to the fuel pump itself.  You know what your fuel pump should sound like, and if it’s making strange noises it’s trying to tell you there’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

“The pump will tell you right off the bat if there’s an issue on the inlet or outlet side based on how it sounds. If it’s starved on the inlet side like you’ve got a fuel line issue due to the line collapsing and the pump sucking it shut, the pump will sound really loud or have a weird tone. On the outlet side if there’s an issue with the filter or something else, the pump will sound like it’s straining, like it’s trying to push the fuel through a massive restriction,” Craig explains.

The sound your fuel pump makes will give you a clue where to look if there's an issue. Sometimes it's as simple as a fuel line that's starting to fail.

Maintaining Your Fuel System During The Season

If you stored your vehicle properly during the offseason and were very diligent in how you prepared the fuel system for storage, it will pay big dividends during the racing season. A well-maintained fuel system doesn’t really require a lot of attention if you’re racing on a regular basis. You want to make sure you’re looking at the fuel system before each race to catch any small problems that could grow into larger issues.

“As long as you maintain the system you shouldn’t have to do much during the season. You need to listen to the pump, it will tell you if there’s an issue. You’ll need to also watch for fuel pressure issues, including irregular fuel pressure. Other pump issues like its popping fuses, which indicates a high amp draw, could mean there’s a clog somewhere on the inlet or outlet side,” Craig says.

Fuel pressure issues are the first sign of a problem somewhere in the fuel system. The first thing you’ll want to check is if there are fuel pressure issues is the fuel filter; if that checks out, you can move on to the fuel tank itself. A tank vent can become restricted and that will cause fuel pressure problems. The fuel line could also be breaking down and that will cause fuel pressure issues. These types of scenarios are why preventative maintenance is important both before and during the racing season.

High-performance fuel pumps aren’t cheap, so you want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep them healthy. Debris flowing through a fuel system will damage your fuel pump and cause poor performance, that’s why having good fuel filters is important. These fuel filters are useless unless you maintain them during the season. A best practice is to have a set schedule where you pull the filters to examine them, clean them as needed, or replace them if they’re failing.

Make sure to follow a maintenance schedule for your fuel filters.

“Paper cellulose filters should be changed out at least every year at the beginning of the season. If the vehicle sits for a month or two between races, you might want to change them again. If an oxygenated fuel is being used, same thing: start the season off with a new stainless filter element, halfway through the season clean the filter element, and then at the beginning of the next season, clean the filter again. After that third time cleaning the filter it’s time to replace it. By maintaining the filters, you’ll minimize the likelihood of pump failure due to any restriction caused by compromised filter element,” Craig explains.

Your fuel storage strategy is important during the racing season and should be considered as a part of your fuel system maintenance program. Fuel should always be kept out of the sun at all times because it will start to break down if it’s left in the sun. The last thing you want to do is use fuel that has been compromised — it will cause damage to your fuel system and your engine’s performance will suffer, too. The best course of action is to follow the instructions provided by the fuel supplier on how you should store fuel during the season.

Preparing For The Offseason Or Long Term Storage

Unfortunately, the racing season doesn’t last forever for the majority of racers around the world, and that means at some point you’ll need to store your car for a few weeks or months. You don’t want to just park your racecar without preparing the fuel system…that’s a great way to wear out parts in a hurry.

The type of fuel you use will dictate what steps you have to take to prepare your vehicle for the offseason. Oxygenated and non-oxygenated fuels have different properties to account for when you’re going through a fuel system maintenance routine.

“If you’re using non-oxygenated fuel, just leave the system full enough to cover cell foam and keep the fuel pump wet. You’ll need to cap off the tank vent, too. When you’re using an oxygenated fuel, you have to purge the fuel from the system. After the fuel has been purged, you’ll need to add a high-grade non-oxygenated fuel and pump it through the system to keep everything in good condition,” Craig states.

Racing fuel is already a stable fuel so you don’t have to use an additive during the offseason. -Jim Craig, Weldon High Performance

Some people may wonder why you need to go to so much trouble to prepare a fuel system to just sit for a certain amount of time. The reason is that depending on the type of fuel you’re using, it can be filled with things you don’t want drying out inside your fuel system. Keeping everything “wet” in the system prevents these issues and will ensure there’s no premature wear.

A fuel system needs to stay wet during the offseason to avoid parts drying out. A high-quality fuel should be used for storage and to flush the system before each season.

“Keeping fuel in the entire system helps the parts to keep them from drying out. The hydrocarbons and other things in the fuel aren’t what you want clogging your system after the fuel dries out. The additives in non-oxygenated fuel will even dry seals and cause parts to become brittle. If you let a fuel system go dry, all of the dyes, waxes and everything else will dry on the fuel system parts and create a film. You’ll see that in the fuel system and that coats all the parts it has touched. After that film has coated everything and you introduce fuel back into the system, the filter, along with the rest of the parts will get gummed up with the leftover components of the dried fuel,” Craig explains.

Fuel systems aren’t designed to be kept dry for extended amounts of time; the pump’s performance will suffer if you leave it dry during the offseason, and that will create a lot of issues that you’ll have to chase when you start racing.

“When fuel dries out it can leave junk in the pump element and cause problems. Keeping the system full of good fuel will make sure it doesn’t become compromised,” Craig explains. “Back in the day, guys wanted to drain everything, but that’s really not what you want to do because it’s going to lead to fuel delivery problems. The fuel you use has to be good when you’re leaving a system wet for storage. If you use pump gas, you have to use a good additive to keep the fuel from breaking down and keep it stable. You want to repel moisture from getting into the system and causing problems.”

How you store any leftover fuel is very important. It’s best to not have any fuel leftover because it can go stale.

So, what about fuel during the offseason? That’s a topic that could be covered in-depth in a separate article. Craig is the first one to tell you he’s not a fuel salesman, but he does have some information you should keep in mind in regards to handling fuel when you’re not racing.

“It’s best not to store a large amount of fuel during the offseason — you always want to start with new fresh fuel each season. If you do have a large amount of fuel leftover, you’ll want to keep it in a cool spot that’s dry. Now, if you have a lot left in a 55 gallon drum, that’s where things get tricky because the fuel will start to get stale. You have to be careful and you don’t want to put an additive in racing fuel because it won’t pass a fuel check or it could cause other issues. If you have like five gallons or so left after a season, it’s fine to use it as flushing fuel, but it’s never ideal to keep too much during the offseason,” Craig says.

Fuel system maintenance should be a priority for every racer who wants to win. A fuel system will perform to its true potential when it has been stored properly during the offseason and parts are replaced in a scheduled maintenance cycle. Racers will also see their fuel systems last much longer thanks to a proactive maintenance schedule.

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About the author

Brian Wagner

Spending his childhood at different race tracks around Ohio with his family’s 1967 Nova, Brian developed a true love for drag racing. When Brian is not writing, you can find him at the track as a crew chief, doing freelance photography, or beating on his nitrous-fed 2000 Trans Am.
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