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Old 09-26-2020, 05:47 AM   #1
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Contaminants in Diesel Fuel

We just took our coach for the first longer trip, 1,400 miles to Northern Michigan. We still had 1/4 tank indicated which should have been like 300 miles when the bus just suddenly died and I saw a brief "Low Fuel" light indication. Knowing that the previous owner had replaced the fuel sender in the past year or two, I assumed that it had not been calibrated correctly and we are out of fuel. Arranged 5 gallons more but no start. Started the genny and ran that for 30 minutes with no issue, so I knew I'm not out of fuel. Arranged a tow to Crossroads Truck Repair in Marquette. Since it was already pretty late when we got there, they got us power and we stayed in the coach overnight. The next morning a mechanic showed us one of the filters. There were good size chunks of something soft like paper on top of the filter but he could not tell what and I was not able to analyze the material further. Replaced the filters and we were on our way.
How tight the filters were, there is no way I could have replaced them without a filter wrench, so spare filters and a wrench are now part of my tool set.

Has anybody experienced contaminants like that and what might be the best way to get those out of the tank if there is more?
I'm thinking pulling the sender out and maybe have a better chance to see if any visible contaminants are in the tank as can't see anything from the filler tube. Maybe get a pump and couple large containers and try to skim and siphon any floaters and the bottom with a pump.
All I find on internet is dropping the tank and cleaning but in my case, that would be an expensive effort cutting out supports and re-welding which has a potential of frying electronics even with batteries disconnected. Adding a clear sump to the line before the filters seems like a much easier option.
I've also heard that you should never let the fuel go below 1/4 tank but I don't see any reason other than running out of fuel. The fuel sloshes so much during driving that any contaminants would be in suspension and baffles will take care of fuel slosh at the pick-up tube.
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Old 09-26-2020, 06:11 AM   #2
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As far as I know all Diesel engines have a fuel/water separator with a valve. Get a one gallon bucket and drain a half gallon of fuel into it. Inspect for debris. Once a month or so it’s a good idea to drain a quart into a glass jar to inspect for water as well.
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Old 09-26-2020, 06:51 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lowflyer1 View Post
The next morning a mechanic showed us one of the filters. There were good size chunks of something soft like paper on top of the filter but he could not tell what and I was not able to analyze the material further. Replaced the filters and we were on our way.

How tight the filters were, there is no way I could have replaced them without a filter wrench, so spare filters and a wrench are now part of my tool set.

Has anybody experienced contaminants like that and what might be the best way to get those out of the tank if there is more?
You will never get filters (oil or fuel) off without a filter wrench. Just be sure to not over tighten the new filter (which most people do). You just tighten by hand.

There is probably a drain plug on the bottom of your fuel tank. But I don't know how much help that will be if you have large debris in the thank. Removing the drain plug is good for clearing out any water or fine particles but wont do much if there are paper towels/shop rag in the tank (which I have seen before).
Does you fuel tank have a short fill neck (you access tank filler from one of the Bays) or do you have a filler compartment door with a long fill hose going to tank?
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Old 09-26-2020, 07:05 AM   #4
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If you have a water separator/fuel filter with clear bowl, you can check it visually. No need to open the drain.


If no water/diesel interface or debris in the clear bowl, you are good.




And, if you do not have a clear bowl, use a clear glass jar to collect the sample. Drain ONLY until you get clear, golden diesel. Any more is a waste of fuel and a disposal issue.
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Old 09-26-2020, 07:18 AM   #5
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First thing is to start treating your fuel on a regular basis. I use Biobor and Startron that kills the algae and then breaks it down. When I first bought our coach had an algae problem so starting treating the fuel and haven't had another problem. I'll use the algaecide and enzyme about every 3rd tank if I'm on a trip and if am going to store my coach for any length of time will use both with a full tank to reduce chance of condensation.

You may check on a small diesel transfer pump to pull the fuel out of the tank and inspect. You could use your levelers to tilt the coach and get most of the fuel out. If it is a serious problem you will have get creative on pulling all the fuel out and cleaning the tank.
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Old 09-26-2020, 07:38 AM   #6
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The OP never did say how old the fuel filters were? I would remove the fuel filter each 500 miles for a inspection and if more residue shows up, then consider a tank removal and cleaning.
I try to run my vehicles low on fuel before refilling just so any accumulation of contaminants do get filtered out vs accumulating in the bottom of a fuel tank.
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Old 09-26-2020, 08:39 AM   #7
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Someone could have lost the fuel cap at one time and stuck a wad of paper or paper towel maybe the kind at window wash station in the pipe and it slid inside.
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Old 09-26-2020, 09:24 AM   #8
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Just a few comments:
  • Be careful tightening the water/fuel separator filter petcock. The way its made, if it is over tightened it can damage the seal and you will not only leak diesel fuel, but in some engines you will suck air through the petcock causing the engine to act up, and posibilly stall. If it is a Caterpillar engine, you may be SOL trying to get it started again.
  • The stuff you found is what a lot of people call algae. It is actually a coagulation of dirt, water and waxes found in diesel fuel.
  • Be really carefully carrying spare filters of any type. The inside of filters are just bare steel and they can and will rust. You surely don't want to put a internally rusted filter on the engine. Make sure any spare filters are sealed and placed in a moisture free environment. Here are two pictures of brand new filters I got from a parts store once. If it can happen in a parts store it can surely happen when stored in a RV.
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Old 09-26-2020, 09:47 AM   #9
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One common "contaminant" is diesel fuel is plain old water, condensation running down the tank walls into the fuel. That has a further risk because it can lead to the growth of an algae that forms a gummy sediment like you describe. The algae can be killed but it still have to get filtered out over time, so check fuel filter frequently and change as needed.


Fuel can also get contaminated in the fueling station tanks. Less common, but it happens. If you fuel when the station tanks are low or were just stirred up by a new fuel delivery, you may get some tank sediment into your own system. Better stations have filters at the pump to prevent this.
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Old 09-26-2020, 10:48 AM   #10
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Someone could have lost the fuel cap at one time and stuck a wad of paper or paper towel maybe the kind at window wash station in the pipe and it slid inside.
Funny you should mention that.

We had drivers lose the fill caps and do just that. Stick lunch bags or rags in the hole.

Of course, the complaint was missing fuel cap, with no mention of stuff in the tank.
Once we figured it out, We fished them out with stiff wire, thru the fuel sender hole.
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Old 09-26-2020, 10:59 AM   #11
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In the marine world they have a process call “fuel polishing.” I basically pumps the fuel through a set of filters and back in to the tank to remove any contaminates in the fuel. I would start by changing the fuel filter early for a few cycles to see if it is really a problem.
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Old 09-26-2020, 11:11 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wrvond View Post
As far as I know all Diesel engines have a fuel/water separator with a valve. Get a one gallon bucket and drain a half gallon of fuel into it. Inspect for debris. Once a month or so it’s a good idea to drain a quart into a glass jar to inspect for water as well.


Mine has a clear bowl I drained one time although I couldn’t see anything. What a mistake valve would not reseal. Luckily I carry spare filters.
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Old 09-26-2020, 11:51 AM   #13
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Hardest part of my job troubleshooting daily is well intentioned human error. Operator, fiddled with and tried something opened or closed something , then the supervisor and possibly one or more mechanics made attempts that may had even been right should have fixed if not for prior fiddling/tweaking . No one mentioned making tweaks or any prior working on it .
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Funny you should mention that.

We had drivers lose the fill caps and do just that. Stick lunch bags or rags in the hole.

Of course, the complaint was missing fuel cap, with no mention of stuff in the tank.
Once we figured it out, We fished them out with stiff wire, thru the fuel sender hole.
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Old 09-26-2020, 12:52 PM   #14
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I ordered 4 oil filters for my Allison trans off the internet which arrived yesterday. After inspection, I realized they were old stock and the filters were covered with dust inside and out along with the old looking packaging boxes. I just mailed them back this morning.
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