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A Dirty Fuel Tank Saga - What Will Happen Next? Tune In...
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Daverham
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 1:16 pm    Post subject: A Dirty Fuel Tank Saga - What Will Happen Next? Tune In... Reply with quote

This (mostly) isn't a rant about a shop. I'm really just trying to fix my bus and share the process...

'78, Fuel-injected. Had been sitting for 4 years when I bought it. I got it home, changed the gas, new battery, did some ignition stuff, and had it running the first day. I was very happy, It ran great! But within a few days it started sputtering and soon died. Probably rusty crud in the gas, right?

I took it to a local VW shop to have the guys work their magic, just in case they know something that I don't (I no longer believe this is the case). They had it for 4 weeks (that's 4 weeks longer than I have even owned the bus), in which they changed 3 fuel filters in a row and replaced some flex lines (for $250) and then returned my bus to me last Friday (finally!). I drove 1 block before it died again (Strike 1, VW shop). I coasted back to the shop. They told me to change the fuel filter again, so I did, right in their parking lot. And afterward, I broke open the old one and found some little rusty specks in there, but it was certainly not clogged, not even close. So they agreed that they should "try something else" and quit swapping filters on and off. When I showed the guy the inside of the filter he says "Huh, so that's what those look like inside"' - REALLY? he's never broken one open? He was going to just keep changing the filter all day long without ever checking to see if that was the problem? Strike 2, my pseudo-German friends.

At this point I pulled the fuel sender out myself, out in their parking lot, and looked inside the tank. The tank looks really clean and shiny, but there is a little loose, rusty, cruddy, sandy stuff in the bottom. Not much, just a little. I would have taken my bus home at this point to fix it myself, but I couldn't get it home, so I gave the shop another try, because I had no choice.

They had it for another 5 days and told me that they blew a blockage out of the steel fuel line (elbow at the bottom of the tank) with an air compressor - fuel pressure went back up to normal, and now it runs great again. They did not charge me this time. Fine. Thanks. I got the bus about 4 miles down the road (almost home) and it died again. I called the shop and after asking the right questions, I find that they blew the blockage BACK into the fuel tank, and never bothered to figure out what it was or try to remove it (STRIKE THREE, KAISER!), even though I showed them the PO's fuel sender hole, which would have made easy access to the tank for siphoning or at least inspection. I pushed the bus home and am not going back to that shop anytime soon. I'm sure I could have fixed it myself by now, and probably been driving and enjoying it a fair bit too!

For the record, I'm not annoyed with the shop because my bus still isn't fixed, these old gas tanks can be tricky. it could happen to anyone. What annoys me is the knuckle-headed approach they took on some of the particulars, and the fact that they don't listen worth squat, but that's another topic - and on that other topic, they ARE really nice guys.

Anyway... I am hoping that they really did blow some kind of crud back into the tank, and now that fuel is (was) flowing freely, the filter perhaps really is clogged with all of those rusty little specks. I hope so. I will find out tonight. I also intend to inspect the top, inner surface of the tank with a mirror.

Depending on what I find in the tank and filter. I think I will probably drain the tank. Let it evaporate, blow it out with air. Vacuum out the cruddy stuff (after fuel vapors are all gone), blow out the lines, change the filter and proceed from there. I'll probably pick up a pressure gauge on the way home tonight, so I can really assess what is going on before and after. I'm looking for about 30psi, right?

Assuming we are really dealing with a fuel problem, after reading a few related threads, I see my options for cleaning the tank as:
1. Remove engine, and remove gas tank, radiator shop, etc.
2. Try to squeeze the tank out OVER the engine, after removing intake, etc.
3. Try to clean out the tank, in place, either with water, gas, Shop Vac, etc. (yes, one Samba-ite reports success using water)

Hopefully this is useful info for somebody one day, and also... am I missing anything obvious or even not-obvious? Thanks!
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Bus_to_Btown
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 1:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ive got a very similar problem with a 72 camper. The bus sat for about 4 years. The tank was mostly drained, but what gas was in there turned to crap and maybe rusted the tank up a bit. I got through a filter proabloy about every 50 miles... I dont believe you will have much luck pulling the tank out over the engine. I dont want to pull the engine, but i believe thats the only reasonable way to get your tank cleaned.
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914guy
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 4:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My bus sat for 9 years. The PO had purchased 3 glass fuel filters with a box of replacable cartridges and installed this on the engine, although he never started the motor.

We pulled the gas tank out and I removed about 1 lb or more of rustly crud. I cleaned and resealed the tank. There are no specks in the fuel filter.

I would recommend removing the gas tank and clean it and reseal it.

Mike
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busdaddy
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 4:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

A few magnets in a sock attached to a wire and shoved down the filler may just get that crap out.

Sorry to hear about your bad shop experience, good thing you have us.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 4:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If done right you will never haver to worry about it again...
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daves_ale
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 4:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Seriously, do yourself a favor and read Ratwell's instructions on tank cleaning. www.ratwell.com , a wealth of information there. I too have done the over the engine drag and it's not worth it. Just drop the engine. It's not that hard. Go the whole 9 yards and you won't regret it. OH! and don't keep the acid in the tank for too long like I did (4 days +), I developed small holes and had to JB weld them up. Still, multiple years later and no issues is a nice feeling.
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Daverham
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 5:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I could just hug you guys - but I'll save it for another time. Thanks for additional info. I just dropped the &%#@! engine the day I brought it home. Would have been nice to have thought of this then! I can do it, sigh. I'll try some of the easier tactics first. I love the magnetic sock idea. Great!

I will also read the Ratwell page. Thanks.

Off I go to the FLAPS to get one of those nifty fuel line clamps... then under the bus... reporting back tomorrow, with pics!
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Rusty O'Toole
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 5:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you can get at the inside of the tank without taking it out have a look first. Drain the tank by disconnecting the fuel feed hose and draining it into a gas can. Look inside and see what you see. Use a small flash light to peek inside.

The inside of the tank should be coated with a silvery grey coating called "terne plate". This keeps off rust. When the tank gets old and the terne plate wears off the steel rusts.

If all you have is some dirt in the bottom of the tank you can clean it out without taking the tank off. But if there are rusty spots it will keep on rusting unless you take the tank off clean it and seal it.

Unless the tank is real rusty it won't clog up the filters very fast. But eventually the steel will rust through. So you can get away with a slightly rusty tank for a while but it will need coating eventually.
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Daverham
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

OK, I promised pics...

I picked up one of these handy little fuel hose clamps at Schucks. Very nice. I filled up a big bucket of gas, didn't spill a drop - well... just a couple drops. Snapped a lid on the bucket and set it aside. If you have a rusty bus, get one of these clamps!
Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


Here's what I found inside the filter! This is WAY worse than the one I removed in front of the shop. So far, my theory seems accurate. They blew out a blockage, and now all kinds of crap is getting out of the tank. So far so good...
Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


"Thanks" to the PO for this handy little hole above the fuel sender. I will be cutting this out a little cleaner and installing something nicer as a cover. Maybe an over-sized piece from a donor bus, cut with nice rounded edges as a cover plate.
Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


At first I was just documenting for you guys, but it turns out that my little camera was pretty useful for seeing just what's going on in there. This is the view looking toward the filler (pass. side). That rust is bubbling up from the bottom of the tank. Looks like I won't be camping this weekend.
Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


Here is the view to the driver's side. That rust is all loose.
Image may have been reduced in size. Click image to view fullscreen.


I guess I know what I'm doing this Sunday.

Oh, and about that shop... the thing that drives me nuts is. Why didn't they stick a damn flashlight in that sender hole (I told them it was there), and see ALL THAT RUST and just tell me my options (1. Try to clean it out 2. Take out the tank, etc.). It would have taken 10 minutes, saved me $250, and I could have had my bus back A MONTH AGO, and NOT had to push it home (late for tacos!) because I was told that it was fixed. I mean that is pretty freaking obvious. But no, the SIT ON IT for a month, and then change the fuel filter. Awesome. They have a very good reputation, and they are NICE GUYS, so I'm going to try to forget how freaking knuckle-headed they were on this one.

So this leaves me thinking about moving forward:
- An Evapo-rust soak/rinse maybe? But no way to re-coat it afterward...
- What is that little "box" in the tank anyway? Kinda keeps crud out?
- In the end, I will probably pull the tank.
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Traveling Writer
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2009 11:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I had a fairly involved saga with a clogged gas tank a while back on my 77FI. Eventually, I pulled the tank and cleaned it in the back yard. My thoughts: I siphoned and siphoned...didn't work very well at all. Tough, messy, dangerous. You can yank that tank in less than an hour without touching the motor except to remove the upper items like heater fan, a distributor cap, coil, air filter, firewall stuff. I wrote a fair bit about it, so if you search my older posts / gallery there's pics and stuff. Drain the tank, pull it, clean it, reinstall it in a single easy Saturday afternoon. PM me if you can't find the posts...
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Rusty O'Toole
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 24, 2009 7:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I recently redid a tank like yours. It was rusted only in the lowest part of the tank where water could accumulate.

This made it easy to remove the rust by sticking a sandblaster in the hole. It was not possible to blast every square inch of the tank but that's ok you only need to blast the rust.

Then, cleaned the tank with cheap lacquer thinner (gun wash) let it dry and coated it with epoxy coating from Caswell.

There are other good coatings too. I stay away from the cheap rubbery type because they can fail, peel off and clog up your gas line.
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busdaddy
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 24, 2009 7:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Evaporust or muriatic acid (study up on that stuff first!) will get that out, not too bad compared to some.

I ran an old Ford pickup for 3 years making more crap than that out of the tank. I used dual filters with a tee at each end so they were plumbed in parrallel, changed one filter every week or 2, no issues. You could also use a siphon to suck up the obvious loose shit through the sender hole first, just like cleaning a fish tank, then strain the gas and repeat.

You'll get that camping trip done and can do it right when it's cold out.
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Daverham
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 24, 2009 8:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks guys, you rule! Sounds like a reasonable balance between fast and affordable would be this:

1. Remove the tank with engine installed per Traveling Writer. I guess this could be either disassemble the top of the engine or just lower engine and tranny both together a little bit. Hmmm...
2. Boil it out at a radiator shop (or maybe try Evaporust)
3. POR sealer per Ratwell
4. Go camping


Last edited by Daverham on Thu Sep 24, 2009 8:30 am; edited 1 time in total
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Daverham
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 24, 2009 8:28 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey TravWrit... I've found a lot of fond references to your how-to post, but I can't find the post itself or any links to it. I did see your photos and some of your comments in other places... that helps. If you know where that post is, can you link us to it?

Thanks!
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Daverham
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2009 11:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

SUCK! I just called three radiator shops in Seattle. Two of them are "not equipped" to clean out a fuel tank, and the only one that says he CAN do it says he DOESN'T WANT TO, and the man hours involved will bring the cost up to about $600-$700.

Where are all these shops where people make is sound so easy "just have a radiator shop boil it out for $60" ??

I guess I'll be tackling this myself with a chain and some evaporust or something. I suppose the POR kit is probably the way to go for coating the inside afterward. I'm tired of paying shipping... isn't there any kind of fuel tank coating a guy can get locally, for boats or something?
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2009 12:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Daverham wrote:
Hey TravWrit... I've found a lot of fond references to your how-to post, but I can't find the post itself or any links to it. I did see your photos and some of your comments in other places... that helps. If you know where that post is, can you link us to it?

Thanks!


http://www.thesamba.com/vw/forum/viewtopic.php?t=344464&highlight=tank
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2009 1:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've read somewhere on the net obout some guy who cooked his tank clean on a BBQ grill.....filled it with some water based solution and let it boil away....
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train99
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2009 7:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I took my tank out and tried cleaning it with tide detergent and boiling water. Mine wasn't that rusty, just had tar from evaporating gas.

When you mix tide with boiling water you get a gentle caustic solution. Like a safe version of the material the radiator shop uses. Use powdered detergent. Liquid is different.

Mine was so badly coated with tar - the hoses ran a thick goop like you'd see in a tar pit, I gave up and took it to a radiator shop. Price was $100. I called the local bug place and asked for a referral.

The $100 was for the cleaning - they also glass beaded some of the rusty areas - painting and coating the inside with WD-40. I'm in AZ and don't have the rust issues you'll face in WA.
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 25, 2009 8:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Powdered Tide is a one of a kind wonderful detergent. Bucket of real hot water and Tide for slimy engines and anything else that needs cleaning. I get a kick out of seeing Tide sold in autobody paint stores,

Sorry, have no Idea of how to clean a tank.
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Daverham
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PostPosted: Sat Sep 26, 2009 7:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Cool idea about the tide fro grime. I'll use that on the outside my dirty engine for sure!

My problem is the opposite, I have RUST, no sludge. All indications point to Ratwell's answers being the best for my particular situation:

1. Remove the gas tank (with engine still in)
2. Hydrochloric (muriatic) acid soak to remove the rust.
3. POR-15 Fuel Tank kit to rust-proof the inside.
4. Go camping in the bus, with the dog - and maybe the wife, if she's lucky. Wink
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