Sunday, October 18, 2015

Water In Fuel



Discussion about water in fuel contamination. Symptoms, sources and solutions including an old truckers' trick. Plus a demo of Kolor Kut water finding paste.

Co-stars Steve and Homer (tilt head to left)

Steve #5 and Homer Simpson costar in Water in Fuel video opening
Alright, so today on Repairs101 I thought I’d talk to you a little bit about getting water in your fuel. It’s a problem that almost everybody is going to come in contact with one time or another in their lives… or at least so they’ll be told. I’ll go through some of the symptoms, I’ll talk about some of the misconceptions, talk about some of the possible sources – how did the water get into your fuel in the first place? I’ll talk about an old trucker’s trick people use as well as what really should be done from a mechanic’s perspective. And I’ll show you a great product you can use to tell if there’s water in your fuel tank.

Alright, so today on Repairs101 I thought I’d like to talk about getting water in your fuel. Some people will say that there’s bad fuel or water in the gas when they really don’t know what’s wrong with your vehicle. Often times it has nothing to do with water in the fuel it’s just a misdiagnosis. It’s become like the way in the Second World War they used to say gremlins were at work or there was a ghost in the machine.
That said it really does happen and it really does happen every once in a while. Especially in the marine environment and especially down at sea-level but especially in the wintertime and, you know, places where it’s particularly humid. And with diesel fuel in particular – it’s like a magnet for the stuff.

example of how water can get into fuel tanks on outboard motors

OK so symptoms of water in your fuel are going to be things like shaking, a loss of power, missing. Things like rough idle. I found that Outboards, when they have water in their fuel, sometimes the engine will be running and it will seem to have like a sneeze . Say an engine that won’t start or worse yet an engine that was running and then stopped running and won’t start again.

So realistically, any machinery or say fuel cans, jerry cans that are left in the outdoor environment – especially if they’re not sealed, you know? If the vent is left open or if the cap is accidentally left off, certainly overnight you’re going to be introducing condensation to the inside of the can and as it collects it’s going to contaminate your fuel. So your boats, your inboards, your outboards, jet-skis, any equipment that’s left out in the marine environment is liable to have water introduced to the fuel. So, even service stations can get water in their tanks through ground water getting in. You know, it might have come from the refinery, it might have come from some storage tanks, it might have come from a pipeline, it might have come from a railcar or it might have been in the truck that delivered it to the service station. Or even something as simple as forgetting to put the cap on after you have refilled your vehicle with fuel.

illustration of how water can get into a fuel tank with an open cap

So one primary defence that you can use against getting bad fuel is to never fill up at a gas station that is being filled up itself. When you see the tanker trucks come in and they’re filling the underground tanks at the gas station – it’s a good idea to go to a different gas station or to come back later, once the fuel has a chance to settle. If there’s any water or debris in the bottom of the tank, they’re stirring that all up and if you buy fuel right then you’re going to be getting it in your gas tank.

I don’t necessarily recommend this but the old trucker’s trick is to pour in a bottle of Isopropyl Alcohol. So you can try isopropyl alcohol, methyl alcohol, or ethyl alcohol. People use these things all the time and it goes back almost to the beginning of internal combustion. OK now make sure you get 99% because if you get 70%, you’re just adding in more water. The idea is that water doesn’t mix with fuel. It sinks to the bottom. Alcohol and water do mix – it will mix with the water, it will burn and thereby remove the water by taking it with the alcohol. I don’t necessarily recommend this procedure, and I’ve never done it myself so I can’t attest to it. All I can say is that you really shouldn’t do it to a vehicle you love. So before you run out to do this because it seems like a quick and easy and cheap solution, I have got to warn you that your vehicle probably isn’t set up to burn alcohol. It’s too high of an octane. You may be subjecting yourself to problems associated with burning alcohol.

 When Diesel mixes with water it does separate to a certain degree but it also causes a microbial growth that will live in the fuel itself. It becomes cloudy and  I refer to it as puke or barf. It really looks awful. And you can generally contain it and keep it from getting as far as the engine using a water separator. A water separator will at least keep it contained from the water separator back to the tank and it won’t get any further. Unless of course you don’t service her, in which case it’s just a matter of time before the microbial growth finds its way all the way in plugs it up and shuts you down.
In some cases calling in a fuel polisher is the best thing. You know, if you’ve got some heavy equipment out in the field or a boat, say, tied to a dock somewhere or even trucks or something like that, getting a fuel polisher in is often the best solution. A fuel polisher will come in, pump all the fuel out of your container or tank or machine and they will pump it through their own filters, extract all the water, all the sediment, clean it down to about one micron and then pump it back into your machine nice and clean.
Now the right thing to do is to empty the tank. And then you’ve got to clean it out, purge the fuel pump, purge the lines, you’re going to need to clean your carburetor out or purge your injectors. If you attend to it immediately you should be able to just go through the process of cleaning it out, putting in fresh fuel and being on your way without any further expense.


With a name like Kolor Kut I honestly thought that it was a painting supplies product. Now a tank like this one might be fairly easy to get in to but yours, on your vehicle or your vessel might be a lot more challenging. Here’s a thirty six inch zap-strap that you can use – these are my favourite. You know you might be able to just use a yardstick like this one.

White zap-strap that I’ve smeared some of this brown Kolor Kut paste – I hope the colour is good for you. As we go through the gasoline you can see before your eyes how it changes colour very-very quickly.
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