Most people – not just car people – know about air and oil filters – and that both need to be changed every so often.
But how many people even think about fuel filters anymore?
New cars do have them – it’s one of the few things that today’s cars and yesterday’s cars still have in common. The difference is where they’re located.
In yesterday’s cars, people thought more about fuel filters because they saw them more often. Every time you raised the hood of a car with a carburetor, you’d see the fuel filter – which was almost always located near the carburetor – which sat right on top of the engine. Whenever the carburetor was adjusted – a routine thing, back when cars had carbs – it was reflexive to have a look at the filter. It was replaced routinely as part of fuel system service – to keep contaminants such as grit, rust flakes and so on from being sucked into the carburetor and then into the engine.
It’s just as important to replace fuel filters today – for the same reasons – but it’s easier to forget to do it because regular tune-ups are a thing of the past with fuel-injected cars, which can go for years without anyone adjusting anything. And also because the fuel filter is no longer (usually) under the hood.
Instead, it’s generally in one of two other locations – one good (in terms of DIY) maintenance.
The other not-so-good.
The good location is somewhere under the car – as in the case of my ’02 Nissan Frontier, the guinea pig for this article.
If it’s a truck, like mine, you may not even need to jack up the vehicle to reach the filter. You can just shimmy underneath with a flat blade or Phillips head screwdriver – to loosen the worm gear clamps that hold the rubber hose sections to the inlet and outlet nipples of the old filter and (gently) slide the hoses off the old filter.
It’s a good idea to use a hemostat or vise grip pliers – adjusted to not squeeze too tight – to clap down on the hoses just aft of the inlet/outlet nipples before removing the old filter; this will prevent gas from leaking out of the hoses while you are in the process of installing the new filter.
Whatever you do, don’t leave the ignition switch in the “run” position while you do this job. If you do – and if you haven’t clamped the lines – you’ll get soaked with gas, which will be pumped out of the open lines by the electric fuel pump that all fuel-injected cars have. Back in the carb days, cars had mechanical fuel pumps – and they only pumped when the engine was running.
What’s the same as before is to make sure you install the new filter in the right direction; there’s usually an arrow stamped on the body that will tell you which way. Be sure you don’t install it the wrong way.
Now is also a great time to check the condition of the rubber hoses that usually connect to each end of the filter – and to the hard steel fuel lines.
If they’re brittle or you see cracks, replace them. Even if you don’t, if the rubber’s more than eight years old, it’s good preventive maintenance to replace them now – before they leak. Be sure to get hose that’s made for fuel-injected vehicles as the line pressure is much higher than it was back in the carb days.
And use a good-quality filter. This is at least as important s replacing the filter – because a crappy replacement filter can be just as bad (and maybe worse) as not replacing the filter at all. I personally like and use Wix filters (gas and oil) and recommend them, not because Wix is paying me to recommend them but because they’re good filters and worth the couple of extra bucks you’ll pay up front vs. what you might end up having to pay down the road if you go with a poor-quality filter to save a few bucks up front.
But what about the not-so-good place?
It’s in the tank – where it’s not easy to get at. It’s still DIY-doable, but it’s going to take more pertinacity – and elbow grease – to do the job.
You can find out which job you’re facing by reading up on the replacement procedure in a service manual for your particular vehicle – which you can probably find online and so not necessarily have to buy.
Even if you don’t do this job yourself, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with how it’s done.
And not forget that it needs to be done.
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