One of the things we take for granted on our cars is our engine working without any issues. Despite it being a complex machine with multiple moving parts, we expect it to just work.
Whether you’re driving to work, the store, or the gas station, there are a lot of things going on behind the scenes.
One of the most fundamental is fuel moving from the fuel tank, through the fuel lines, and into the engine where it’s combusted in order to drive your car foreward.
To make that happen though, you need a working fuel pump.
The often forgot about fuel pump is a mainstay on nearly all internal combustion engines, minus some older engines which are often found on motorcycles.
Your fuel pump either sits in your fuel tank directly, or just outside the tank itself and is responsible for drawing the fuel from your tank, and then feeding it into the fuel line which takes the fuel itself to the engine.
Your fuel pump also filters out nasty impurities in your gas tank before sending the fuel itself to the engine. There’s also a fuel gauge that attaches to the fuel pump which is quite literally afloat. By floating around in your gas tank, it gives you a fuel reading on your dashboard.
There are two types of fuel pumps, the electronic fuel pumps found on newer vehicles, and the mechanical ones found on older models.
The first electronic fuel pumps came under development in the late 1920s, and started to be integrated into US vehicles in the 1950s, with it becoming commonplace by the late 1980s into the 1990s.
The electronic fuel pump uses an electromagnetic switch in conjunction with a diaphragm to provide suction in order to pull the fuel into the chamber.
A mechanical fuel pump uses a similar diaphragm and valve as the electric fuel pump, but it’s driven by either the camshaft or by a special shaft that runs off of the crankshaft.
The good news is both fuel pump types are fairly reliable, and they often last over 100,000 miles.
The bad news is they do go out, and when they do, your car isn’t going to be going anywhere fast.
To be honest, it won’t be going anywhere at all!
How Long Does A Fuel Pump Last?
The average fuel pump will last for about 100,000 miles, although I’ve seen my fair share of cars that still have their original fuel pump working just fine even after 200,000 miles. So why do some fuel pumps last longer than others?
There’s a few reasons. Generally speaking, if you use higher quality gas and keep the tank at least a quarter full or more, you can expect your fuel pump to last longer all things equal.
Here are my reccomendations to keep your fuel pump running for as long as possible:
- Always keep your fuel tank at least a quarter of the way full. Your fuel pump can heat up, or dry out and crack if there’s not enough gas on a consistent basis.
- Gas acts as a coolant for the fuel pump, and if the tank runs dry then there is no liquid to cool the pump. Overheating shortens the life of the fuel pump.
- The more gas you have in the tank, the easier it is for the fuel pump to work because of the increased weight putting pressure on the fuel pump. Without this pressure, the fuel pump has to work harder which can cause it to wear out faster.
- Replace your fuel filter frequently. Impurities and any debris from gasoline or from dust and dirt that has gotten into the tank will sink to the bottom. When the fuel on the bottom of the tank is sucked into the fuel pump, the debris could cause damage. The fuel filter can protect the injectors and engine from debris but the pump is affected by the debris.
- Make sure you have a good seal with the gas cap. If the gas cap is open, air and debris can get into your fuel tank, which can cause damage to your fuel pump.
- Avoid gas pumps and gas stations that appear to be poorly maintained, or are otherwise rusty/dirty. If there is water in the gas or corrosion on the nozzles, this can cause damage to the fuel system and shorten the life of the fuel pump. Cheap gas is just fine, as fuel quality is well regulated in the US, but gas pumps in a state of disrepair are still present on occasion. As recently as 2012, there was an issue with BP gas stations in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, BP with over 8 million gallons of gas being contaminated.
Signs Your Fuel Pump Is On The Way Out
Rust, dirt, or debris in the gas tank can kill a fuel pump very quickly. Rust occurs on older steel tanks while after 8-10 years, plastic tanks start to break down.
Diagnosing a dead fuel pump is usually fairly easy, which will save you on testing and diagnostic costs. What normally happens is the car has trouble starting and frequently will die. Finally, the car itself will refuse to start even though the engine is cranking itself and getting plenty of juice.
A great way to check if your fuel pump is bad is to check your fuse box. See if any of the fuses are blown. If the metal in each fuse is good, move on to the fuel pressure test port. You can get a pressure gauge for about $20-$30 bucks on the web.
Find your car’s fuel pressure test port and crank the engine. If it’s not getting any pressure, congratulations, you have a bad fuel pump.
Don’t you feel handy now?
Now, there are other signs to look out for prior to the car dying which may indicate you have a bad fuel pump. If you notice any of these, but your car is still running, we advise you to take your car to a mechanic before it decides to die on you.
1: Whining Noise From The Fuel Tank
Your fuel pump normally will hum quietly when driving under normal conditions. However, an aging fuel pump can make a racket. Of course, this can also be caused by fuel conditions such as not having enough fuel, or having bad fuel, but in most cases, this is one of the first signs your fuel pump is on the way out.
This can be caused by debris in the fuel pump. Unfortunately the fuel filter doesn’t filter out microscopic particles (particularly dirt and metal) that can cause damage to your fuel pump.
The only protection comes from the inlet screen. The inlet screen only blocks large particles and cannot block the microscopic particles that wear a pump out over time. When a pump gets worn, it may get louder and spin at lower an RPM causing starting, driveability, and performance problems. The first sign of this is a “wirrrrrrrr” noise that you can hear when turning on the car.
2: Trouble Starting
An aging fuel pump can have difficulty generating the required amount of pressure to start your car. It can still pump fuel, but it may require several cranks of the engine or multiple turns of the key. This symptom is far from definitive on it is own, as this could be a leaking fuel line or a bad starter. One way to tell is to use the pressure test described above.
3: Sputtering Engine
A sputtering engine can be caused by an improper mixture of fuel and air where your engine is likely running lean or rich. If you notice your engine sputtering at high speeds before returning to normal operation, your fuel pump may be to blame. Without the correct pressure, your engine may not be getting the fuel it needs. This is a dead giveaway that your fuel pump needs to be replaced.
4: Trouble Climbing Hills
When your engine is forced to work harder, it requires more fuel. A prime example of this is when climbing a steep hill. If you’ve got a bad fuel pump, your car can feel like it’s severely underpowered while climbing, even if you’re pressing the gas pedal. A weak fuel pump won’t be able to regulate and accurately provide the right amount of fuel to the engine in order to generate the correct amount of power.
5: Random Surges
An aging fuel pump may still work intermittently and send a surge of fuel into the engine which can feel like you’re pressing the gas pedal even though you’re going at a consistent speed. When the fuel pump is working properly, it should evenly deliver fuel to your engine.
6: Bad Gas Mileage
A bad fuel pump may be causing your engine to run with a rich fuel mixture, which can burn additional fuel. However, this is far from definitive, as this problem can be related to any number of things, including a bad O2 sensor, a cracked fuel line, or issues in the engine itself.
When Should You Replace Your Fuel Pump?
It is usually unnecessary to preemptively replace the fuel pump, but if there is another service being performed on the vehicle that involves removing the gas tank, and the current fuel pump has been running for over 100,000 miles, then replacing it could save money and time in the long run.
The biggest expense (as we’ll talk about later) when it comes to repairing the fuel pump is labor. If the tank is already off, you could save several hundred dollars having it replaced at the same time because the assembly is usually less than $150, while the entire job can cost up to $600 when labor is included.
If the fuel pump seems to be surging and then not delivering enough fuel, get it inspected by a qualified mechanic right away. The fuel system is necessary to keep the car running and a poorly maintained fuel system is downright hazardous.
So, Is It Hard To Replace a Fuel Pump?
Whenever I get asked this question, the answer is always “maybe”. Replacing the fuel pump isn’t hard, per say. If you follow the right guide, or get the owner’s manual, and follow it step by step, you’ll be able to do the repair.
It’s completely possible to do with hand tools. If you’re able to read these words and understand what I’m saying, even if you’ve never done any work on your own car, you will be able to replace your fuel pump on your own.
With that being said, while it may not be hard, it certainly can be time consuming, especially if you’ve never worked on your car before.
Back when I was in my early 20s, before I became a mechanic, it took me about 6 hours of work to fix an external fuel pump on my minivan. The same job now takes me about 30-45 minutes, tops.
But don’t be discouraged – you certainly can do it, if you have some free time and a few small hand tools which you can get off Amazon or eBay.
How Much Does A New Fuel Pump Cost?
Unfortunately, there’s no one sized fits all answer to this question. Replacement pumps are different based on make, model, year, and sometimes engine size. Replacement pumps may look different because manufacturers upgrade the designs occasionally.
There’s also the issue of replacing just the fuel pump itself, versus the entire assembly itself, which is made up of the fuel pump, plus the fuel sending unit and a few periperhal systems. In some late model cars, the fuel pump cannot be replaced seperately and the entire unit must be replaced, while in tank electric pumps can be replaced seperately.
To make this easier, I’ll give you a price range on both.
What’s The Cost To Fix Your Fuel Pump If You Do It Yourself?
Doing the repair yourself is an excellent choice. Replacing your fuel pump isn’t as hard as you might imagine. As usual, I’ve got to shout out YouTuber ChrisFix, who’s excellent video I’ve attatched to show you how easy it is to repair your fuel pump on your own.
I highly recommend you watch this video if you decide to do it yourself. Depending on the make and model you have, this may be easy, or it may be time-consuming. For example, on a Camero, fixing the fuel pump involves removing the exhaust, the driveshaft, and the lower subframe just to drop the gas tank.
Most gasoline passenger vehicles since 1996 have the fuel pump inside the fuel tank. You generally replace the entire module – fuel pump, pressure regulator, level sensor, since not much more parts cost and the plastic becomes brittle over time.
Also change the fuel filter and its hoses, which is usually above or beside the fuel tank. For a common vehicle, parts cost ~$100. In most, you must drop the fuel tank, and first drain most gas if needed. Some vehicles have an access panel in the body to get to the top of the tank to remove the assembly without dropping the tank. In many, the assembly is secured with a large steel collar, and that might require a special tool to unscrew. If you use hammer & chisel to turn it, don’t make a spark.
Make sure you avoid using power tools, because the last thing you want is a spark. That’s not what you want.
The total cost of replacing your fuel pump on your own will be somewhere between $20-$150 dollars (for the part/assembly) and at least a few hours of your time (at the very least). Depending on how long it’ll take for your make and model, it may end up being worth it to take it to the mechanic.
What’s The Cost To Fix Your Fuel Pump If You Take It To The Mechanic?
The cost of fixing our fuel pump at the mechanic will really depend on the number of labor hours it takes to replace the part.
The fuel pump itself is often no more than $150 dollars for even the most expensive assemblies. Labor rates however, vary across the country. I’ve gone back through our database for the labor rates, and calculated the national average labor rate.
And guess what? It’s about $90 bucks an hour, although this can vary between $60-$140 dollars depending on what state you’re located in.
So now all we need to know is the total labor time. As a mechanic for over 20 years, I can tell you that this will vary greatly. Any car with an external fuel pump is going to be easier and sometimes will take less than an hour.
However, if you’re replacing the entire fuel assembly and need to drop the fuel tank, things can get more complicated. On average, this will take somewhere between 2-3 hours.
We’ll average it out to 2 hours of labor – even though this can sometimes be much more.
On average, you should expect to pay between $400-$600 dollars on average to have your fuel pump repaired at the mechanic. Although this can go as high as $1,000 or as low as $200. It really depends on your car.
So, What Do You Do After Replacing Your Fuel Pump?
In my opinion, the most important thing you can do when you’re replacing your fuel pump is to either replace your fuel tank if it’s in poor repair or otherwise clean it out. As I mentioned before, a dirty or damaged fuel tank can damage your fuel pump.
If you end up replacing your fuel pump, but you don’t clean your fuel tank out, the same issue can repeat itself if the fuel pump was damaged by a dirty tank.
Now, regardless of whether you’re taking your car to a technician or doing it yourself, I highly reccomend you follow this 10 step process to clean your gas tank properly to avoid damaging your fuel pump and having to go through this process again.
The 10 step process:
- Drain the fuel tank into a container that can hold fuel. It may be helpful to use a mechanical fuel siphon to do this.
- Clean rust and debris from the fuel tank. You can use an abrasive cleaner, something chemical, or otherwise.
- Remove the fuel pump.
- Swirl gas tank, removing any residual gasoline. Pour out the remaining gas and debris into an approved container and dispose of it properly.
- Make sure the tank is in good repair. Look for any leaks, holes, or otherwise. If the tank is damaged, replace it.
- Clean the tank interior with a low-suds soap and water mixture.
- Swirl cleaning solution inside the tank.
- Drain tank and dry with compressed air.
- Wipe out the tank with a lint-free towel.
- Confirm the tank is completely dry. You should let it sit in a shaded area for a few hours to dry out.
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