Is There Water In Your Fuel?

Fuel contamination from water can have costly and dangerous consequences. An indicator of water in your fuel can be a sudden change in the performance of your motor. Acceleration may cause the motor to hesitate or sputter consistently or at higher speeds cause revving and jolting. Water doesn’t compress like gasoline in an engine cylinder and depending on the amount of water present, contaminated fuel can cause intermittent power loss or complete engine failure.

Other costly problems caused by water contamination include:

  • reduction in fuel mileage or economy
  • destruction of the lubricating properties in fuel, which can scour or blow injector tips/pumps
  • causing an engine to cool too fast and potentially crack core components
  • microbial growth, which can destroy the whole fuel system and provoke filter plugging

Aside from the performance issues above, other signs of water in your fuel storage tank can be clogged or slimy filters, cloudy looking fuel, floating debris, sludge build up or foul odors.

How can you prevent water in your fuel tanks?

If fuel tanks are not properly sealed or maintained, rain or snow melt can seep in. Old hoses or gaskets and loose clamps are common sources of water contamination.

In our cooler Alaskan weather, storage tanks - including bulk fuel storage tanks - are also more susceptible to condensation as lower ambient temperatures can result in water accumulation. Today’s ethanol based gasoline attracts, absorbs and suspends this water throughout the fluid, which compounds water contamination problems for us in Alaska.

Here are a few tips for preventing water contamination:

  • Inspect vapor caps for damage or missing and worn gaskets
  • Check hoses for visible signs of cracks and wear
  • Visually inspect tanks for floating debris and sludge
  • Audit your fuel delivery source for water content through fuel sampling
  • Use water sensitive filters and monitor for reduced filling speeds

The best prevention plan is regular maintenance and inspections. Routine maintenance and an established inspection protocol can uncover fuel contamination from water while it is still manageable and easier to resolve, before it swells into costly damage or repairs.

How do you test for water in fuel tanks?

Water has a greater density than fuel, so the longer it sits, the higher the likelihood is that phase separation will occur and water will accumulate at the bottom of fuel storage tanks while the fuel floats on top. Testing for water requires a special water-detecting paste. This paste is applied to a dipstick or weighted string and lowered to the bottom of the tank. If the paste contacts water, it will immediately turn the indicator color and give a visual sign as to the depth of the water present.

How do you treat water contaminated fuel?

With small amounts of water, pumping it out of the tank or treat the fuel with a drying agent are options. If a higher quantity of water and/or sludge are detected, the fuel and the tanks may need to be cleaned. In extreme cases the fuel may need to be discarded, the tanks cleaned and then refilled with fresh fuel. When tanks are old and corroded and with blocked filters the fuel will need to be removed, and the tanks inspected and potentially replaced.

If you suspect that your fuel tanks have water, Frontier Fuel Service can assist your facility by testing for water contamination, training facility employees on how to check for water and establish a testing protocol, and by removing water from problem tanks.

If you think you are experiencing water contamination in your bulk fuel tanks, call Frontier Fuel Service today to arrange a site consultation or fuel system water removal.


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