It's a safe bet to say that there's no more important safety equipment in your car, (outside of the driver seat and belts) than your fuel cell and fuel bladder. These pieces of equipment are extremely vital, especially when you're in any type of accident. Tearing apart your fuel cell is extremely important during the off season. But what gets lost during the process a lot of times with teams is the fact of how dangerous it really can be.

You have to be aware that your fuel cell is carrying a very explosive liquid. All it takes is a little static electricity and you could have a major problem on your hands. So before you start to tear apart your fuel cell, you need to take some measures to ensure that you can keep yourself safe while doing so.

CONSTRUCTION OF THE FUEL CELL To better understand what to look for when tearing apart the fuel cell, we need to know what makes up your fuel cell. Your typical asphalt Late Model or Pro Stock setup will have the fuel bladder and foam to keep the fuel from sloshing around, but it also absorbs impact energy if the fuel cell gets crushed. However, for you dirt drivers that utilize the alcohol burning engines, a number of teams will pass on using the foam inside the fuel cell because of the thought that the alcohol (methanol) will eat through the foam, which is partially true. However, there are options. ATL manufactures a foam called SF110 made especially for methanol engines. Unlike the other foam it manufactures, made only for gasoline engines, SF110 is designed to resist degradation from alcohol.

Sprint Car teams, who are especially concerned with weight, will use odd shaped fuel cells that don't contain any foam at all. This is why it's so important for these teams to inspect the bladders for any type of tears or wear marks because of the added danger created by the absence of the foam. Remember, the foam absorbs energy if the fuel cell gets crushed in an impact. Without the foam, there's a greater chance for fuel to spill over a wider area.

The rubber fuel cell bladder itself is a part that must be inspected, especially after an accident. During the off-season, you need to pull the bladder from its casing and inspect it closely. The bladder can be designed out of a wide variety of materials including rubber, both hard and soft, composite matierials like Kevlar-Aramid or Aramid, and even Nylon which is used in my series, the USAR. Regardless of the type of material the bladder is made out of, it's designed so that when an accident occurs, the bladder can actually fold and bend without spilling any fuel. The ATL bladder I have in our Pro Cup car right now is 3 years old and has seen its fair share of accidents. Safety tests have proven that the bladders will age just like any other type of equipment. This is why all fuel bladders have a five year lifespan. Once your fuel bladder expires, purchasing a new one is a must. Don't try to skimp on this, doing so is only putting you or your driver in harm's way.

SAFETY FIRST First things first, whether you are using a leaded gasoline or alcohol, you need to have line caps available so that you can cap off your fuel line once you have it disconnected. Once you have all the lines disconnected and have the fuel cell ready to come out, you need to drain the fuel cell. I suggest purchasing some sort of pump to siphon the gas, instead of doing it the old fashioned way. We have all made that mistake and ended up getting a mouthful of gas, don't make that an issue just purchase a pump.

It's important that you pump as much gas out of the fuel cell as you can-gas is extremely expensive these days and you want to have as much of it as you can stored. Soon, we'll be using water to wash out the bladder and it will make any gas left over useless.