Once you have pulled the fuel cell out of the car, and have all the gas out of it that you can, you need to fill the tank with water and let it sit for 5 minutes. This will ensure that you have all the fuel out of the car and make it a lot safer when handling the foam from the bladder. The biggest mistake you can make is pulling the fuel bladder foam out without letting it soak up some water first. Even if you think you've drained all the fuel out of the car, that foam is designed to hold in droplets and to absorb the fuel. If you don't let it sit in water for 5 minutes, you are running the risk of burning yourself, or even burning down your shop.

After you have the bladder out of the steel casing, look for any gashes in the rubber or any wear on the bladder itself. If you do find any gashes, the best thing you can do is just replace the bladder. Why take a chance on something that is supposed to protect you? Also, check the markings on the bladder to ensure that it hasn't expired.

STORING FOR WINTER After the bladder has been inspected, washed out, and dried off, you need to store it in a dry, dark, and warm place. This is especially true for rubber bladders which can be vulnerable to damage from cold winters. After my bladder and foam has been cleaned thoroughly, I always wrap them both in a clean trash bag and put them in a spare closet until I'm ready to rebuild the car for the next year. This same practice can, and needs to be applied to the alcohol fuel bladders as well.

You should also cut open and inspect your fuel filter. This is another way to detect any problems with the condition of your foam. If the filter has a lot of debris or foam in it, then it's time to replace your foam inside the bladder. I replace the fuel filter every single off-season. It's such a cheap part when you consider what it's filtering.

OTHER VARIABLES TO CONSIDER There are other things to consider when you are tearing apart your fuel cell, and one is the fuel pickup. If you are utilizing a fuel pickup that uses a swing-door valve, you need to make sure the valve is opening and closing with ease. This type of setup will allow the fuel to rush in to the pickup and won't let it escape. Ensure that the fuel pickup is in the back of the fuel cell and on the right side. This will let the fuel reach the pickup when the car is under acceleration and when it's in the corners.

Another variable is the condition of your fuel line. Check for any abrasions or pinches in the line. Remember, steel-braided lines are the way to go. This line will be transporting one of the most dangerous fluids in the car. There's no good reason to use anything other than a steel-braided line.

Also, check the fill plate. The fill plate needs to be able to fasten to the fuel bladder without any resistance. On some applications, the fill plate will have the fill tube and then the overflow tube. The overflow tube is controlled by a spring, and on top of this spring sits a metal ball or bullet. This will rise and fall with fluid. Your spring should allow the ball or bullet to reach the top of the overflow vent. If it's not working, you will have trouble filling the car because the fuel cell won't be able to release the pressure.

CONCLUSION To ignore your fuel cell during the off-season isn't a wise decision at all. You are literally playing with fire. This off-season, take the time to inspect your fuel cell and bladder so you can ensure that it's as safe as possible. Don't fall into that dangerous thinking that the worst couldn't happen to you. Racing is a very dangerous sport, and if you don't take the proper safety measures, you are flirting with disaster.