This is the worst case scenario...
This is the worst case scenario for any type of accident. This car took a hard crash at the rear of the car. You can even see where it ripped the fuel fill canister out of the car. This is why it's so important to tear down your fuel cell during the off-season to ensure it can make it through an accident like this.
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.
This is your typical asphalt...
This is your typical asphalt Late Model fuel system setup.
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.
No matter whether you're tearing...
No matter whether you're tearing down a dirt or asphalt car, the first thing you should do is siphon all the gas out of the car. I suggest purchasing a pump so you don't have to end up with a mouthful of gasoline.
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.
Always cap off your fuel line...
Always cap off your fuel line for the winter.
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.
After we remove the fuel-cell...
After we remove the fuel-cell brace, you can really see how much the fuel cell moves during the course of the year. Notice that we have written the expiration date on the steel fuel container so we know exactly when we need to replace the fuel bladder. Remember, the fuel bladder needs to be replaced every five years.
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.
The outside markings on the...
The outside markings on the fuel bladder will show you exactly how much fuel the bladder will hold, when it was made, the expiration date, and the part number of the product.
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.
I replace the fuel filter...
I replace the fuel filter at least once a year to ensure that the fuel reaching the engine is as pure and clean as possible.
Check the gasket between the fuel bladder and the fill plate for any cuts or gashes. If you ever see any liquid forming underneath the car, it might be because the gasket is torn.
The fuel cell foam is designed to fight against sloshing, but also it's there to resist energy during an impact. Before you lift the foam out of the car, you need to fill the fuel cell bladder with water and let it sit for 5 minutes or so. Then, after you drain the water, you can lift the foam out without worry of it still holding fuel in the foam.
Inspect the fuel fill plate with a close eye and make certain that the spring that controls the fluid that will enter the overflow tube works properly. It should allow the metal ball to rise with the fluid. If there's any resistance, replace the spring immediately.
When putting the fuel fill...
When putting the fuel fill plate back on the fuel canister, check not only the gasket but the threads on the bladder. If it's rounded off or worn, then you need to run a tap through them to ensure a good fit between the fill plate and the fuel cell. Do this outside the bladder and clean all metal bits off the plate before reinstalling, but of course you knew that.
This is the fuel pump that is attached to the back of a 360 Sprint Car. It actually connects to the back of the camshaft.
Whether you are using a methanol or gasoline engine, you should always replace your fuel filter during the teardown.
Check the threads on the fuel filter, but also notice the debris on the inside of the cap for the filter.
Even though this bladder is going to be used inside a methanol burning race car, the same rules apply. Clean it out extremely well and fill it with water to ensure that all the methanol has been cleaned out. Then, store it in a warm, dry place for the winter.
The Sprint Car methanol fill plate is quite different than the earlier stock car fill plate.
If there's an abundance of debris on the inside of the filter, then you need to inspect where you are keeping your fuel because somehow the debris is getting into your fuel.