What is a fuel filter?

  • By Lea Naiz
  • 28 Jun, 2017

Compare this to drinking water filters – you are trapping or removing the undesirable and mostly invisible components from the water you are about to consume. A fuel filter is a device that traps (filters) particulate matter from fuel as the fuel is delivered to the engine. All fuels are likely to contain certain amounts of particulates (dirt) which is undesirable and is in fact harmful to your engine’s fuel system (pumps and fuel injectors). Proper filtration of fuel will prevent you from damaging fuel injectors and fuel pumps but in this  process the fuel filter becomes loaded (clogged) so routine replacement of fuel filters is recommended.

In-Tank Fuel Filters and Returnless Fuel Supply
Most gasoline powered vehicles 15 years or newer employ a type of fuel supply system called “returnless” and many manufacturers install these fuel filters inside the fuel tank making it impractical to replace it on a routine basis. This newer design feature is a departure from the early days of fuel injection and certain carbureted engines that used a “return” fuel supply system that circulated huge amounts of fuel through the externally-mounted fuel filter. This was ok but caused fuel filters to clog much more often than we commonly see today.

Externally Mounted Fuel Filters (serviceable)
Depending on the year, make and model of your vehicle, it may or may not have an externally mounted fuel filter that is designed to be replaced at mileage intervals. To be clear an externally mounted fuel filter is located in the fuel supply line somewhere between the fuel tank and the engine making it reasonably easy to access for routine replacement.

How Often Should The Fuel Filter Be Replaced?
A word of caution is called for. We do not advocate that you attempt to replace the fuel filter on your vehicle unless you have the proper tools and experience. Fuel in the supply system is under pressure and is extremely dangerous .

Externally mounted fuel filters:  Replace every 15,000 to 30,000 miles depending on many factors (see below).

In-tank mounted fuel filters:  Generally speaking there is no recommendation for replacement of this type of filter. This make us a little nervous but we are not seeing a pattern of problems in our area.

Follow your owner’s manual for service intervals.

Factors Affecting Fuel Filter Life

  • Quality of the fuel you buy.
  • Geographic location.
  • Physical size of the fuel filter.
  • Filtration level – How small of particles will it trap will affect how long it can go without replacement.

Remember that one bad load of fuel can plug a filter.

And Then There’s Diesel
Fuel filtration for Diesel powered vehicles is taken to a much higher level and is of utmost importance as Diesel fuel system internal components are ultra sensitive to abrasive and non-abrasive particulates as well as water suspended in the fuel.

Conclusion
So this was the long way to answer a simple question but despite the simplicity of a fuel filter there really is a lot to know about what it is and how it can benefit you.

If you are tired of getting the runaround and being treated like you haven’t got a clue, we invite you to try   Colchin Automotive  instead. Give us a call at 303-431-5421 for all of your automotive needs!

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