Recently, many of our readers wrote to us inquiring about fuel cells, so in this installment of High Tech, we'll be talking about those cool fuel containers.
Installing a fuel cell in your truck is a great way to safely increase and carry its supply of fuel and increase its driving range. Most factory fuel tanks range from 10 gallons in carrying capacity (think of compact pickups such as the Ford Ranger) to 30 gallons for fullsize rigs. Each truck is fitted from the factory with a fuel tank that provides an adequate supply of fuel for normal, everyday driving conditions.
We know that no person reading this magazine can possibly be considered normal when it comes to driving their truck, so under the right conditions, upgrading to a fuel cell makes sense. One of the most frustrating things when taking a long trip into the dirt is having to carry around bulky gas cans, or worse, running out of gas while on the trail. A fuel cell will remedy this situation, but you'll need to choose wisely when purchasing one, and more importantly, you'll need to heed your local laws governing what you can and cannot modify on your truck.
1. You can purchase either a fuel bladder or hard-plastic fuel cell. The difference between them is simple. A fuel bladder is mounted within a powdercoated steel frame and has the ability to freely form to the shape of the liquid; this helps the bladder absorb the energy created when the fuel is moving around while the vehicle is running. Hard-plastic fuel cells do not have this feature, so in an off-road environment where the road or trail is obviously not smooth, a bladder-style fuel cell is more desirable.
2. You want a fuel cell with foam inside it. The foam is there to prevent the fuel from sloshing around while the vehicle is in motion. Fuel slosh can lead to an explosion within the cell. The foam will absorb the energy of the explosion, and when the oxygen within the cell is burned, the flames will go out. To be effective, the fuel cell should have 80 percent of its total capacity filled with foam.
3. If you're truck is going to sit in the garage for several months, you need to drain the fuel cell and keep it in a cool, dry environment.
4. Most fuel cells are compatible with several types of fuels. Bladder fuel cells fitted with foam should only be filled with regular gasoline. If running alcohol, the foam must be removed.
5. Fuel additives can harm the fuel bladder if left sitting for extended periods of time. Over time, the additives will separate from the fuel and eat away the bladder, so it's a good idea to drain the fuel cell if it's going to sit dormant for months on end.
6. A fuel-gauge sending unit can be installed in a fuel cell that has foam inside. Depending on the size of the fuel cell, a 12- or 24-inch sending unit can be trimmed to work with newer electronic gauges.
7. Remember to add a ground strap to the fuel cell when installing it. Fuel sloshing inside the cell can build up static electricity and create an explosion inside the cell if it is not properly grounded to the chassis of the vehicle.
8.The fuel cell should be inspected and serviced once a year. The pick-up screens will need to be replaced, and the check valves should be inspected for proper operation. Additionally, all of the gaskets and the cap should be replaced.
9. Currently, fuel cells are not legal for use on vehicles operated on public roads. We haven't found a fuel cell that has been approved for on-highway use by the department of transportation (D.O.T), and a fuel cell won't pass the visual inspection by a smog referee even if the factory fuel cap, filler tube, and all emission equipment are in place. What this means is that if your truck was built after 1974, you won't pass a smog inspection with a fuel cell installed. Trucks built before 1974 aren't subject to smog inspections, so you'll be safe. Any cop worth his doughnuts, however, will issue you a citation for having a fuel cell installed on your truck if he or she catches you on a public street. There are companies working to gain executive order (E.O) numbers for fuel cells, and when we find a street-legal cell, we'll be sure to let you know.