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Signs of a Bad Fuel Filter

BY: Keith Benline
Mechanic doing car service and maintenance for an oil and fuel filter change

Many drivers look to hit the road for spring break vacations and to enjoy warmer weather. Before you head out for your next road trip, it is essential that you take care of a few automotive maintenance tasks to ensure your vehicle is ready for long trips.

While getting your oil changed, checking your tire’s PSI, and having your air filter changed is usually on everyone’s to-do list, changing the fuel filter can easily be overlooked. Let’s take a look at what a fuel filter is, signs of a failing fuel filter, and how to change a fuel filter to keep your vehicle maintained and driving perfectly all year round.

What Is a Fuel Filter?

A fuel filter is an essential component in any vehicle’s fuel system, responsible for trapping dirt, dust, and other contaminants before they reach the engine. This helps to protect the engine from damage while also improving overall efficiency.

The fuel filter is a small metal container that is filled with absorbent material and is installed in line with your fuel line between the fuel tank and the fuel injectors. As the fuel passes through the filter, it traps any impurities or contaminants that may be present in the fuel tank and prevents them from entering the engine. The filter must be replaced regularly to ensure that no blockages of buildups occur, which could significantly reduce the performance of the engine over time. It can also cause the fuel pump to work harder, resulting in a premature failure of the fuel pump.

5 Signs of a Bad Fuel Filter

When a car’s fuel filter becomes clogged, it can cause a variety of issues for your vehicle, including a drop in engine power. When the absorbent material in a fuel filter becomes clogged, fuel cannot pass through as freely as before, restricting the amount of fuel that gets to your engine. Since your engine runs on a specific air/fuel mixture to run properly, a clogged fuel filter will cause fuel delivery issues that hinder this mixture, leading to poor engine performance.

1. Poor Fuel Economy

A dirty fuel filter can prevent an adequate amount of gasoline from reaching the engine, affecting the amount of power produced by your vehicle. It can also decrease the amount of fuel pressure you have as well. This causes it to become less efficient when it uses fuel, decreasing your overall fuel mileage. You might find that you fill up your vehicle more frequently when you have a clogged fuel filter.

2. Engine Stalling Or Misfiring

When the fuel filter becomes clogged, it restricts the flow of gasoline to your car’s engine, causing it to stall or misfire. Engine misfires and stalling will be most noticeable when your engine is under heavy loads, such as driving up a hill or performing a sudden acceleration as your engine has to work harder/quicker, increasing the amount of fuel that it needs to perform. You might also notice the car jerking as the engine struggles to get sufficient fuel due to the clogged filter. This is usually accompanied by a check engine light and overall poor engine performance.

3. Hard Starting Conditions

A clogged fuel filter can also cause your vehicle to become harder to start. Your vehicle needs enough fuel to crank over, and a clogged fuel filter will make this harder. As your vehicle struggles to get the amount of fuel that it needs, it will take longer for it to start.

4. Exhaust Emits Strong Fumes

Since your engine requires a specific air-to-fuel ratio for combustion in your combustion chamber, any tweaks to this mixture can cause your vehicle to run rich or lean. In the case of a clogged fuel filter, your engine will not get the correct amount of fuel that it needs, causing it to run lean. When this happens, you can notice a strange odor coming from your exhaust as your engine tries to adjust for the low amount of fuel being delivered.

5. Car Will Not Start

Lastly, if your car will not start, there could be several different reasons, with your fuel filter being one of them. A clogged fuel filter can easily cause a vehicle not to start at all as it can become so clogged that no fuel can pass through it, meaning your fuel injectors will never receive any fuel to use.

How Often Should You Replace a Fuel Filter?

The fuel filter in your vehicle is an item that should be replaced frequently, as stated in your owner’s manual, to ensure your engine is running its best at all times. The frequency of which the fuel filter should be replaced will depend on the type of vehicle you drive, but in general, it’s recommended that you replace your fuel filter every 12,000 to 15,000 miles or at least once a year.

Failing to replace your fuel filter on a regular schedule can cause your engine to experience any of the issues stated above, as well as leave you stranded on the side of the road if it becomes completely clogged.

How Do You Replace a Fuel Filter?

To properly replace a fuel filter, you will need to locate the filter on the vehicle. Fuel filters are usually located along the fuel line, which runs from the fuel tank to the engine. Fuel lines will vary in length in position depending on the make and model of the vehicle, but most are thin, silver lines running along the bottom of your vehicle.

  1. Once you have found the fuel filter, you will need to disconnect it from the fuel line by removing any clamps holding it in place or with a special fuel line disconnect tool.
  2. Carefully remove the filter, and be sure to cover any open ends of the hose with a cloth or tape to ensure no dirt or debris gets in your fuel supply. It is also a good idea to use a shop towel to cover the ends of the filter during removal, as some fuel might spill out from the filter.
  3. Install the new fuel filter replacement by reversing the steps and making sure that your fuel line is secured tightly to the fuel filter.
  4. Turn your key to the ON position to allow your fuel pump to prime and send fuel through the pump, usually about 5 seconds, and then start your vehicle and check for operation.

Keeping Your Car Maintained With Endurance

As a car owner, one of the most crucial duties to uphold is properly maintaining your vehicle. Not only does this help keep your car running like new for longer, but it can also assist in avoiding expensive repair bills down the road. While regularly servicing and checking your car’s components can help minimize the chances of breakdowns, sometimes part failure still occurs despite these efforts. This can be due to wear and tear over time or even manufacturing defects that are out of your control. That’s why investing in an Endurance auto protection plan could be a great option for peace of mind when it comes to taking care of your car.

Our auto protection plans offer breakdown coverage for your vehicle’s mechanical parts and include standard perks like 24/7 roadside assistance, towing, and lockout services. In addition, new Endurance customers will have access to one year of free Elite Benefits, including complete tire repair or replacement, key fob replacement, and much more. A small activation fee applies.

Request a free quote by calling (800) 253-8203 or shop online to find an auto protection plan that fits your specific budget and needs. For more information, such as DIY car tips, auto expert buying guides, or extended warranty comparisons, visit our blog.

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