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car has a small fuel leak - options?
Old 10-20-2008, 03:00 PM   #1
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car has a small fuel leak - options?

I know the car is leaking gasoline because I can smell it when the car has been in the garage overnight. It's definitely the car, because it only happens when the car is in the garage. It's not a super strong smell, and it dissipates quickly when I open the side door to let the dog out.

I took it in to the mechanic and they couldn't find anything, nor could they smell anything. Does this mean it's a really small leak at this point?

I don't like the idea of keeping a car in the garage if it's leaking gasoline, but I also apparently don't have a way to fix the leak. How dangerous is this?

My second question - when the mechanics were looking at the car, they also noted that the brake fluid has a fair amount of crud in it and recommended flushing the system. Keeping in mind that this is a 1991 Ford Explorer, and that we're hoping to trade it in for something newer in 6 months, how important is flushing the brake system? I'm inclined not to worry about it.
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Old 10-20-2008, 03:09 PM   #2
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We had something similar happen to our 1990 Toyota Camry. It wasn't the tank itself that was leaking, it was the fill tube leading from the filler door to the tank. I had the filler tube replaced. The uncertain part of this was if the part could be replaced without disturbing too many other things that are attached to it, since it was such an old car. Luckily the replacement went just fine, I had it done at Midas. If the tube wouldn't have detached from the tank easily it would have been more complicated, possible involving repair/replacing of the tank.
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Old 10-20-2008, 03:10 PM   #3
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Based on the age of your vehicle and the description, I'd say the fuel leak is probably in your evaporative emissions control system. I'd find a garage with the know-how to do a pressure test.

I wouldn't fool with the brakes if you aren't going to keep the vehicle much longer.
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Old 10-20-2008, 03:12 PM   #4
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WM I suggest that you do not park the car in the garage until you have eliminated the source of the fuel vapors that you are smelling. It's the vapor that burns.
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Old 10-20-2008, 03:21 PM   #5
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Thanks for the info! I never knew there was such a thing as the evaporative emissions control system. The Haynes manual makes it look simple, but of course it always does. This is all a vapor system, correct? If I find where I think the leak is and take it apart, there is no gasoline inside, right? The manual usually give you fair warning of stuff like that, and it doesn't say to take any special precautions.
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Old 10-20-2008, 03:29 PM   #6
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The system should contain vapor only, no liquid. Of course as was pointed out earlier, the vapor is what ignites/explodes...
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Old 10-20-2008, 03:38 PM   #7
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option 1: stop flicking your cigarette out the car window.
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Old 10-20-2008, 04:03 PM   #8
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WM

If the gas smell is there when you get out of the car then you probably have a fuel leak. If the smell only shows up after several hours it's probably the emissions system causing problems.

The charcoal canister absorbs fuel vapors from the fuel tank and each time you start the engine fresh air is pulled through the canister and vapors are burned in the engine. If the vacuum line that connects to the engine is plugged or the thermo vacuum valve (from the first illustration in the link) is stuck no fresh air is pulled through the canister. The charcoal can only absorb so much fuel vapor and then the vapor will start to leak out in to the air. Your Explorer is just the right age for problems to start showing up with vapor canister system.

I had a gas smell problem on my old Ranger and it was a plugged up suction line off the canister to the engine.
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Old 10-20-2008, 04:36 PM   #9
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Quote:
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WM I suggest that you do not park the car in the garage until you have eliminated the source of the fuel vapors that you are smelling. It's the vapor that burns.
Agreed. A neighbor had a problem about 10 years back with his car. His hot water heater was in the garage, and he parked next to it. The pilot from the hot water heater ignited the vapors, and set his car on fire. Substantial damage was done to his home as a result (and the car was a total loss). I'd get it checked ASAP, and wouldn't park the car indoors until it's fixed.
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Old 10-20-2008, 05:04 PM   #10
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So... thanks to all you smart people here, I parked the car in the garage (temporarily and with the side door open for ventilation) and let it sit for a couple hours. Then I sniffed around by the charcoal filter (which is in the front of the car) and the gas cap area. Wouldn't you know it, I can smell gas by the gas cap. So I'll get a new gas cap tomorrow and see if that fixes it (and I'll park the car outside tonight). I bet we haven't replaced it in about 8 years.
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Old 10-20-2008, 05:33 PM   #11
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On a related note, you might try to time the sale of your (big) car to the lower price of gasoline. That is, sell it before prices start going up again.
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Old 10-20-2008, 05:51 PM   #12
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On a related note, you might try to time the sale of your (big) car to the lower price of gasoline. That is, sell it before prices start going up again.
I would love to sell it sooner, but the reason for the timing is that we're waiting for DH's next assignment, which might overseas (Japan). If so, then we'll just get rid of it, but if we're staying stateside then we'll need to replace it. Realistically it's probably not worth much either way - broken fuel gauge, speedometer and RPM gauge, minor oil leak, high mileage, slightly leaky moonroof, cracked plastic on the dash and interior doors, alignment problems, and probably some other things I'm forgetting. On the other hand, it's still getting DH back and forth to work ok so if it can hold up till we know where we're moving I won't complain.
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Old 10-20-2008, 11:22 PM   #13
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If the smell has not completely gone away, I suggest you keep a fire extinguisher in the car. I had a '63 VW bug that caught fire in the engine compartment because I'd let a fuel smell go on for too long (I was young, ignorant and broke), and if I'd had that extinguisher handy the car might not have been totaled.
Happy ending - I still got $250 for the burned out hulk (that was five months rent in my humble circumstances in 1978) and months later I saw the car, happily restored, driving around town. I loved that car but it needed a new home.
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Old 10-21-2008, 06:24 AM   #14
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One other suggestion, Google your car type and symptoms. Often if the issue is common for that model, someone else will have commented on it in a car forum or similar.
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Old 10-21-2008, 08:15 AM   #15
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I think it worked! DH was motivated enough to pick up a gas cap on the way home from work yesterday, so we switched it out and this morning there was little or no smell - much better. I want to try it for a couple more days to see, but I'm hopeful. Should have just posted here in the first place! Thanks for the help!
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