Fuel pump systems require top training and quality product purchases

Dec. 1, 2014
Numerous factors can cause a fuel pump repair to fail. Ascertaining the exact nature of the problem can be difficult given the numerous companion parts and electronic controls, making effective technician and counterperson training a key element.

Numerous factors can cause a fuel pump repair to sputter, flail and fail if the various scenarios are not properly addressed. Ascertaining the exact nature of the problem can be difficult given the numerous companion parts and electronic controls, making effective technician and counterperson training a key element.

It is equally important to make sure that a quality replacement unit is selected to avoid costly comebacks and customer ill will.

“Automotive fuel systems are more complicated than ever,” says Ben Brucato, membership director at the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA). “It’s a very complex system, and misdiagnosis is a big issue with fuel pumps.”

Citing supplier statistics, Brucato reports that “more than half of the fuel pumps returned have absolutely nothing wrong with them; they test them and they work just fine.” Some 20 percent of the returned fuel pumps are fouled because of contaminates such as dirt or bad gasoline.

“Since the early 2000s most of the OEMs went with a fuel module, which has multiple components,” he explains. “Instead of buying a light bulb you’re buying the whole fixture.”

A modern-day factory fuel pump is engineered to last well over 100,000 miles, with Asian- and American-made models viewed as being the most reliable, according to Brucato, who notes that while General Motors accounts for 30 percent of the vehicles on the road, GM replacement fuel pumps amount to half of the units being sold.

Another trend in play is that the overall aftermarket fuel pump category is experiencing less demand. “The size of the industry is shrinking dramatically because people don’t need to replace them as often – the quality has drastically improved,” he says.

“On the manufacturing side there’s been a huge increase in low-cost product being shipped from overseas,” says Brucato. “That’s a huge issue for the manufacturers because they’re dealing with the low cost. In the past if you looked at the pricing everything was close in price, now you can see a fuel pump that’s $100 cheaper.”

Brucato goes on to describe factories in China that have popped up to manufacture and ship a line of fuel pumps that can turn out to be faulty, only to close up shop and resurface under another name.

Thus for repairers and do-it-yourselfers alike, a bargain fuel pump is often no bargain at all if it falls short on performance. “It’s very tricky,” he cautions. “Where are you buying that part?”

Sophisticated systems

Distributor/retailer Derwin Williams, co-owner of The Pump House in Columbus, Ohio, emphasizes the importance of making sure the fuel pumps you carry come from reputable sources lest you be left with unhappy customers.

“Just because they have a lifetime warranty,” says Williams, “they don’t want to spend a lifetime taking the fuel pump in and out of there. The end result is that they bought it from you.”

Offering quick, specialized deliveries throughout a wide-ranging regional marketing reach, The Pump House serves driveway DIYers along with nearly 500 professional installers, plus auto parts stores, large auto dealerships and smaller used-car lots.

Echoing the AASA’s Brucato, Williams stresses the necessity of being properly educated in the finer points of diagnosing and completing the repair given the sophistication of these systems. “If the fuel pump is running and the car is not, it could be something else,” he says.

“Anytime you change the fuel pump you need to change the fuel filter – the fuel filter protects everything – and you have to clean the fuel tank out,” according to Williams. “Sometimes they let the fuel tanks run low at gas stations and there’s debris in there. It acts like sandpaper, and it opens the system up so it can’t run.”

Aside from a fuel pump aging beyond its functional lifespan or other issues, the unit can be disabled if the vehicle’s fuel tank is running on empty. Under these circumstances the existing gas supply gets heated past a certain degree, rendering portions of the fuel system inoperable when fresh, cold gas is pumped into the tank. “That creates a ‘shock’ to it, and it causes a problem,” Williams says, adding that the possibility of faulty electronic controls, excess moisture and rust, frayed wiring and a host of related component failures must also be taken into account.

Advancing education

It is imperative that technicians and counterpeople obtain comprehensive training, according to Traci Stoddard, content/design manager at Airtex and ASC Industries. In 2012 the company instituted Fuel Pump U “to keep up with the evolving technology of fuel delivery systems and alleviate potential misdiagnosis,” she says.

Dealing in depth with more than 75,000 searchable vehicles, the site provides technical bulletins, more than 100 videos and an array of online training programs. “Fuel Pump U is committed to keeping the most up-to-date tools that professional technicians require to diagnose and repair today’s complex vehicle systems,” says Stoddard, adding that a Spanish-language version was launched in October.

“The decision to develop this Spanish version was based on a National Automobile Dealers Association report that projected a growth in the field of automotive repair in the next five years, coupled with U.S. Census reports of an increasing percentage of Hispanic technicians. Both strongly suggest that an emphasis on bilingual training is important for the industry,” she points out.

“We are dedicated to serving the needs of auto repair technicians and providing the tools they need to diagnose and repair today’s fuel delivery systems accurately and efficiently,” Stoddard says. “By offering these tools in both English and Spanish we can better serve those needs.”

Another recent rollout is the company’s PUMP•ED pilot program aimed at selected technical schools and universities across the country. ASE-certified technicians from Airtex are arriving in classrooms to conduct category-specific courses.

The technicians will show students the steps to make the right fuel system diagnosis, technical tips to avoid difficulty during repair work, and how to follow through to successful fuel pump installations.

As a part of the program, each technical school receives training materials along with other fuel system diagnostic and repair tools. Students are getting an official PUMP•ED performance pack that includes educational materials, tools and additional items.

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About the Author

James Guyette

James E. Guyette is a long-time contributing editor to Aftermarket Business World, ABRN and Motor Age magazines.

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