Reader Is Thwarted by Modern Fuel System Design

Dear Car Talk:

Weatherperson says storm’s coming. I was fully prepared. Generator was ready to go, with two cans of fuel. My pickup had a full tank, and my refrigerator was fully stocked with plenty of 12-ounce bottles of “anti-Coronavirus.” Power goes out for longer than expected. No problem! I get my “Oklahoma Credit Card” (hose) to siphon fuel from my pickup. But try as I might, I can’t get the hose all the way into the tank.

Have the engineers at Dodge done something to prevent people from getting a hose all the way in the gas tank? Are they trying to thwart young sons’ ability to “borrow” fuel from their old mans’ pickup for a Friday night on the town? Is there another way to get fuel out of the tank for such emergencies?

Sitting in the dark, crying in my warm anti-Coronavirus. — Ben

My heart goes out to you, Ben. You have been thwarted. But it has nothing to do with kids stealing their fathers’ gasoline. It has everything to do with modern fuel system design. If you remember the first big “gasoline crisis” in the 1970s, you know that syphoning practically became a national sport. That was when T. Boone Pickens tried to corner the market on locking gas caps.

It’s very hard to siphon gas out of modern cars. Most cars have a valve in the filler neck to prevent gasoline from spilling out — like if you rolled over in an accident. In your Dodge, I think it’s a plastic ball that is easily pushed down and out of the way by the flowing gasoline when you’re refueling, but blocks any fuel coming the other way. So siphoning from your truck won’t work.

Your next best option is to check and see if your truck has a drain plug on the fuel tank. Not that many vehicles do anymore, but maybe you’re one of the lucky ones. It’s great to have if you need repair work. For instance, if we had to replace your fuel pump, which is inside the tank, we could use the drain plug to remove the gasoline from your tank first, so it didn’t spill all over the floor of our garage. After which, Crusty would inevitably sit down for a break on a nearby tire and light up one of his stogies.

So if your truck has a drain plug, you can remove gas that way. Just be prepared to remove all of it. It’s like opening a gallon jug of milk, upside down, over your head. It’s hard to get the cap back on once the stuff is flowing. And make sure you’re prepared to capture all of it. If you have a 5-gallon bucket and a 22-gallon tank, after about 30 seconds, you’ll have gasoline running down your arm and pooling in your boxer shorts. No bueno.

If your truck doesn’t have a fuel tank drain plug, then you’ll have to resort to the ice pick. Actually, if you’re really desperate — and handy — you could use a wiring diagram and figure out how to power the fuel pump with jumper cables, remove the fuel hose and then collect the gas that gets pumped out of the tank at the fuel rail.

But before you go through all that trouble, do what any red-blooded American boy would do, Ben: Go see if your father’s pickup has a drain plug.

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