1000-Mile Fuel TankIncreasing your mileage with a custom tank
Remember that movie "Mad Max," where a fresh-faced Mel Gibson had to fight for every last drop of fuel? Well, don't expect that scenario to happen anytime soon, despite dire predictions about dwindling reserves of crude. There's still a lot of oil in the ground, but the cost of mining those reserves will continue to rise, along with prices at the pump.
You can reduce fuel expenses in a number of ways. In Europe, where fuel prices are twice as high, if not more, fuel-efficient diesels are much more popular, comprising 50 to 80 percent of the vehicles on the road. (Note that diesel has 17 percent more energy per pound than gasoline, so mileage rates are much higher with diesel engines.) Considering that only three percent of consumer vehicles run on diesel fuel here in the U.S., it's easy to see why many auto manufacturers predict a double-digit growth in the stateside demand for oil burners.
If you're part of the small minority that already drives a diesel, there are several good reasons for increasing the fuel capacity of your pickup. With a larger tank either in or under the bed, you can shop around for the best price on fuel, and load up for a really long haul. (In fact, you can extend your range so much that you'll probably need to stop for human fuel a few times before your truck needs replenishing.) Having extra capacity is also a plus when towing increases your rate of fuel consumption.
The advantage of an underbody tank is that it doesn't take up any precious space in the cargo bed, as is the case with an auxiliary tank. The latter also may require extra plumbing and valves for switching between two tanks.
As one example, Aero Enterprises makes replacement tanks for every domestic make of truck, and also tanks for toy haulers, RVs, and all sorts of custom applications. Instead of plastic (used by vehicle manufacturers), Aero fabricates its underbody tanks from enamel-coated, aluminized steel with internal baffles, a drain plug and through-bolted steel mounting tabs. (Plastic tanks are typically secured with metal bands that can rust or trap debris that chafes against the outer surface. Also, plastic tends to swell with changes in temperature, which can lead to leaks around the fuel pickup.)
While do-it-yourselfers can do a tank swap if they have the right tools, most of Aero's customers have the installation done at the factory. That may be because the warranty on a factory job is slightly better, three years/50,000 miles, versus two years/30,000 miles on a DIY install.
Our particular application on a '96 Dodge Ram required some custom work, in order to clear the mounting plate on a Gear Vendors gear-splitter. For a modest extra charge, Aero can custom-weld a tank with a recessed area to make room. Even with this modification, the tank capacity went from 36 gallons for the stock unit to nearly 60 gallons in the underbody tank. How much does that affect the driving range? The 12-valve Cummins in this truck typically consumes about 20 mpg on the highway, so that's more than a 1000-mile range between fill-ups!
Here's one other point to consider when changing out the tank. The sending unit on the fuel pickup assembly on older Dodges is known for wearing out as soon as 40,000 miles or so, and that was the case on this truck. That meant remembering to reset the trip odometer at fill-up time (in order to estimate the fuel level by miles traveled), which was getting annoying, so we were really glad that Aero swapped out the sending unit with a newer type made of a more durable material.
There's one difference, however, in the gauge readout after upgrading to a larger tank. The fuel needle will stay on full for the first 15 to 20 gallons, because Aero uses the factory fuel pickup and does not make any adjustments to this part. But look at it this way: Even if you're not actually improving your fuel efficiency, it at least seems like you're getting more miles to the gallon!
Aero Enterprises, 1780 Pomona Rd., Corona, CA 92880 800/783-4826, www.aerotanks.com
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