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Electric vs Mechanical Fuel Pumps Guide

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Your vehicle won’t get very far without the fuel your engine needs for the combustion process, and for that you need a proper fuel pump. You could have all the fuel in the world, but without a fully operational electric fuel pump, you’re not going anywhere. An electric fuel pump carries fuel from the gas tank to the fuel injectors or carburetor(s). Therefore, having the right electric fuel pump as part of your vehicle’s fuel system is of the utmost importance. When it comes to adding the right electric fuel pump to your ride, we’re here to help navigate through the many available options.

How Do You Know When It’s Time for A New Electric Fuel Pump?

The clearest way to tell when an electric fuel pump is failing is that it’s no longer making noise. That’s the good thing about electric fuel pumps, all electric pumps, be they internal to the fuel tank or external frame mounted, make some noise as they spin and pump the fuel to the engine. You can easily hear them when they are fully operational. Many pumps you can hear them prime when you turn the ignition key to “on” before you turn the key to “start.” If your vehicle’s electric fuel pump doesn’t make any noise when priming that would be a clear indication of a failed electric fuel pump.

Another dead giveaway is a poor running engine, and subsequent fuel pressure tests revealing low fuel pressure. A poor running engine or misfires can sometimes be traced to a bad electric fuel pump. A fuel pressure gauge is your best friend here and will tell you the health of your electric fuel pump. If your engine needs 40 psi of fuel pressure, and it’s only making 20 psi on the gauge, your electric fuel pump could be on the way out. Of course, your fuel pressure regulator setting is in play here too (and any possible fuel line restrictions like a blocked fuel filter), but a loss of fuel pressure is a dead giveaway for a failed electric fuel pump.

What Are the Different Types of Inline Electric Fuel Pumps?

An electric fuel pump, or electric gas pump, as they are sometimes called, not only comes in an in tank fuel pump design, but also as an inline electric fuel pump or an external fuel pump. An inline electric fuel pump is an external fuel pump that draws fuel from the tank, feeding it to the engine via the fuel lines and hoses.  

Inline fuel pumps come in rotary vane, gerotor (sometimes referred to as G-rotor) and screw-type configurations. A rotary vane pump features a paddle-like arrangement bringing in fuel and dispersing it through the lines. A gerotor fuel pump is like a modern gear-driven oil pump in that it uses an inner and outer gear that creates suction and exit pressure to send fuel to the engine. A screw-type fuel pump uses the same science as a screw blower, except instead of moving air, this type of fuel pump moves fuel thanks to a pair, or more, of screws moving in concert to create fuel delivery.

An inline fuel pump or external fuel pump really comes in handy when constructing a makeshift fuel system. An inline fuel pump, or universal electric fuel pump connected between a large gas can and a carburetor can help get that abandoned vehicle purchase up on the trailer or back to the house. The only difference between an external fuel pump, and say, an in tank fuel pump for carburetor applications is where the universal fuel pump is mounted.

How Does an Electric Fuel Pump Work?

An electric fuel pump features an electric DC motor that draws fuel from the fuel tank through a sock “pre” filter, out of the tank, through the fuel lines, “post” filter and to the fuel injectors or carburetor. In most cases, modern vehicles feature a fuel pump module, which includes the pre-filter sock, fuel level sender, fuel pump and electrical connectors in one component. In older vehicles equipped with or retrofitted with an electric fuel pump, the pump is exposed, and serviceable, whereas in many of the module assemblies, those are a little more difficult to service.

Is An Electric Fuel Pump Better Than a Mechanical Fuel Pump?

Whether it’s a 6 volt fuel pump, a 12 volt electric fuel pump or a mechanical fuel pump, there’s no wrong answer. It’s mostly a personal decision as to what your combination needs. Some prefer a mechanical fuel pump over a 6 volt fuel pump or a 12 volt electric fuel pump. A mechanical fuel pump most often operates off an eccentric on the engine’s camshaft, so some people enjoy that type of direct mechanical operation. Plus, a mechanical fuel pump is ideal for carbureted combinations, and they’re easy to diagnose and replace.

An in tank fuel pump, inline fuel pump, universal fuel pump, or an external fuel pump in electric form are relatively easy to install or retrofit in place of a mechanical fuel pump. Electronic fuel pumps of all shapes and sizes are easy to install, whereas mechanical fuel pumps are generally engine- and car-specific. For that reason, many choose either an inline fuel pump, a universal fuel pump, or an external fuel pump instead of a mechanical fuel pump.

What Causes the Failure of An Electric Fuel Pump?

No matter the application, even an electric fuel pump diesel application, the enemies of a fuel pump are heat, moisture, bad gas or other contaminants, and faulty electrical wiring. For in tank fuel pumps, frequently running low on fuel can cause premature pump failure. The fuel within the tank helps to cool the fuel pump, but at the same time, the in tank fuel pump’s pre-filter sock is also important at keeping the pump free of contaminants.

For any electric fuel pump, if a vehicle sits for a long time, the fuel tank and lines are going to have moisture and/or bad fuel in them and running that through the pump is a quick way to render useless an electric fuel pump. The best thing you can do to ensure long electric fuel pump life is to drive your vehicle on a regular basis, resist running it low on fuel, and keep your fuel system free of moisture.

Do I Need Specific Electric Fuel Pump to Run E85?

E85 requires more fuel volume, so generally, yes you will need an electric fuel pump capable of supplying that volume. If you plan to run E85 in your vehicle, make sure the fuel pump and fuel line can carry the volume needed to keep up with demand. An E85 fuel pump is designed to provide the volume needed to adequately supply the fuel delivery required. An E85 fuel pump usually starts around the 340 LPH (liters per hour) capacity and goes up from there. E85 fuel pump compatibility is usually labeled as such on our website.