It's a commonly heard anecdote that an easy way to exact expensive vengeance on an enemy is to put sugar in the gas tank of his car. It's assumed the sugar will liquefy in the gasoline, turning it into a gummy, unburnable mess that ultimately destroys the car's fuel system and engine. It turns out that this is an urban myth. Putting sugar in the gas tank may slightly affect the vehicle's running, but it is unlikely to do lasting or major damage.
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Sugar's Reaction With Gasoline
In reality, sugar does not dissolve in gasoline the way it does in water. When poured into the fuel tank, sugar will sink to the bottom and remain solid. If it is picked up by the fuel pump, it is caught by the car's fuel filter, which is designed to keep particulates from reaching the fuel injectors or carburettor where they can do damage.
Damage From Sugared Gasoline
Usually, the worst thing a handful of sugar in a gas tank will do is clog the fuel filter -- a time-consuming repair on some vehicles, but hardly an expensive or incapacitating one. If enough sugar is poured in, the tank itself may need to be removed and cleaned by a mechanic. The worst effect of a sugared gas tank it that it can cause the car to stall and be difficult to restart until the sugar is cleaned out.
The television show "Mythbusters" put this theory to the test in 2004 by pouring sugar into a car's fuel tank and letting it run. The show's testers reported that the car was not damaged, and in fact ran even better after the tank was sugared! This does not mean that sugar can be considered a performance additive, of course.
Other Fuel Tank Pollutants
Other solid contaminants, like sand, react similarly in gasoline. Sand is less likely to get into the fuel filter because it is heavier than sugar and sinks to the bottom of the tank. A gas tank with sand in it will need to be removed and cleaned, but further damage is unlikely.
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