Symptoms of sugar in the gas tank

Written by bradley keist
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Symptoms of sugar in the gas tank
Damage to a car from sugar in a fuel system can be prevented by properly maintaining fuel filters. (sugar image by Aleksandr Ugorenkov from Fotolia.com)

Cheating husband? Bully picking on you at school? Boss just fired you? Rumour has it that granulated sugar dumped into a person's gas tank will destroy the car's engine. Revenge is sweet. Literally. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on whose side you're on), this form of sabotage is exactly that: just a rumour.

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The Myth

According to the urban legend, sugar poured into a gas tank dissolves in the gasoline; the heat from the car, while driving, causes the sugar granules to melt and form a gooey, cement-like substance. The sticky sludge then coats the gas tank, the fuel pump, the fuel lines, the fuel filter, the fuel injectors and the engine. Myth claims that the syrup-coated fuel system will no longer run properly, thus causing the car to hiccup and cough while travelling down the road. Once the car is shut off and the engine cools, the goo will transform into a rock-hard substance, thus ending the life of your car's fuel system.

The Truth

The truth to the legend is this: sugar does not dissolve in gasoline so it cannot caramelise into the gummy substance that would clog and destroy your car's fuel system. Rather, sugar will simply settle at the bottom of your gas tank or travel through the fuel lines as granules, only to be caught by the system's filters (most cars are built with two filters, one in the gas tank and one in the fuel line before the fuel injectors).

The Damage

Pouring a bag of granulated sugar into someone's gas tank will have the same effect that any granular substance would have: the potential of clogging up the fuel system's filters. A clogged fuel filter can disable a car, but the chances of this are unlikely. Theoretically speaking, a fuel pump or the engine could become clogged with the granules, but assuming the filters do their job properly, this is highly unlikely to occur.

The Repair

Maintaining a clean fuel filter helps maintain a healthy fuel system. Damage to a fuel filter (such as a clogged filter from sugar being poured into the tank) can create problems with other parts of the system. Replacing other parts of the system (i.e., gas tank or fuel pump) can cost several hundred dollars. However, fuel filters for most cars are inexpensive (under £13 in most cases) and can be replaced without the need of a mechanic. A gas tank may need to be removed and dumped if the tank has been sweetened with a large amount of sugar, such as a standard five-pound bag. Removing and cleaning a gas tank can cost several hundred dollars.

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