OPERATION OLD SCHOOL TOW RIG: PART 5

ELECTRIC FUEL SYSTEM, NEW TANK & SUMP INSTALL

Thanks to the components installed in Parts 1-4 of this series, our ’97 F-350 has a brand-new suspension, air helper springs, a heavy-duty Class V hitch, and a 6.0L transmission cooler onboard. Now it’s time to complement all these tow-ready mods with an upgraded fuel supply system. Known in the industry as E-fuel (i.e., electric fuel), these all-inclusive kits replace the ’94.5-97 7.3L Power Stroke’s mechanical, cam-driven lift pump in the valley with an electric pump along the frame rail, include larger-diameter fuel lines, and usually come with a regulated return system. They also often delete the leak-prone factory fuel filter bowl from the engine. As a result of installing an electric fuel system, 7.3L owners experience quicker startups, smoother engine operation, and a slight bump in horsepower and fuel economy.

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Not only is the competition electric fuel system offered by Irate Diesel Performance good for supporting as much as 1,000 rwhp, it’s also one of the most comprehensive kits in the diesel industry. Based around the renowned 41401 pump from Fuelab, the system includes a billet aluminum filter base, heavy duty stainless steel mounting bracket, 20 feet of ½-inch diameter Parker supply hose (rated to 300 psi), 15 feet of 3/8-inch Parker return hose, a wire harness, all necessary fittings, and it can be spec’d with an optional Beans Diesel Performance tank sump (shown). The complete system retails for $1,350. For the DIY enthusiast looking to piece together a custom fuel system but who needs a good pump, filter base, and mounting bracket, Irate’s Basic Competition fuel system can be had for $795, with the wire harness, fuel hose, fittings, and sump available as add-on options.

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Not trying to reinvent the wheel, we opted for an affordable, direct OEM replacement tank. This Dorman-manufactured version (PN 576-146) is made of steel, is 100% identical to the Ford unit, and can be purchased through Summit Racing for just $96.99. It wears a heavy coat of gray paint to resist corrosion and ships with the lock ring required for the sending unit. As far as the tank’s limited 19-gallon capacity is concerned, we’re OK with it—primarily because we have a 33-gallon transfer tank in the bed.

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With a transmission jack in place under the original tank, Bosie disconnected all lines and wiring from the sending unit, followed by loosening the filler tube. Then the tank was slowly lowered down and wheeled out from underneath the truck.

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With the truck’s original front tank rusted out enough that fuel was beginning to seep out of it, Jake Bosie, lead technician at Flynn’s Shop, kicked off our fuel system install by dropping the corroded fuel tank. He got started by disconnecting the pump end of the feed hose on the fuel system we were replacing to drain what was left of the tank’s fuel into a clean 5-gallon bucket. We made sure to show up with less than a quarter tank of fuel.

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Here you can see where rust had led to the beginnings of a slow fuel leak under one of the tank straps. It’s common for the metal tanks used on the pre-Super Duty Fords to leak in this area. It’s also worth mentioning that the truck’s rear tank was scrapped due to rust five years beforehand, which means our ’97 no longer utilizes the selector valve for switching between the factory-installed front and rear tanks. However, for the fuel gauge to still read accurately on the dash, the selector valve remains present (and plugged in) along the frame.

Although our ’97 F-350 was already benefiting from an electric fuel system, it had been pieced together years prior and was outdated in terms of how far the aftermarket has come since then. To start fresh, we contacted Irate Diesel Performance for one of their competition fuel systems—a top-of-the-line kit built around the use of an ultra-reliable Fuelab lift pump and durable stainless steel regulated return setup. With hybrid injectors (and one of Irate’s T4 turbo mounts) already in place, this system can support north of 600 rwhp—which means we won’t have to make any further fuel system changes if we ever decide to pursue serious power. Prior to the install we also reached out to Summit Racing for a factory replacement fuel tank and Beans Diesel Performance for a tank sump.

After a full day of work at Flynn’s Shop in Alexander, Illinois, we had one of the highest-quality and most reliable fuel systems on the market installed, and were all but ready to hook the truck to a trailer. Next we’ll install gauges, change our diff fluid, and put the truck through its towing paces for the first time

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The process of preparing the new tank for installation began by transferring the tank vent over from the factory tank (while the Dorman unit ships with a new lock ring, the original vent and its grommet must be reused). After first separating the plastic vent from its rubber grommet, we installed the grommet, followed by the vent.

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Once the wiring harness was strung up into the engine bay, the relay was mounted on the firewall, the red (power) wire was hooked to the positive battery terminal, the black (ground) wire was attached to the negative terminal, and the yellow wire was tied into the underhood fuse box (for a key-on signal). After that, the system was primed while Bosie checked for leaks, and then the engine was started.

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In this photo, the second supplied 45-degree, 1/8-inch NPT x #6 JIC fitting has been installed in the front port of the passenger-side head. To gain sufficient access to the front of the heads, the A/C condenser, vacuum pump, power steering pump, and accessory drive bracket all had to be removed.

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The combination of Irate’s competition fuel system and regulated return system routes fuel supply into the rear of each cylinder head, with return fuel leaving the front of the heads, passing through the regulator, and traveling back to the tank. This is the 45-degree, 1/8-inch NPT x #6 JIC fitting that installs in the front port of the driver-side head.

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All of Irate’s electric fuel systems for ’94.5-97 trucks include a 7/8-inch freeze plug from Ford, which is used to seal off the hole in the block where the factory lift pump sits in the valley (the diagram style pump is actuated via a dedicated cam lobe). Installing the plug is made easier with the factory turbo removed, which, to install the fuel fittings at the back of the cylinder heads, has to be done anyway.

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Per Irate’s suggestion, we set our truck’s fuel pressure to 65 psi using the supplied 0-100psi liquid-filled gauge—although anything between 60 and 70 psi is sufficient. To increase return pressure at the regulator, you simply turn the Allen bolt on top of the regulator in (right), while backing the Allen bolt out (left) drops return pressure.

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Irate includes the regulated return system with each competition fuel system, and the supplied Fuelab pressure regulator is of a bypass-style design and fully adjustable. In Irate’s system, the return lines from the heads feed each side of the regulator, while the bottom port is used to return fuel to the tank.

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Regulated return fuel systems are a common upgrade for modified 7.3L Power Strokes. In addition to stopping fuel from dead-heading in the cylinder heads, regulated return setups ensure that adequate and consistent fuel pressure is always on tap for the injectors to use. Irate’s regulated return works on the premise of the factory fuel bowl being discarded, and all 304 stainless steel lines are bent to clear your specific high-pressure oil pump (be it a factory-based pump, dual HPOPs, or a Gen3).

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To prime the fuel system as quickly as possible once everything was complete, Bosie filled both the water separator and fuel filter full of fuel and reinstalled them. Irate’s competition fuel system comes with quality, widely-available Baldwin filters (PN BF1252 water separator and PN 7633 fuel filter). The fuel filter carries a 2-micron rating.

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Next, the wiring harness was also strung along the frame between the pump and engine bay. Irate’s wiring harness includes 12-gauge weather-proof wire, is encapsulated with plastic wire loom, and comes with heat-shrink connectors. The wire harness was eventually anchored via zip tie to the truck’s existing wiring harness and supply and return fuel lines along the frame.

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On the other side of the pump assembly, a second supplied 90-degree push-lock fitting was installed, this time in the outlet (to engine) port. From there, the remaining section of ½-inch hose was forced over the barbed end of the fitting and Bosie began routing the supply line along the frame rail, up toward the engine.

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With the supplied ½-inch fuel hose cut to length between the sump outlet and the pre-filter inlet for the lift pump, Bosie forced the hose onto the barbed end of the included 90-degree push-lock fitting. Then the fitting was threaded onto the filter base/pre-filter inlet port and tightened up using a 7/8-inch wrench.

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Leaving nothing to chance, we also opted for new Dorman tank straps from Summit Racing (PN578-003). To avoid metal-on-metal contact between the tank and straps, we used fuel tank webbing as insulation. The woven nylon strips were attached to the tank straps using a quick-curing contact adhesive.

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For seamless installation of the return line, Irate fits one end of the supplied 3/8-inch Parker fuel hose with a quick-connect fitting. This end connects to the factory return hard line located just below the steering shaft behind the driver-side front tire.

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With the Irate system attached to the frame, it was time to install the new fuel tank, run the new fuel lines, and attach the wiring harness at the lift pump. But before Bosie hoisted the tank into its final resting place, he left enough working space to connect the wiring and return line on top of the sending unit.

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While there is ample room to mount the Irate fuel system inside the frame rail (behind the transfer case) on crew cab versions of the older Fords, our preference is to install it on the outside of the frame, and at its highest point (at the driver-side front of the bed, just before the frame curves downward under the cab). This is roughly the same spot you have to mount the fuel system in regular cab applications due to space constraints.

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Once he’d removed the old electric fuel system from the frame rail, Bosie held the Irate system in place along the frame and marked the mounting points with a paint marker. Then two holes were drilled in the bottom of the frame using a 13/32-inch drill bit. The stainless fuel bracket is secured to the frame via 3/8-inch Grade 8 bolts.

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The latest addition to Irate’s fuel system line (without adding to the overall retail price) is a billet-aluminum filter base. Fuel enters via the barely visible (capped off) inlet fitting on the top left, routes through the spin-on water separator threaded onto the base, travels through the hard line on top of the base to the Fuelab pump, exits the pump, enters the fuel filter, and leaves the filter base by way of the capped outlet fitting shown on the right.

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Fuelab’s 41401 pump is one of the most reliable aftermarket units you can buy thanks to its wet, DC brushless motor design (no dynamic shaft seals or motor brushes to wear out). On top of that, its operation is quiet, efficient, consistent, and it can support as much as 1,000 hp. At maximum speed the 41401 flows 150 gph at 65 psi. At reduced speed the pump moves 110 gph at 65 psi, which has proven sufficient for 400/400 hybrid injectors and what we chose to set the pump at.

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Although there was nothing wrong with the original sending unit, with 209,000 miles on the clock we opted to start anew (PN F6TZ-9275-CA). At roughly $350 it wasn’t cheap by any means, but we wanted the peace of mind in knowing a fresh level sender was present in the tank. We’ll note that the sending unit’s plastic suction umbrella had to be removed to clear the tank sump mounting bolt at the bottom of the tank. Since we weren’t using the sending unit to pull fuel up and out the top of the tank anyway, it was a harmless alteration.

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After cutting the 3-inch hole, Bosie removed all metal shavings from inside the tank. He then set the crescent-shaped inner ring inside the tank, installed the mounting bolt through the sump, inserted the supplied O-ring inside the groove of the sump, and threaded the bolt into the inner ring. The mounting bolt was then torqued to the 22 ft-lb spec Beans recommends.

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As is typical on most sump installations, the best spot to mount it is under the factory sending unit, at the lowest point in the tank. Beans conveniently supplies a 3-inch hole saw with each sump, and after Bosie marked the location of the pilot hole he began to cut.

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Beans Diesel Performance’s fuel tank sump is the original one-bolt, one-hole sump. It’s machined from 6061 billet aluminum in the USA, can easily be installed without pulling your tank, and eliminates the 1/8-tank air sucking issues associated with aftermarket fuel systems that utilize draw straws.


SOURCES

Beans Diesel Performance
844.237.7467
BDPshop.com

Flynn’s Shop
217.478.3811

Irate Diesel Performance
503.435.9599
IrateDiesel.com

Summit Racing
800.230.3030
SummitRacing.com