Pursuing a Tank Rust Mystery

February 2010, - Feature

by Tom Berg, Senior Editor, Senior Contributing Editor - Also by this author

SHARING TOOLS        | Print Subscribe
Is ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel causing rust in steel fuel tanks? A shop foreman in Georgia believes that the relatively new fuel, or perhaps biodiesel blends, are to blame for the damaged saddle tanks he's seen in the last year
Rust forming inside steel saddle tanks might be caused by ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, some maintenance people believe. This rusty tank was on a Ford truck operating in northern Georgia. (Photo by Chris Sands)
Rust forming inside steel saddle tanks might be caused by ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, some maintenance people believe. This rusty tank was on a Ford truck operating in northern Georgia. (Photo by Chris Sands)
or two. Rust gets into fuel lines, clogs filters and lowers fuel pressure; that, in turn, causes low power and damage to injectors.

An industry trade group says it's gotten similar reports about underground storage tanks, and that the federal government is looking into it. A maintenance consultant says aluminum tanks are corroding, too. Steel tanks are widely used on vocational trucks, and Ford Motor Co. uses them exclusively on its medium-duty models used for all hauling tasks.

Ford tanks is where Chris Sands, who runs the repair shop at a multi-brand dealership in suburban Atlanta, sees the problem. Rust usually forms when water gets inside tanks and owners don't take steps to remove it. Rust shouldn't happen in otherwise clean tanks but is, on F-250 to F-750 trucks his mechanics work on.

"We discovered the rusting issue after seeing trucks with low power issues returning in less than 3,000 miles from the first repair," Sands says. "Rust did not occur to us until we started cutting open the filters to see what was plugging them up. How many times have trucks come in with low power, and we checked the fuel pressure, found it low and slapped on filters and sent them on? It seems like more than 50 percent had the same problem in a short period of time and it was traced back to the tanks. We have gotten very proactive when we get low power issues now and I make my techs check the tanks on any low power complaint."

He's sent damaged tanks to a nearby radiator shop to have them boiled and their interiors coated to try to prevent rust formation. Injectors are affected because Ford's Navistar-built PowerStroke and Cummins ISB diesels need a certain amount of fuel pressure to operate. His dealership sells and services Ford commercial trucks, which is why he sees the problem mostly in Ford tanks, but he's heard of it in other truck makes with steel tanks. Ford uses only steel tanks in its midrange trucks, and a spokesman said its safety and service specialists have not heard of many corrosion problems. Other truck makers said they haven't either.

Sands at first thought the tank-rust problem coincided with introduction of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel in late 2006, because he didn't see tank rust until afterwards. He had heard that refiners add sodium chloride - common salt - to fuel to combat formation of algae, and that salt "acts as a moisture magnet" that in turn reacts with steel to cause the rusting.

The American Petroleum Institute says stories of salt being added to ULSD may come from refiners' practice of using salt beds to dry the fuel before it's shipped. But refiners do not add salt, an API spokesman says. The trade group has gotten reports of rust formation in underground tanks, but there's no pattern to them, geographically or otherwise.

Sands also wonders if unregulated biodiesel fuels are to blame, but the National Biodiesel Board says that's not true. It points to research done by the Steel Tank Institute that shows biofuel-diesel blends do not cause rust in underground storage tanks. It believes those findings should also extend to steel saddle tanks on trucks, though they weren't specifically tested.

"A handful of filling stations have reported this problem, rust in underground storage tanks," says Prentiss Searles, the API spokesman. "It's relatively new. It does not appear to be widespread, but there's no pattern to where it does appear." The federal Environmental Protection Agency knows about the rust problem and scheduled a meeting on it with industry representatives for late January. API and NBB reps are among those who intended to attend the meeting.

"It also happens in aluminum tanks," says Darry Stuart, a fleet maintenance consultant and past general chairman of the Technology & Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations. "It just takes longer."

ULSD fuel was introduced in October 2006 for use in engines meeting EPA-2007 and now 2010 emissions regulations. Their diesel particulate filters will clog if residue from higher-sulfur fuels move into exhaust streams. Sulfur acts as a lubricant and its removal was a problem at first, so refiners added compounds to compensate, but salt is not one of them. "Anytime you get a new fuel, you have to see what it does," Searles says, and the tank rusting might be an unforeseen side effect.

From the February 2010 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.


  1. 1. Mao Lee [ June 01, 2014 @ 08:42AM ]

    so Ford Motor Company is responsible for delaminating of the coating of inside metal fuel tank, damaged the fuel system , such as injector , pump filter, etc. ???????????
    I own a 2006 LCF Diesel truck , now is 46500 miles and already replace 9 injector etcl this time cost me over $ 8,500.00

  2. 2. Anthony Faust [ October 03, 2014 @ 01:35PM ]

    I have a 2011 f350. It's just stopped running yesterday and I had it towed to ford. Ford is telling me it's rust in my tanks which caused an emplosion of my high pressure fuel pump
    That enturn now everything needs replacing in my fuel system for a grand total of $14,025??????

  3. 3. David Pierce [ October 20, 2015 @ 09:46PM ]

    At 67,594 miles my 2008 Ford F350 6.4 diesel has broke down again. This time (I've taken my truck in many times) they said my problem is metal shavings and rust in my fuel system again. I have taken my truck in 3 times for this problem and they just reprogram the panel and send me on my way. I paid an additional $8,000, less than two years ago when I bought it used at Ford, for the extended warranty however the Ford dealership won't cover it under warranty. I had the whole fuel system replaced in July 2015 but they didn't replace the fuel tank. $11,000 out of my pocket because Ford's diesel trucks can not handle using diesel fuel. Now, 4 months later October 2015, less than 3,000 miles since I have had the whole system replaced, the truck breaks down again. I take it to Ford and again they say there is metal in the fuel system. In addition, I just had the oil changed, water separator drained and fuel filters changed again, 200 miles before it broke down again and only 1,200 miles after it was replaced while Ford had it. This sounds like a manufacture defect and I'm being screwed. A truck with only 67,594 miles should not be having $11,000 worth of repairs. I can not baby this truck anymore than what I already do. Oil changes, fuel additives, high dollar spark plugs, K&N air filter....etc. My wife makes fun of me because every 3 months I dump $300 in preventive maintenance on this stupid truck. I travel for work and this truck leaves me stranded in every state I go too. Now I am stuck in Augusta, GA. Been here a month because of this truck. I want to go home. I am loosing money not working. I want my money back for the repairs that were not my fault. I did a search on the internet and this is a very common problem with Ford. What can I do to get this problem resolved? Email me at [email protected] Do I need a lawyer? Are there other p

  4. 4. Latasha [ May 20, 2016 @ 01:21AM ]

    Need advice

  5. 5. Jim Norris [ August 11, 2016 @ 10:58AM ]

    2010 F 350, just had my entire fuel system replaced because they said I had "rust" in the fuel system and it destroyed the injectors. Over 10,000 dollars. I live in Texas.

  6. 6. Patricia Swicicki [ December 26, 2016 @ 09:29AM ]

    My Frohlick Diesel fuel system failed after 3,000 miles of city driving. The authorized dealer claims the "cause" of failure is rust in the system and is not covered by the 5 year warranty. Estimated repair cost is $15,000. What is wrong with this picture?

  7. 7. Patricia Swicicki [ December 28, 2016 @ 10:39AM ]

    Follow up on my Freightliner Diesel. Removed the truck from the "authorized repair" shop to a qualified shop. Investigation revealed problem caused by two defects that lead to the rust in the system. 1) the aluminum gas tank had a "ring" indicating prior to delivery, the truck sat in the dealer lot with gas in the tank. The diesel oxidized and rust problem began before truck was delivered. 2) truck had an electrical failure and grounding problem. Thus the "idiot lights" failed to notify of any fuel system problems AND there was a grounding problem that was corrosive thus causing rust in the fuel system. Freightliner, who originally declined warranty coverage, sending rep to NY to investigate. Bottom line is Freightliner stores trucks in their yard for 6-12 months at a time with diesel fuel in their tanks, this starts the early corrosion and fuel system rust problems prior to delivery!


Comment On This Story

Comment: (Maximum 2000 characters)  
Leave this field empty:
* Please note that every comment is moderated.


We offer e-newsletters that deliver targeted news and information for the entire fleet industry.


ELDs and Telematics

sponsored by
sponsor logo

Scott Sutarik from Geotab will answer your questions and challenges

View All

Sleeper Cab Power

Steve Carlson from Xantrex will answer your questions and challenges

View All