Plastic makes perfect

Manager: Matt Long

Title: Highway equipment supervisor

Fleet: West Virginia Dept. of Highways

Operation: Municipal operation maintaining 38,646 mi. of roads and 6,800 bridges throughout West Virginia

Problem: While many fleets expressed trepidation when the trucking industry switched over to ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel back in 2006, that changeover recently blossomed into a fullblown nightmare of sorts for the West Virginia Dept. of Highways.

Matt Long, the department’s highway equipment supervisor, explained that the “winter blends” of ULSD—with a maximum sulfur content of 15 parts per million (ppm) versus the 500 ppm standard used prior to 2006—turned it into a “super solvent” of sorts; the spray-on lining coating the inner walls of his fleet’s Ford F-550 fuel tanks was completely dissolved.

The resulting “goo,” as Long described it, would clog the truck’s fuel pump and filters, plus damage engine injectors, resulting in a price tag of anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000 to fix the whole mess.

“It had to do with the composition of the spray-on lining and how it reacted with the chemicals used to treat winter blends of ULSD,” he said. While Ford changed the formula for its spray-on linings, order backlogs for the new tanks meant the West Virginia Dept. of Highways faced long stretches of downtime for 30 to 40 of the afflicted F-550 trucks in its fleet.

Solution: As a result of the delays in getting new steel tanks, Long had a dilemma on his hands. “We couldn’t reuse the tanks because, first, there’s the problem of respraying lining material on the inside of a sealed tank,” Long said. “And you can’t use a steel fuel tank without a lining because ULSD is produced via a ‘hydrotreating’ process, meaning it uses water. So without that lining, the water in the fuel, which also leads to increased bacterial growth, would gradually corrode the tank from the inside out.”

After considering the problem and analyzing the issues that would arise from 30 to 40 of its vehicles being out of service, Long began exploring an alternative solution—tanks made of plastic or, more specifically, tanks made from a heavyduty, military-grade, cross-linked polyethylene resin.

Made by Titan Fuel Tanks, this polymer-based aftermarket fuel tank is practically impervious to the corrosive effects of hydrotreated diesel and biodiesel fuels, while resisting the “super solvent” effect created by fuel additives that degraded steel fuel tank protective linings in the past, the company said.

“After analyzing the results of a trial program using Titan’s cross-linked polyethylene tanks, our department made the decision to replace all the steel fuel tanks on our Ford F-350, F-450 and F-550 cab and chassis vehicles with them,” Long said. “We’ve been using those for a full year now, through one whole winter, and haven’t experienced any problems.”

Titan’s 40-gal. polymer tanks are designed to replace both the standard 37- and 40-gal. OEM tanks on Ford truck models built between 1999 and 2010, as well as for diesel-powered E-Series vans.

The company noted that each of its “plastic” fuel tanks comes with a rollover vent valve, vent hose, drain plug for easier maintenance, and is covered by a five-year limited warranty. The tanks are also shipped in the form of a complete replacement kit, noted Titan, yet they are designed to reuse most of the vehicle’s stock components, including the existing “fuel sending” unit.

For Long, though, one of the biggest benefits he discovered when his fleet switched to Titan’s fuel tanks was that they could be installed at a cost and time allotment similar to steel fuel tanks. “It really required no more work or extra money to swap out our steel tanks for the plastic ones,” he said.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.