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Reader has noticed that his Ford Explorer isn't level. (Ford)
Reader has noticed that his Ford Explorer isn't level. (Ford)

Rob's Garage

SUV is playing tricks with the gas gauge Add to ...

Hey Rob, quick question.

I have a 1998 Ford Explorer with the SOHC engine. Believe me when I tell you that the gas gauge reading is dependent on the angle of the hill I'm on!

If my SUV is pointed downhill, the gauge reads low. If I'm pointed up hill, the gauge reads high.

I happened to be travelling down a very long hill last week (noticing that my gauge was reading low) when I ran out of gas. After making the call to CAA for a splash of gas, I tried starting the engine and it fired up!

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I drove for a couple of clicks but the engine quit again. I let it sit and it started up again. I was able to do this four times. Through this process I actually travelled close to 10 clicks and made it into a town and a gas station. I had to cancel the emergency call to CAA.

My question is: How can an engine appear to run out of fuel one minute, then start and run the next?

P.S. I'm not making this up.


It's alright Ken I believe you.

The 1997 to 2000 Ford Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers all had this little quirk. I can vouch because I owned one of these machines a few years ago.

My situation was made all the worse because my wife had this habit of letting the fuel get as low as possible before she would fill up. As we live on a mountain side, it was all kinds of fun betting with people in the SUV as to whether or not we would run out of fuel before we got to the level section at the bottom of the hill. Once we made the flat grade, the gauge was fine; money would change hands and away we would go.

Ford has a fix, but it's somewhat expensive. It's a revised fuel pump/sender assembly. This is a known issue and any Ford dealer should be able to install this. The new part has an extension on the fuel pick-up which allows for an all round accurate reading of the fuel gauge as well as (in your case and mine), providing the ability to draw fuel from the tank when the vehicle is positioned "nose down."

Ken, in addition to this, what you experienced was the stabilization of the fuel in the tank when your Explorer came to rest. While driving, the fuel is sloshing around the bottom of the tank. In doing so, the pump/pick-up cannot supply enough fuel to keep the engine running - it starts to cavitate. The fuel pump is controlled by the on-board computer (ECU). When the engine stumbles or quits, oil pressure is lost. This oil pressure signal is used by the ECU to keep the fuel pump running. No oil pressure - no fuel pump control - no engine running.

By letting the vehicle sit for a few minutes, the fuel gets a chance to settle in the small bowl area of the tank where the pick-up is located. This allows the pump to pick up what it can, pressurize the fuel lines providing fuel to start the engine and build oil pressure to signal the ECU to keep the fuel pump running.

Lots going on.

Your next stop (no pun intended), is a Ford dealer to have this modified pump/sender assembly installed.

Happy Motoring.

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