The great fuel filter myth.
Written by Jim Hopkins, Toyota Tech Adviser
Feb 08, 2004 at 04:00 AM
When Toyota Engineers first developed their electronic fuel injection (EFI), they were searching for a maintenance free, self regulating fuel system that would continually maintain itself in optimum working condition, with NO maintenance. A fuel system customers would just love for it's low, low maintenance.
They knew that the fuel must be kept clean enough to pass freely through the fuel injectors, etc. without any clogging at all. For this dedicated filtering purpose "Nippondenso" developed a very special fuel filter with over ten times the filtering surface of any previous automotive fuel filter. It is inside a very strong, rust proof metal container with high quality threaded fittings, to withstand the high fuel pressures of EFI. The filter medium is carefully pleated, so a huge filter area can be installed inside a compact metal container. It is a truly fantastic fuel filter! "State of the art"!!!
The Engineers explained it this way. Their studies had shown that in some areas the current (small) fuel filters showed anywhere between about 60% to 15% clogging after 50K km. Therefore they had previously recommended their replacement at the 50K km service, because they felt that in some parts of the world the fuel filters may not make it to the next service at 100K km with much reserve to spare. They had found however that, overall, North American fuel was relatively clean.
There would be even less contamination entering EFI cars fuel filters, because of the new, large filter sock over the fuel pump pickup tube, inside the fuel tank that was made quite fine to protect the high speed electric fuel pump required on EFI cars. This pick up filter sock was somewhat "self cleaning" due to the sloshing action of the fuel in the tank bottom, and most dirt would just slosh off and be captured in the bottom of the fuel tank where it could do little harm.
Unless, of course, someone dumped a full bucket of mud into the fuel tank. They reassured us that with the smaller fuel tank filler neck it was very doubtful that this would ever happen. In any case no
filter could ever hope to cope with a humongous, catastrophic amount of dirt entering the fuel tank, and that it would require removal and cleaning of the fuel tank anyway.
Now! Compare fuel filters! If the older style smaller) fuel filter had a filtering capacity of 100 then this new EFI fuel filter with ten times the filtering capacity would be rated at 1000. In an "imaginary"
comparison test we could assume that since the old fuel filters may show 50% clogging at 50K km, those fuel filters were possibly replaced when 50 of their 100 filtration units were clogged at the time of the
specified 50K km service interval.
At 50K km the older fuel filter car would have It's smaller fuel filter replaced with a brand new factory replacement fuel filter, according to the factory recommended maintenance schedule, so it's reserve filtering capacity would be restored from 50 to 100. Since the EFI car neither required nor received any fuel filter maintenance it's larger 1000 unit filtration area would now have only a reserve of 950
At 100K km inspection, the same recommended services would be performed, leaving the older fuel filter car with a fresh new fuel filter, with it's filtering capacity fully restored to 100. However, the EFI car would now have it's reserve lowered to 900.
After the 150K km service the older fuel filter car would be again restored to 100 units, while the EFI car would still have 850 units reserve.
At 200K km the older style would be restored to 100 units, and the EFI car would be left with 800 units.
At 250K km it would be 100 to 750reserve filtering units. At 300K km, 100 to 700. At 350 K km100to 650. At 400Kkm 100 to 600. At 450 K km 100 to 600.
And on and on
.Till finally at "one million" kilometres the older model would have it's EIGHTEENTH new fuel filter installed, restoring it's reserve filtration capacity once again to 100 units and
the EFI car still having it's original fuel filter would also have a 100 unit reserve filtration capacity.
Therefore it may, just may, be necessary to recommend that the EFI car should also have it's fuel filter replaced at one million and 50k km. We should live so long!
However, if the rate of accumulation of dirt was much lower than the predicted 50 filtration units per 50K km, during this one million km. test, then the EFI car may still have a very much larger reserve filtration capacity than we calculated. The lower dirt content would not have benefited the older, small fuel filter car at all. As well, the older style fuel filter would have contributed eighteen discarded fuel filters into a land fill, and at even five bucks a filter, cost
the customer "ninety" dollars in maintenance. Eureka! No more fuel filter replacements! Fuel filter replacement is finally just a relic of the past! WOW!
At this time (twenty years ago) fuel filters were completely deleted from all Toyota service maintenance schedules for all EFI vehicles. The oil change, air filter change, etc., remained, and were covered in
great detail in all factory service manuals, etc. But, all references to "fuel filter replacement" were deleted for all time from all factory service manuals. A whole half page of the factory service manual is devoted just to inspecting fuel pipes for any kinks or
deformation (including illustrations of a leaking fuel line). Text and illustrations of the precise, recommended placement of the rubber fuel line's spring hose clamp is fully covered, but absolutely NO mention
whatever of "fuel filter replacement". There is absolutely NO mention of any fuel filter replacement in any owner's manual (does anyone ever read them?) Do you think that the factory repair and owner's manuals
were trying to tell people something??? Did you get the hidden message??
The fuel filter was considered to have a service life far exceeding the projected life of the majority of most of the vehicle's other components, and was fully expected to outlast the cars. Replacement of the fuel filter made much less sense than the replacement of the fuel tank or the replacement of the ignition key, or the trunk lid emblem.
Great! Parts people were instructed to anticipate virtually zero fuel filter sales. One less maintenance service problem??? Great! Wow! Customers would love this!!!
But, much to the dismay of many Engineers, fuel filter replacement sales for EFI equipped cars remained telatively high. Why? Discarded fuel filters were reclaimed, opened up and found to contain almost no
dirt at all. Why were people replacing them??? The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray! Who knew why???
There was great concern that there was a high risk involved because some dirt could accidentally enter the fuel system, downstream of the fuel filter during the fuel filters replacement, and damage the downstream fuel injectors etc. There was also concern that all fuel line fitting gaskets, etc. would not be properly replaced with new ones, and that the fittings torque might not be correctly reset to factory specifications, as this was a very high pressure EFI fuel line.
This part of the EFI system was intended to be serviced "only" by trained mechanics, yet it was apparent that it was being serviced by people who, clearly did not know what they were doing. There were many complaints that replacement fuel filters were much too expensive, and much too difficult to replace. Why were people still replacing them??
Nobody seemed to know.
Believing that the fuel filters were too highly visible they were painted black, and the Engineers tucked them up under the intake chamber where they were very difficult to see or service, on the 7M-
GE models, to discourage needless replacement, but people kept on replacing fuel filter, despite the difficulties. Why???
It was suggested that a sticker be applied to warn people not to replace the fuel filter. This had been done previously to discourage needless spark plug replacement. The warning sticker helped, but many
people simply ignored the warning sticker and replaced the spark plugs anyway. Another very hard to break habit, that still continues today. Nobody wanted to commit to stating "NEVER" replace fuel filters, as
that's a very, very strong statement. Should the sticker read:
WARNING! Replace fuel filter every one million kilometres, or 25 years, whichever comes first!
I think a sticker on the fuel filter stating: Warning! "This is not a fuel filter", may prove to be more effective.
Do you think that fuel filter replacement is genetic?? My father always replaced his spark plugs and fuel filter, and I am fully committed to continue replacing mine too, and to the preservation of this fine family tradition. I don't know???? I just can't explain why
people insist on performing these seasonal, cultural, fuel filter rituals. It must be passed down from father to son as it's been going on for over 20 years! No warning sticker can ever overcome that kind
of dogged determination.
Why were people in North America still replacing these costly and difficult, and risky to replace fuel filters with NO instructions or any valid technical reasons for doing so??? It soon became apparent
to the Engineers that fuel filter replacement was so deeply ingrained into the North American culture that people just could not break their highly addictive fuel filter habits.
I had many phone calls: "Where the hell is the dam fuel filter any way?? What lame brained idiot put the fuel filter up there where I can't even get at it? He sure didn't know a dam thing about what he was doing! I could sure teach him a thing or two about engineering
cars." All I could say was " Why are you replacing the fuel filter?? Why?? The answer was usually " I always replace fuel filters. I won't ever risk having a fuel filter plugging up. So I asked, "Have you ever had one plug up???" Of course not stupid! Because I always
replace them. That's why" How can you ever argue with such success???
I suppose that if people derive some deep inner spiritual satisfaction by performing their traditional "fuel filter replacement" ritual, they
are free to continue to do so! it's a free Country!! But I really wonder why they insist on doing it??
Instead of applause, the poor Engineer receives insults!
I see from reviewing many of the posts on this site that the grand tradition of fuel filter replacement continues on unabated. It continues to be, by choice, the first recommended line of attack, to resolve almost any performance problem. I see posts from owners whose crankcase breather pipes must be so badly clogged with hardened crud that a "Roto Rooter" couldn't clear them (engine oil forced out
through the distributor??), I'll bet those same vehicles have probably had their fuel filters replaced. WHY? I have never, ever seen the replacement of a fuel filter successfully resolve any problem. Why do people always recommend first replacing the fuel filter??? Any suggestions????
I suspect that with tens of thousands of Toyota fuel filter sales, that a great many people are accumulating a nice nest egg to finance their early retirement. Americans spend many millions of dollars a
year on fuel filters. Would this money not be better spent elsewhere?
Perhaps a: "I gave up replacing my fuel filter so that a starving child could eat! , type of charity. Are fuel filters car owner's pacifiers, or security blankets??
I have cut discarded fuel filters apart , but I have never found anything inside that would ever restrict fuel flow. They appeared almost as clean as new inside?? If anyone has ever found one of these
"Denso" fuel filters that was ever actually clogged with dirt?? I would sure like to hear from you. They may exist?? But, I have not found any in twenty years. Please post if you have ever replaced a fuel filter because there was real evidence that the fuel filter was actually restricting fuel flow, and a replacement filter actually solved the problem by restoring the fuel flow. Please post if one of these fuel filters has ever passed a particle of dirt that damaged a
I believe that the fuel filters very, very clean passing through these fuel filters as I have not yet seen a dirt clogged fuel injector.
I have found fuel pump residual check valves leaking from what I assumed was a spec of dirt (too small to see) as discussed in my previous post on fuel pumps, but I have always believed that this was because the fuel pump check valve was only protected only by the fuel pump intake filter sock, and not by the actual in line fuel filter.
The fuel pressure regulator never seems to leak residual fuel line pressure. I think it's because it's fuel is all completely filtered??? Anyone ever found a leak fuel pressure regulator???
I have only experienced one incident of fuel supply clogging, and that was because someone had attempted to repair a fuel tank by pouring an epoxy treatment inside to seal a damaged fuel tank The epoxy coating
peeled off and completely clogged the fuel pump filter sock, inside the fuel tank, but the fuel filter was still OK. I recommended replacement of the fuel tank and the fuel pump, as it had become overheated while sucking away on it's plugged inlet filter sock. Never
had a restricted fuel filter though.
Please post if you have ever found a restricted fuel filter????
If you have ever replaced your Supra's fuel filter, did it improve your car's performance?? Did it bring you security, peace of mind?? This question has haunted me for a long, long time(20 years).