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Thread: Fuel gauge not working?

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    Fuel gauge not working?

    I've seen this problem on 4 of my vans so far and each time it ended up being the same thing (fuel level sending unit inside the fuel tank). The 1st couple times I fought with it and pulled the entire tank out of the van. The last couple times I left the tank partially installed and was able to complete the job much faster! Doing it this way will save about 1/2 the time and the difficulty level is reduced. Here are some pictures I took while doing the job. Note, this is a 4wd van, but the procedure is the same on a 2wd.

    1st step is to use up or drain most of your gas. In this case I drove the van until the low fuel light came on, then did the job (if you drain gas, familiarize yourself with safe gasoline handling practices before attempting). Jacking the vehicle is required, so safely lift and secure the vehicle for access. In this case, I left the front wheels on the ground, put my jack under the rear differential and jacked it up until the rear wheels were about 1 foot off the ground. I secure the vehicle by placing jack stands under each side of the rear axle. Once you have access underneath, remove the (5) 12mm bolts that secure the plastic tank protector, drop it down and get it out of the way. Note: picture shows front 3 bolts (rear bolts not shown).


    Next loosen the (2) 12mm front tank mounting bolts but don't remove (make them very loose).


    Next pull the sending unit electrical plug from it's spring clip mount and separate it from the wire harness. Pull the 14mm bolt that secures the tank support strap, and pull the strap down and out of the way.


    Now completely remove the rear tank mounting bolt and allow the tank to drop. It will drop about 8" before the fuel hoses pull tight. It's okay to let it hang on on these hoses as long as tank is mostly empty.


    Here's the tank hanging by the hoses.


    This is the cool part, as a pure coincidence, the area between the RR tire and the wheel well lines up perfectly with the sending unit on the hanging tank. This is the perfect access tunnel for reaching in and removing the sender! Note: Before removal, it's a very good idea to blow the dust and debris off the top of the tank with compressed air. Focus on in the immediate area of the sending unit flange. A 90 deg scribe followed by more air works well to loosen and disperse the dirt and crud from inside the Phillip's head screw cavities before attempting to remove them. Be sure to wear eye protection and avoid breathing the dust while using compressed air.


    There is the perfect amount of room to pull the sender out and replace. The sender has a long arm with a swinging float. There are several bends in the arm, so it is necessary to rotate and change angles as you lift.


    Once out, you can use an ohm meter to check the range of resistance. This is one of those rare instances that an analog ohm meter will work the best. Once hooked up you can move the float up and down and you can watch the needle on you meter make linear movements with the float position. If there are dead spots (and there likely will be), then you can either replace the entire unit or try to repair. Last I checked Toyota still had these available. Keep in mind that 4wd and 2wd vans use different senders. I'm not exactly sure what the difference is, but they call for different part numbers in the EPC. Toyota Part # 83320-80034 is used for 4wd & Toyota part # 83320-29857 is used for the 2wd. Prices vary from place to place, but you can expect it to cost between $100 - $150.

    IMO, although possible, repair is not probably not your best option. I have done this successfully in the past, but I didn't feel it would be a lasting fix. I guess it depends on the condition of the rheostat and the contact spot on the arm inside. If you choose to go this route, disassemble the little metal box by bending the tabs. Carefully inspect the rheostat and the arm. If the arm and/or the rheostat aren't worn through, then you might get lucky. It's important that these parts be clean and that there is enough tension on the sliding arm to make good electrical contact with the rheostat coil. I found using a pencil eraser is great for cleaning these contacts.

    The rheostat arm can be re-arched by forcing it past it's normal travel and making it slip on it's shaft. Once it's extended beyond it's normal travel and is away from the rheostat you can grab it near the base with a pair of needle nose pliers. Once the base of the arm is held steady, you can carefully bend it (be careful not to go too far). Once you are satisfied with the shape of the arm, rotate it back to it's normal range of travel and retest using the ohm meter. Reassemble in the reverse order of disassembly and you should now have a working fuel gauge. Tim

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    Thank you for another awesome post Tim!!! I've been putting this off since I bought Sue, relying on my mileage instead. I guess this is now on the list for when it dries up.
    "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." - Jimi Hendrix

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    I've tried a few online vendors. So far 83320-80034 has been discontinued.

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    That sucks. I'm doing a major project on my van right now and finding this "NLA" scenario very familiar. Looks like you'll be stuck repairing the old one or finding one in a salvage yard. Tim

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    I'm wondering if the sending unit is the same across multiple applications and only the arm varies.

    Do you know proper resistance values full and empty for a good unit. It would be easy to test against another new part.

    Also, how many inches does then end of the arm travel on the van sending unit?

    It would be easy to weld the end of the van arm onto another sending unit.

    I aim to replace my fuel pump soon. I want to do it all in one shot and be set for the next 100,000 mi. Like you, I value my time over doing the job twice.

    And why no aftermarket support?

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    Aftermarket companies target markets that bring good sales. Parts that fit multiple year, make, model vehicles are typically where they focus. Specialty parts that don't sell well and/or only fit a small range of vehicles are not something they want to waste time with. These sending units would fall into this category. That being said, they do make universal sending units and it's possible one of these could be made to fit. When things get beyond repair and used parts dry up (we're almost there), then such repairs will be required. Until then it just makes more sense to repair or find stuff in salvage yards.

    The range of resistance is ~3 ohms (empty) to ~110 ohms (full). Resistance values for both 4wd & 2wd are the same, so I would speculate the difference in sending units might be with the float arm (4wd tanks are physically different from 2wd tanks).

    I don't have any of these currently laying around so I can't measure arms. If you can still get this for a 2wd, then I'd probably get one and compare when the tank is removed. Then rework/modify as required. Be sure to share what you find out! Thanks. Tim

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    Here is a toyota fuel sender for as little as $30.
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/03-Toyota-Matrix-fuel-level-sensor-sender-unit-Part-83320-02050-OEM-/331087738319?pt=Motors_Car_Truck_Parts_Accessories &hash=item4d165df5cf&vxp=mtr

    The resistor box looks like the one in your picture.
    I would just have to get the Full angle and Empty angle to match the van and mount it to the lid.

    The wire diagram in the manual says the van sender is only 2 wires.
    I asked about the 2wd part # when discussing the NLA status with some vendors. The 2wd unit is also NLA.

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    Yeah, who knows. I just placed an order with Toyota today. 8 out of the 12 parts ordered are NLA. These are things I need now. I've got the dash apart and the windshield out. Would really like to put new spray nozzles and wiper parts in. I'm having my parts guy look into ordering stuff from Japan, but probably no dice there either. So I'm likely stuck with adapting something else or finding good used ones in a salvage yard. That's not an option now though as there have been zero 86 - 89 vans in the Portland area yards for months now. There is currently 1 85 van at the Sherwood, OR Pick-N-Pull, but that's it. Tim

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    I would like to go this route.
    VDO 226-164 - VDO Fuel Tank Sending Units
    http://www.jegs.com/i/VDO/918/226-164/10002/-1

    I just need to find it locally so it can be returned easily if it doesn't work out.

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    Yeah, that's a universal aftermarket like I was referring to above. I've rigged these up before and these are adjustable (depth of tank and length of float arm), so you should be able to come up with an acceptable travel. Ohms are close enough so empty would be correct. It might only go up to 3/4 on the gauge when full, but it's empty that's important. If having it read full is an issue you could probably adjust a bit with a resistor, but probably not worth the effort. I'm thinking the hole in the tank would be too big, so you'd probably need to fab an adapter disc. Tim

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    I'm dropping my tanks to swap the pump and sensor and clean it out. Lots of chunks cam out when I pulled the drain plug.
    Hopefully I'll be able to find an equivalent level sensor.

    Right now i cant break the fuel lines that have compression fittings. I have flair nut wrenches but the small side still wants to round over.
    I tried a crows foot wrench and an impact. no love.

    Any words of wisdom tim???

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    Not all tubing wrenches are created equal. The cheap ones aren't much better than standard open end wrenches. I have no idea what you're using, but take a look at the meat on this high quality wrench and compare to yours. If yours aren't like this one then this could be your problem. Of course once you round the nut you're done.........hopefully that hasn't happened yet. Tim


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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    Thanks Tim.

    I only use my flair nut wrenches once a year so they are from harbor freight and havent failed me in the past. It might be time to upgrade.
    Also key is to clean the tar off the fittings and put a drop of penetrating lube on there.

    I noticed 2 things.
    1. my vapor check valve going Tank to engine is bad is this worth tracking down another? Rock Auto doesnt list it in the Fuel or emissions section.

    2. What is the extra sensor and wire on the fuel level sensor?

    I rang out the fuel sensor and resistance looks smooth all the way through. 112 - 3.4 ohms. Perhaps the issue is in the dash. My gauge doesn't go much past 1/2 way the the fuel light comes on. It has since i purchased the van.
    The light has always been accurate.

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    Good point with the penetrating oil, this can help. So can heat, but for obvious reasons I'd not want to use an open flame here . Any time you see a faulty part in your fuel system (especially when things are exposed) I would highly recommend replacing it. The only vapor check valve I know of is between the charcoal canister and the tank. It's Toyota part #90917-10020 & sells for around $40 (assuming it's still available). I wouldn't expect to find this part aftermarket (OEM only).

    Checking the tank sensor with a digital ohm meter can be problematic. Analog is much preferred for this job (marginal sensors will be much more obvious). Still, if you're getting good results the full range, this indicates a problem with the gauge head. There is a test outlined in the manual for this. That single wire sensor IS for your low fuel warning light, so even if the rheostat coil is messed up it won't effect the low level warning light.

    While you have the sensor out, make sure there is a little tension between the contact arm and the rheostat coil. Once the rheostat cover is off, the contact arm can be rotated beyond it's normal travel. Once off the coil surface it should deflect slightly downward. if it doesn't, bend it slightly downward, then put it back into it's normal range of travel. Using a pencil eraser on the coil and the contact arm is a good idea. Have fun . Tim

    PS: When it comes to cheap tools, I understand the struggle and agree they often do the job just as well. Tubing wrenches are an exception. The problem with the open end is flex. Some of the cheap tubing wrenches are no better than a standard open end wrench (I learned this the hard way). When tube fitting nuts come off easy there is no need for a tubing wrench.........it's the stubborn ones that make the expensive wrenches worth while. The last thing you need to worry about while having this sort of problem is to stop and go find/buy the right tool.......or worse yet, rounding off the nut. If you plan on turning wrenches in the future, these are a "must have" thing for your tool box. To be honest I rarely use my tubing wrenches, but when I need them I'm always happy they are there. They have paid for themselves many times over.

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    Is this the check valve you speak of?
    Name:  IMG_20140314_074020.jpg
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    I'm going to try to plug in the fuel sender on the car and check response on the gauge. I also picked up the vdo sender to check signal out put and reception.

    On s good note the tank looked clean and the fuel pump sock looked new.
    I'll check pump out put tonight.

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    Yes, that's the one I gave the part number for (above). I was going to suggest testing the gauge with the new sender but wasn't sure you got it. Just keep in mind it's not an instant response. Fuel gauge travel is slow........sometimes will take a couple of minutes to catch up to sender position. Tim

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    I didnt have time to call on the check valve today. But $40!! is it worth it?. I can probably pickup a universal from mc master carr for less.

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    This is a specialized check valve. It's not just the inlet & outlet sizes, it's also the spring pressure inside of it. IMO not worth messing with substitutes unless OEM is NLA. Tim

    BTW, how did you determine the old one was bad?

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    I saw the arrow on it. Blew both ways through it by mouth. It passed air both ways. There is more resistance one way than the other. It may be working if you say it has some sort of pressure relief in it.


    I ran range of motion on my fuel sensor. The gauge does not go below 1/2 way . I feel a gauge cluster coming.

    The VDO sender does fit. but the bolt pattern has a slightly larger bolt center. Slight grinding will be required. I think I'll install it and start looking for a gauge.

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    Re: Fuel gauge not working?

    There is no pressure relief feature. The spring will only determine how much pressure it takes before flow occurs in the correct direction. If yours flows both ways then you're right (it's toast). Most check valves are for a pressurized liquid, so if you buy a universal one, that's likely what you'll get. Depending on the amount of pressure it's designed for, it may not flow either direction for low pressure vapor.

    That's nice to know about the VDO sender. Not a perfect replacement, but as these vans get older & OEM parts become extinct, aftermarket parts like this will be required to keep things in working order. Tim

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