All cars today have a fuel pressure regulator. A fuel regulator maintains the appropriate fuel pressure to allow the fuel to atomize correctly and allows your car or truck to run smoothly.
The simple design makes this part very durable and incredibly long-lasting.
Learning exactly how regulators function, the symptoms your vehicle will experience when the regulator needs maintenance or replacement, and the basics of how the part operates will help you keep your engine running efficiently.
How a Fuel Pressure Regulator Works
Most trucks and cars, no matter the size of the fuel pump, must maintain a fuel system pressure of 28 psi. Fuel regulators contain a spring-loaded diaphragm and valve control system. When the valve opens, the fuel line releases and brings excess fuel back to the tank.
This helps the pump provide the exact amount of fuel need for combustion.
There is a vacuum hose attached to the fuel pressure regulator that will decrease the pressure level when the vehicle idles. This will suck a negligible amount of fuel into the regulator that will not harm the system.
Once you push down on the accelerator, it takes a few moments for the change in pressure to affect the injectors. The fuel pressure regulator temporarily shuts down the fuel return line during this interim phase. This boosts the fuel pressure quicker.
The truck’s computer uses the regulator information, along with information from various sensors providing data on air temperature and density to help the engine run more efficiently.
The fuel pressure regulator ensures the fuel pump functions at a consistent level, regardless of any changes in the amount of fuel or speed of the vehicle while driving. This helps to keep fuel from being wasted or expended for no reason.
Pressure regulators also help reduce the release into the atmosphere of carbon monoxide and other toxic gases produced by the engine. By saving fuel, fuel regulators that work correctly help improve your gas mileage.
Types and Locations of Fuel Pressure Regulators
The size and shape of the fuel pressure regulators depend on the type of fuel pump in your car or truck. A pressure regulator is not installed in the same location in each vehicle. It depends on the engine configuration and fuel injector location. However, no matter where the regulator is located, the basic operation does not vary.
Symptoms of Regulator Problems
Although fuel pressure regulators should last longer than most parts, they eventually begin to fail.
Six signs could indicate a problem with your pressure regulator:
#1 – Engine Runs Rough or Stalls
If your engine runs rough while idling, a bad fuel pressure regulator may be the cause. Sometimes you might have trouble starting the car, and it might take two or three tries before it starts. You may notice your engine has begun to stall on occasion.
#2 – Black Spark Plugs
If your vehicle has spark plugs, remove one and check to see if it is fouled with black soot. If so, check the rest. If they all appear black, your fuel regulator could be the cause.
#3 – Oil Dipstick Smells like Gasoline
If you smell gas when you check your oil, your fuel regulator may be at fault, allowing gas to leak into your oil system.
#4 – Black Smoke from Your Tail Pipe
If you see black smoke, you definitely have a problem. One possible cause is a bad fuel pressure regulator.
#5 – Gasoline Dripping from Your Tail Pipe
Sometimes gas drips from your tailpipe when you overfill your tank. However, if you notice fuel leaking, and you are sure you did not overfill, it may be the pressure regulator allowing gas to leak into the exhaust system.
#6 – Gasoline in the Vacuum Hose
If you notice gas in the vacuum hose with the engine off, or if gas starts to drip out of the hose when you turn the car on, the fuel pressure regulator has gone bad.
Testing Your Regulator
The simplest way to test whether your regulator works properly is to run a scan of the vehicle’s computer for an error code associated with the fuel system. The scanning tool will provide you with a detailed explanation of the error code and if it relates to the fuel pressure regulator.
You can also purchase a fuel pressure gauge to test the system. Unscrew the cap covering the pressure testing port and use the gauge to determine the exact psi of the fuel system. If the reading does not match the exact number provided in your car or truck manual, it may be the regulator or fuel pump.
To determine which, note the reading on the gauge, then remove the vacuum hose. The pressure should increase by 5-10 psi when you do so. If it doesn’t, then your fuel pressure regulator has failed.