ALCOHOL AND ALUMINUM
By Scott Offermann and James Monroe
It is commonly accepted that alcohol is corrosive to aluminum and we will not debate that scientific fact. What we feel should be up for debate is exactly how fast and to what extent this corrosion occurs in a quality controlled racing environment. If even noticeable, the speed of extent of corrosion varies greatly and depends upon three factors. Those factors being the alloy of aluminum used, the purity of the fuel itself and the amount of atmosphere available to the fuel. At KillerRONS.COM we have learned over time that the use of high quality aluminum alloys in racing applications resists corrosion extremely well. For example, we have hundreds of racers using bare aluminum fuel cells all over the country every weekend of the racing season with no issues. In fact, many of the racers have used bare aluminum fuel cells for well over a decade in the same race car with, again, no issues whatsoever.
At KillerRONS we have the resources to provide quality plastic fuel cells from JAZ Products or we can build you a custom aluminum fuel cell to suit your needs. If you are concerned about possible corrosion a plastic or coated/anodized aluminum fuel cell will offer the absolute best protection against any issues. If this is not possible and you decide to build or buy a bare aluminum fuel cell we recommend selecting a 5051 or higher alloy. We also recommend the "Keep it Full" method. By saying this we mean filling the fuel cell completely between race events. This keeps the atmosphere out of the fuel cell and lessons the chance of any corrosion beginning. Another variable that can introduce corrosion is contaminated fuel so be sure to utilize a high grade (pure) alcohol that is not contaminated with water or acidic substances. We offer an affordable hydrometer ($119) that will allow you to test your fuel that you can view by clicking here.
Every fuel system that is sold or serviced by KillerRONS.COM should utilize a high flow fuel injection filter on the suction side of the fuel pump. If the worst case scenario does present itself over time while utilizing a bare aluminum cell the fuel filter will show a light gray substance or extremely small specs of aluminum. If the filter is inspected routinely this will in no way affect the performance of the fuel system and will allow the owner to take proper action by inspecting the fittings and/or fuel cell and identifying the cause.
We rarely see problems with hoses and fittings but it is true that over time alcohol can dry out rubber and/or corrode an inferior or damaged fitting. That said these problems can be avoided with the use of high quality hoses and fittings. KillerRONS.COM does not recommend using the non-braided economy rolled aluminum fuel line but rather a quality braided hose. There are two main types of braided hose available. Both standard steel or cloth braided synthetic rubber hose and the braided Teflon hose work with alcohol. Braided Teflon hose has the longest service life but the standard braided hose will last longer than most will own the car. When purchasing hoses and fittings you should buy a reputable brand for the best service life and the least chance of corrosion. When assembling the hoses be sure to use a lubricant and take patience as to not damage the coating on the fitting. The combination of quality parts and careful assembly will result in a problem free hose assembly with an extended life span.
The use of a “top lube” such as Power Plus or Klotz is highly debated as a corrosion inhibitor. KillerRONS.COM does not have an official stance about the necessity of use of these products for this reason. We would guestimate that approximately 50% of our customers use straight alcohol with no additives. That said, we have found that the overzealous use of top lube creates more problems than it solves. If you do elect to use it for “lubrication” we recommend using it in moderation and certainly no more than the manufacturer recommends.
Common sense practices and attention to maintenance can offer trouble service out of whatever fuel cell material you decide to use. For the long winter break we recommend the procedure found here for your complete fuel system.