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True or False: Sugar in Gas Tank Will Ruin Your Engine?

Sometimes myths get passed from one generation to the next without anyone questioning their validity. They become so ingrained in our beliefs and accepted as truth that we swear they’re true. The belief that putting sugar in a vehicle’s gas tank has led many to believe it will destroy a vehicle and possibly end in a fiery explosion. However, very few people are willing to volunteer their vehicles for such an experiment.

Today, we’ll get to the bottom of what happens when you put sugar in a gas tank. By the end of this article, you’ll have the answer and not have to subject your vehicle to an unknown experiment. Let’s get started!

SUGAR IN THE TANK - What actually happens? | HOW IT WORKS | SCIENCE GARAGE

What Happens When You Put Sugar in a Gas Tank?

Despite what you may have heard or seen on TV, putting sugar in a gas tank isn’t nearly as dramatic as you might think. What you’ve seen and heard is slightly misleading. A vehicle’s fuel system has filters that help filter out gunk and debris in the fuel.

When you add sugar to water, it quickly dissolves and sweetens the drink. However, adding sugar to gasoline doesn’t produce the same reaction. The sugars don’t dissolve but instead maintain their structure. The fuel filters in a vehicle’s system will filter out these sugar particles. It will also prohibit almost all of them from entering the remainder of the fuel system.

A driver will experience decreased performance and reduced fuel efficiency in most instances. However, the likelihood of a dramatic explosion or engine failure is improbable. It may not be convenient, but it’s not the worst or most expensive repair.

Baking sugar on a counter top
Sugar is sweet, but not when it is put into your gas tank by vandals!

Where Did the Myth About Sugar In Gas Tanks Start

The exact origin of the myth is hard to pinpoint. It’s likely that the idea of sabotaging someone’s car by adding a foreign substance to the gas tank has been around as long as cars have existed. Sugar became a popular choice for this myth because of its granulated nature and the belief that it could dissolve and cause harm.

The myth has been perpetuated by popular culture, including movies, TV shows, and stories where a disgruntled individual seeks revenge by “sugaring” someone’s gas tank. These portrayals can make the myth seem more valid than it actually is.

Is Putting Sugar in a Gas Tank a Felony?

Putting sugar in a gas tank is illegal. However, whether the crime is a felony or misdemeanor would depend on various circumstances. How the local law classifies the activity and the motivation behind the act would likely be major contributing factors to whether it was a felony or not. A judge may also consider the cost of repairs when deciding whether or not to classify it as a felony.

While there would be some room for lawyers to debate whether it’s a felony or misdemeanor, there’s no debate that it’s illegal. If caught, an individual would likely need to pay restitution and complete probation or community service. 

Can Sugar in a Gas Tank Ruin an Engine? 

Because of the fuel filters, there’s very little chance that sugar will find its way into your engine. When sugar experiences increased temperatures, it caramelizes, creating a gummy mixture. Any sugars that find their way past the fuel filters will likely caramelize before entering the engine.

The worst-case scenario for a driver with sugar in their gas tank is that their fuel pump will need cleaning or replacing. Sugar ruining an engine is highly unlikely. You’ll likely have issues accelerating and decreased fuel economy that will send you to the mechanic before it can cause damage to your engine.

Pro Tip: Trying to decide what type of truck is best for you? Join the debate Diesel vs. Gas Trucks: Which Is Better for Towing?

Man filling gas tank at gas pump
While sugar in your gas tank won’t lead to a massive explosion, it can still be annoying to have to remove.

How Do I Get Sugar Out of My Tank?

The first thing you’ll need to do is replace the fuel filters. Depending on how long the sugar has been in your tank, your fuel filters may be clogged and struggling to do their job. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this yourself, it’s a relatively straightforward task for even a novice mechanic.

You’ll want to check out your fuel pump to ensure it’s clean and in good working condition. 

Sugar molecules are heavy and would sink to the bottom of your fuel tank. You’ll need to empty the tank and give it a good cleaning to make sure you got all of the particles out. A local mechanic can clean it and use the proper chemicals to ensure you have a sugar-free fuel tank. Usually, this involves dropping the tank from the vehicle.

We have had to clean our fuel tank
You will most likely need to clean your entire fuel system. We once had to clean our tank and required dropping in from the vehicle.

What Liquid Will Destroy a Car Engine?

While sugar in your gas tank may not pose as much risk as you have heard, few people talk about the tremendous risks of bleach entering your fuel tank and, ultimately, your engine. The bleach will settle at the bottom of your fuel tank. Then, a chemical reaction occurs that burns the chlorine out of the bleach.

The byproduct of this chemical reaction is a very corrosive oxidizer. In the short term, the mixture significantly reduces a vehicle’s performance. However, it can eat away at seals and gaskets in the long term and cause massive amounts of rust on your sensitive components. Mythbusters even tackled this topic and discovered that the inside of the tank was covered in rust by the next morning.

However, running pretty much anything except the proper fuel in your engine is never good for it. Gasoline in a diesel engine can destroy it, pure alcohol or other combustibles can explode at different temperatures and cause damage. Basically, if its not gasoline (or diesel), don’t put it in your fuel tank.

Pro Tip: While there may not be sugar in your gas tank, if there is water in your gas tank, this is what you have to do.

Gas being put into gas tank
If you suspect someone has put sugar into your gas tank, call up your mechanic as soon as possible!

Other Things You Do NOT Want in Your Gas Tank

Ultimately, you want to avoid putting anything in your gas tank other than fuel or specifically designed products for your vehicle. You want to avoid any products that will clog your fuel system. 

Water, sugar, salt, honey, and other sticky and sweet liquids should never get into your gas tank. Some vehicles have sustained severe damage due to brake fluid, carbonated soft drinks, urine, and hydrogen peroxide.

Some car owners install locks that prevent tampering with their gas tanks. However, many vehicles have no safety mechanisms to protect them. If your vehicle sits outside or unprotected most of the time, it may be worth considering a lockable gas cap.

Pro Tip: Make sure your vehicle is in perfect working condition by regularly checking your tire pressure. Use one of these Best RV Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems.

How to Clean Out the ENTIRE Fuel System (Vandalized with Sugar in Gas Tank)

How Can You Tell If Someone Put Something in Your Gas Tank? 

Sadly, it’s tough to tell if someone has put something in your gas tank until it’s too late. Unless you catch the individual red-handed or they leave evidence behind, you’ll likely not notice any issues until you start driving.

You’ll likely notice decreased performance and acceleration as your fuel pumps clog. You may also notice that your miles per gallon take a massive nosedive, and you have to fill up your tank more often. If you suspect someone put something in your fuel tank, immediately get your vehicle to a trusted mechanic.

Have you ever had someone put sugar in your gas tank? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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MadDog

Friday 18th of August 2023

"Putting sugar in a gas tank is illegal." No, putting sugar in your gas tank is not illegal. But putting anything in someone else's gas tank without their permission is vandalism. And vandalism is illegal.

Chicago

Thursday 29th of June 2023

This is something I heard from a trusted friend…he knew about sugar being put in the gas tank of a Porsche Cayenne. Maybe 2 hours after the sugar went in the unknowing owner drove off & immediately started to feel like something wasn’t right & their battery low light came on. The owner stopped & turned the engine off & then tried to start it back up but it wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t even turn over. Because of the battery low light the owner had it jumped & it started immediately. When they went to put the car in drive supposedly it wouldn’t shift into gear or the gift shifter felt extremely tight so the owner turned the car off again only to try to start it again with no success & still wouldn’t turn over. The signs were all pointing to a very low battery & most likely in need of a new battery so they had it towed. A new battery was quite suspect to the owner since this Porsche was not even a year old, but still they never thought of sugar sabotage. The car place diagnosed the car as having a few other issues but nothing about the fuel, fuel tank or sugar. Of course the owner took the mechanic’s advice & had those other things fixed…never found out if those things actually needed fixing or if the mechanic just didn’t find the sugar sabotage & wanted to come up with something for the obvious issues the car was having. And on a Porsche these repairs weren’t cheap…not at all. As far as my friend knows, the Porsche owner never was the wiser concerning the sugar sabotage. It could have continued to have more issues due to the sugar in the tank since it was never cleaned out, but unfortunately my friend never found out what ever happened to that poor Porsche. Rumor has it the owner of the Porsche deserved every grain of that sugar in their tank. Believe me you would think so also. Too bad so sad.🤭

Moises

Monday 26th of December 2022

I have a 1994 Chevrolet silverado 1500 some idiot put sugar in my gas tank what can I do to fix this problem please get back to me asap that way I can get r done and find this punk and take care of him next thank you