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Old 10-08-2007, 06:15   #1
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Water in the fuel tank

My wife filled the diesel fuel tank with water. I'm not sure what to do.
Desperate for help. I have a universal 4 with only 700 hours. Engine has always run great up to now. I have not done anything yet to fix it.
When I got on board to get underway, of course the engine would not start and after a little investigation and conversation with my wife, I figured out what she did. I am very mechanically inclined, but my knowlegde of diesel is very limited. With advice I can do anything I'm told that would help correct the situation. I need more advice and help than the guy at the local marina gave me. " get a new engine Mac".
Thank you, Tom
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Old 10-08-2007, 06:39   #2
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How did the engin die to begin with?
How long did it run with the water in the tank?
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Old 10-08-2007, 06:59   #3
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water in fuel

The long story is. I was getting out of work late. The boat was as the dock and we were going out for a cruise. I thought I would save some time by asking my wife to go down and fill ALL the tanks with water, meaning the water and waste tanks. When I got there and we were ready to get underway it would not start. Before doing any further harm I figured I would get better advice.
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Old 10-08-2007, 07:10   #4
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Long before you “get a new engine Mac”,
I’d get a new Mechanic, and an “Identified” Fuel Deck-Fill Cap.

I’ll let the experts offer details - but, the engine wouldn’t start, so you haven’t destroyed the engine. The injectors may have suffered some, and you’ll have to drain the tanks, and replace with clean fuel, etc...
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Old 10-08-2007, 07:44   #5
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Reason for divorce..?

Start with filters and injectors.
Then open up the fuel tank and clean good.
I use paper towls and Windex until I can eat dinner of the surface
of the tank-bottom and walls.

Next is oil and lube-oil filter just in case some water got in the engine.

Not sure if the high pressure pump would get damaged, but it does get lubrication from the diesel fuel and if it pumped water instead, that may have caused some scars?

On the other hand, why did the engine not start?
There should have been enough fuel in the system to run it for 10 minuttes before the water got to the engine.
Perhaps you were lucky and the fuel was shut off after a recent service and that was the reason it did not start?

Good luck anyway.

(My wife would have killed herself before I got around to doing it.. )
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Old 10-08-2007, 08:11   #6
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I hope this will ease your mind a bit and no its not a boat but still a diesel engine. At work one time I had to fill a truck up with fuel, and not doing this truck before, I filled it up with gas not knowing it was a diesel engine (I was not paying attention at all) and drove untill the engine died.
When a mechanic finally towed it to the garage he said "not a huge problem people do this a lot". They cleaned it out replaced a few things and it ran fine again.
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Old 10-08-2007, 08:27   #7
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Odd question is, why did it not start. There is enough fuel in the injection pump and filters to start and idle for a short time before water will make it into the system. Hopefully, you did not attempt it over and over again. If you did, you must add one more task - check the water-lift muffler and drain the water from it before attempting to start again. Cranking the engine pumps raw water through the system and into the exhaust elbow, then to the muffler, and if there is no exhaust gas to push it out, the muffler will fill up and back up into the exhaust and into the cylinders. To check, remove the hose from the exhaust elbow, there'd best be no water there.

I would first remove the primary (first in the line) fuel filter and drain it into a jar to see if there's water in it. If you find none, take care of the tank and line, replace the filter, and proceed to determine the no-start cause. If you find any water in the filter, check the secondary filter if there is one. If none there, proceed as above. If you find water in the secondary filter, or if there's only one and it has water in it, you really should have the injection pump and injectors removed and sent in to a rebuild shop. They may only have to dissasemble and clean everything up, or maybe just run clean fuel/additive through it on the bench. If water stays in there any length of time, or if operated with water inside, parts will likely have to be replaced. There's little choice on this. A partial job may make it run fine for the time being, but problems will follow.
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Old 10-08-2007, 15:19   #8
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How many gallons is your fuel tank?

First off, you will need something to drain the tank into, and since it is "contaminated" with the fuel, you can't just dump it. You can use a five gallon bucket, drain it all, carry it to the "waste oil" tank at any oil dealer or marina, and yes, it gets dumped with the waste oil.

If there is a photo processing business in your area, they often have 5 to 15-gallon chemical drums that they throw out--great for storing and transporting waste fluids. Same thing for Chinese restaurants and others that throw out 5-gallon oil bottles. Job #1 will be to drain the tank, either using a manual bilge plump (the gray plastic kind) or whatever comes to hand.

Then you'll need to drain and flush the fuel system, a longer harder job. You might want to just hire a mechanic (job #2, get the name of a good one by referral, if you can) or just ask Universal about the process, to make sure you don't miss anything.

If any part of cleaning the fuel system involves opening up parts that have "crush washers", BUY A DOZEN NOW because you must change then each time you open the joint, or they will leak. The washers are dirt cheap, locating them is the hard part.

Aside from getting the water out promptly, you may have no major problem. PROMPTLY being the key, before the rings and cylinder walls rust up. The injectors probably took no damage; if they did, deal with it when you find out otherwise.

The engine oil definitely needs to be drained and changed, water may have gotten into it. Once you are running again--change the oil again after the first good long run, to make sure all the water is out.

If you have an air compressor, or can buy/rent one locally, compressed air is a good way to blow out fuel lines. Shouldn't be hard to find if you are doing the job yourself, good way to help dry out the diesel tank, too, instead of trying to reach around with rags in it.

Pouring in some alcohol (cheapest vodka, or isopropanol) and blowing in compressed air, will make the alcohol evaporate and pull out residual water with it. (You might want to let the alcohol sit in the tank overnight, or for a few hot hours, to give it a chance to really get at all the water/vapor.)

Water in the tank, not a disaster. Gasoline in the tank--sometimes literally can blow up the engine. Hopefuly you've already told the wife it wasn't all her fault, she did what you said, and she means more to you than the boat. Fifty years from now, you'll laugh about it.
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Old 10-08-2007, 20:31   #9
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I don't think that any water got into the engin. First check the fuel filters. Any water there? If not, then no need to go down stream. Time to REALLY clean that tank, get all the gunk off the bottom while you are at it. Blow out the lines good. Replace any rubber ones.

I think that your engin not starting is another problem.
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Old 10-08-2007, 21:15   #10
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Let your wife know that 'stuff' happens. It can happen to anyone. Like me. I put diesel in my water tank a couple months ago. The good news was that all the water tanks were just topped up prior to going to the fuel dock. The bad news was that it cost $900 for the 'fix'. New tank, (polyethylene would never be the same), new vent lines to my other tanks, and the biggest hit was for the mechanic to pump and legally (I hope)dispose of the 40 + 1 gallons of contaminated water and fuel.

BTW, if the engine didn't start at all, then as others have noted, you probably have a separate issue. Take the wife out to dinner and tell her how much you appreciate her efforts to get things ready for your cruise.
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Old 10-08-2007, 22:11   #11
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Take the wife out to dinner and tell her how much you appreciate her efforts to get things ready for your cruise.
Aye, ya guys are much more liberated than me.

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Old 10-08-2007, 22:17   #12
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I can help. I had water in my diesel engine and fixed the problem myself and I am deffinately not a certified diesel mechanic. I was new to my sailboat and a series of events caused water contamination in my tank and engine. Here is what happened...

The last time I fueled up I did not tighten the cap on the port diesel tank enough. A week or so later we had a tropical storm roll thru the area and dump about 8 in. of rain on us. i had been doing some work on the deck and did not clean up enough and left small pieces of debris on the deck. The rain washed the debris into the deck drain scuppers and eventually clogged them both. So, I ended up with the entire port deck filled with water that eventually drained into the port diesel tank.

Here is how I found out...
We were going out diving that day. We loaded our gear than I went thru my pre-start check list. Checked the engine oil and coolant, visually checked the primary fuel filter, and made sure a good charge was on the battteries. Everything was o.k. so I started the engine and let it run at idle until it came up to temperature(10-12min). We untied the docklines and I started to reverse out of the slip. the boat was half way out of the slip when it went ka-chunk and died. I went to the engine room to see what was the problem. The first thing i noticed was clear instead of red in the bowl of the primary filter. I pulled one of the injector lines and sure enough instead of nice red diesel fuel I had soemthing that looked like puss coming out of the injector line.

Here is what I did...

I cleaned the diesel tank first. I used the petroleum pump, I use to change the oil, to pump the contaminated fuel out of the tank. I put half a gallon of fresh diesel in to rinse and repeat( a few times). Then filled the tank with fresh diesel.
I cleaned the fuel lines next. I have a primer ball installed to prime when I change filters. So, I unhooked the fuel line as close to the engine as possible and primed it thru until I saw red. Then primed some more to make sure. I changed both fuel filters at least three time in the whole process.
I cleaned the engine next...with the injector lines unhooked from the injectors I put the throttle to max and cranked the engine over and over. I would crank for 20-30 sec. then wait 30 - 45 min. for the batteries to recharge and for the starter to cool down. I had to crank the engine probably 15-20 times before I saw red. So, now the fuel system should be clean all the way to the injectors. I removed the injectors and took them to an injector shop to have them cleaned and inspected. They were fine. So, I torqued them back on and gave it a try. It took a few tries to get her started but she did start and has been running great since. That was over a year ago. The engine is a westerbeke 58 four cylinder.

Your engine should not be ruined. I hope this helps.
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Old 10-08-2007, 22:50   #13
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If you wife got the boat back to the mooring/dock and shut it down normally--it was still only drawing fuel OK and should be OK once the system is flushed out. If the fuel filters are large enough, and the run was short enough...the water may still actually have only reached the fuel filters, and not even the high pressure pump. I'd break that connection first, see what drains out (into something tall and thin like an live jar) and if there's still JUST PURE FUEL at the intake to the high pressure pump--boy are lucky, you dodged a bullet. And you won't have to worry about the engine at all.
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Old 11-08-2007, 09:39   #14
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Old 15-08-2007, 17:42   #15
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Hey you guys, I'm sorry, I was away from computers for a while.
Thank you so much. I am sure with all this info I am in good shape.
As soon as I get back to the boat I'll post the results.
Thanks again a million times over.
Tom
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