Plastic diesel tanks - venting?

Submitted: Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 17:55
ThreadID: 141689 Views:2006 Replies:15 FollowUps:31
A question for the diesel fuel tank tech heads; I want to put a 100 litre poly diesel tank on the top of my camper trailer. I've had 40 and 50 litre tanks on car roof racks before (with short breathers) and always had trouble with diesel leaking out and staining down the side of the car.

How much does diesel expand? If I have a 100 litre tank but only put 90 or 95 in, do I really need a breather? Tank will be in full sun when it's shining.

Or - can you point me in the direction of a good (short) breather that won't leak diesel?

Why do I want to do this? $1900 for a long range tank in the 200 Series. Then you need a rear wheel carrier to relocate the spare. Another $2.5 to $3k or more for that. Poly tank - less than $500. No changes to the car. Gravity fed - no electrics to fail in the desert. No possibility of tank mounting failing or tank cracking. That's why.

(Please note; I do not want this to turn into a discussion about "all that weight on the roof!" My camper can easily handle it and I know all about raised centre of gravity and it's effects (44 years in the crane & rigging game) I know how to tow to suit ;-)
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Reply By: Frank P (NSW) - Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 18:20

Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 18:20
You need a system that lets air in and out but blocks fuel. So do I.

I have a 120 litre extra tank under the ute's canopy. The breather outlet is at the top of the front wall of the tank, extended with a hose and a breather fitting to the filler area, maybe 300-400mm above the tank, to the front wall of the tradie canopy. My transfer arrangement is also gravity.

I like to play on the tracks. On steep downhill fuel sloshes forward and up and out the breather, all over the car.

I'll be interested in what people suggest for you.
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 18:30

Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 18:30
I just found what we may need. Link

Edit: No, that won't work. the fuel restriction works on rollover only.
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Follow Up By: Rusty Iron - Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 18:47

Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 18:47
Thanks Frank. Yes, I had the exact same setup in my previous vehicle (Triton dual cab with ali canopy) and had the exact same problem. Diesel coming out the breather on rough tracks. This is why I'm wondering if I can get away without a breather.
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 19:56

Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 19:56
With your tank on the roof, your fuel and any air in the tank will get hot so you need an expansion breather that will breathe out and keep fuel in AND not spill fuel. I've seen what happens with a 20L black plastic fuel can in a rack in the sun. It's not pretty. I think you could get away without a breather that will breathe in, because when you're transferring fuel you can open the filler to equalise.

With my tank under the canopy and not affected much by direct heat (like from the sun) I think I can be ok without an expansion breather. However my filler inlet to the tank is at the bottom or part way up the side of the tank. Once it is covered by fuel I need a filler breather that will not spill fuel.

I know what I need but I don't know where to get it. I'm sure there is a suitable breather/valve system around that is not the size of a briefcase, I just can't find one.

I am considering a manual filler breather - one that is totally sealed with a cap that I will have to undo to fill the tank, but leave sealed at all other times. When transferring fuel I would undo the filler cap or the breather, either/or.
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Follow Up By: Les - PK Ranger - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 09:01

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 09:01
..
"I am considering a manual filler breather - one that is totally sealed with a cap that I will have to undo to fill the tank, but leave sealed at all other times. When transferring fuel I would undo the filler cap or the breather, either/or."


Frank, this is all I had in my Ranger tub.

A 58lt (+2lt) capacity Boab poly, filler neck / inlet up on the canopy above the vehicle fill point, outlet that joined the main tank filler neck so when my tank got to half way (LRT) I could drop the 60lt into the main tank, either over a couple of hours (LH rear wheel placed high to angle the outlet) or as I drove along.

The breather outlet . . . I had a 2m or so length of fuel tolerant pipe that ran up the canopy bar at one side, and over 2 overhead supports, with a simple Pirtek breather outlet that was nipped up / undone with a shifter kept on the tub rail.

I never had this tank venting under conditions other than filling, I'd only need to un nip that prior to filling the aux tank, to let the fuel flow into the tank more readily.
For dropping fuel, I'd just leave the filler screw in valve loose a tad to allow flow through.

Diesel isn't as much of an issue for venting as ULP, never had any bloating etc . . . it was in a relatively cool spot, front of rear tub, 60lt water tank behind that, and carpeted on top, this helped keep it out of sun and cooler.
Did spend a lot of time out in higher ambient temps of various desert trips.
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 09:36

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 09:36
Thanks Les, I think that's the way I'll go. I would like a sealable breather fitting with a captive cap - one you can loosen to let air pass, but not have the cap fall off and get lost. A bit like the breathers on some self-inflating camp mattresses that I have.
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Follow Up By: Gbc.. - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 11:58

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 11:58
Put a loop in the breather line above the tank before it exits the Ute. Works for boats.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 12:07

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 12:07
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Frank,
Have you considered taking a breather hose from the top of your elevated tank down to the top of your main tank? The installed ventilation system of the lower tank will then manage both tanks. Any liquid expansion or sloshed fuel would be minor and accommodated within the lower tank.
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 12:38

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 12:38
Thanks Allan, yes, I did that. I teed the top tank breather into the filler breather on the main tank.

Trouble with that was that when the main tank was full the "overflow" from the top tank through its breather would overfill the bottom tank and keep it overfull to the extent that if you took the cap off the main tank fuel would flood out of it. And with the cap on the tank would leak. I do not know from where, (it wasn't my plumbing, I could see and get to that) only that the vehicle stank of fuel and there was caked-on fuel/red dirt on all parts of the tank that I could see (sides, bottom and rear.)

I think I will keep it simple, like Les' setup. The subject tank (diesel) is under the canopy between chassis rails, not subject to direct heat so expansion is not much of an issue, so no need for the breather to always be able to exhale or inhale, only exhale during fillup. So - a sealable filler breather with a screw cap to seal it would seem to be the simplest option.

I'm willing to accept advice if this is a bad plan!

I have my local Pirtek shop researching a more sophisticated solution, but TBH, he wasn't all that confident.

But if he does come up with something it might be useful for the OP as well as moi.

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 13:39

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 13:39
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By all means "keep it simple" Frank. That has been my mantra...... well at least until I built the Sprinter control centre! lol

But I am intrigued...... what diesel volume comes out of your tank overflow?
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 13:52

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 13:52
Allan,

If partially filled it comes out in fits and starts as you negotiate downhill tracks, particularly rough ones.

If full it flows more and will enter the main tank (if plumbed that way) faster than the engine draws it out, resulting in the over full tank.

The tank is not baffled, so the fuel will surge enough in street driving to spill over as well.

It gets all over the front of the canopy, the rear of the cabin, the sidestep, rear mudguard etc. A real mess.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 13:59

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 13:59
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Frank, I had a 10 litre plastic container of engine oil on the roof rack that was speared by an overhanging tree branch so I understand your agony.
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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Friday, May 07, 2021 at 12:38

Friday, May 07, 2021 at 12:38
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Frank, this seems so simple that I worry that I am missing something.

There are two considerations......
1) Liquid diesel surge: This can be controlled by a simple baffle in the vent which allows vapour to pass but restricts liquid flow. A 2mm hole in the baffle plate would be adequate. Enough to permit vapour pass at the low expansion rate yet restrict liquid pass during the short time of surge due to vehicle movement. Any small amount of passed liquid can be retained in a small container for drain-back or directed via hose to the main tank.
2) Expanding liquid: When filling, allow space in the tank for volumetric expansion either by observation or by device. Such device can be a spout of the filler diameter extending below the filler entry to the required depth of maximum fill. A 3mm hole at the top of the spout avoids trapped liquid or vapour.

So, am I missing something?
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Friday, May 07, 2021 at 15:17

Friday, May 07, 2021 at 15:17
It's a filler breather as well as a normal breather, Allan, so it needs to be able to pass a fair volume of air without creating back pressure during fillup. I'm not sure a 2mm hole in a baffle would be suitable.

Anyway, access for mods is horrible. I've decided to replace the breather fitting (which is easily accessible) with a screw-on cap which I will manually open and close as required.

Cheers

Frank
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Sunday, May 09, 2021 at 17:58

Sunday, May 09, 2021 at 17:58
I ended up using a quarter inch air tank drain cock. Open it to fill the tank or transfer into the main tank and leave it closed to stop fuel surging out.



This is the old breather - neat but spewed fuel:

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Reply By: RMD - Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 19:04

Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 19:04
Russell
You may well have experience in rigging and cranes and CG but a tank mostly full of fuel has inertia which creates forces suddenly uncontrolled when the CG issue becomes reality. That has to be considered. You didn't say what camper or it's height where the tank will be placed. Doing so will enable more accurate responses.
Any breather like you require would need an external sump vent similar to a Landcruiser has so stop fuel expulsion when expansion or sloshing happens. They are in near the filler system. It has a 0.038% size increase from around 0C to 38C . A poly tank GROWS when initially filled as the hydrocarbon fuel impregnates the tank poly. Around 2% growth from new to used so framing must allow for it to grow in all directions. Can you use an under camper tank? I used a metal tank of 60 litres with integral electric pump from a car under my Tvan. It was great to have when towing. Now poly tanks in cars, mostly fairly flat. would have their own tank pump and ARE reliable and allows a simple 12v connection to pump out through a hose. Much cheaper than $500 from wreckers I reckon and helping environment through reuse. Tank therefore lowering CG too.
I would not fit a tank up high as they are unprotected in event of accident, rollover etc and any leak from any source is still a problem..
Not sure what direction you are pointed in but an open mind to practicality is a good move.
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Reply By: noggins - Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 21:41

Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 21:41
The simple solution is an all-metal tank under the 200 series, fitted up where the spare was and the spare up on the top.
After all the extra fuel is what you hope to need long before a spare wheel.

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Reply By: Member - Scrubby (VIC) - Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 21:57

Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 21:57
Just thinking out loud.
If there was a separate smaller tank mounted near the "problem" tank and both tanks connected together with a heavy duty fuel hose , the hose end to the small "overflow tank" would connect to a pipe that was fitted through the wall to the inside and bent towards the bottom , but not touching, this tank would need to have a breather cap, maybe a fuel cap from another vehicle, when the fuel began to expand in the larger tank it would overflow through the hose into the small tank and when the temperature lowered the tank would contract and suck the fuel back from the small tank. Simples LOL
Would this work ? I dunno.
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 22:51

Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 22:51
I think it would, Scrubby. A header tank. If I had room I'd do that.
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Reply By: AlbyNSW - Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 22:23

Wednesday, May 05, 2021 at 22:23
I don’t see the need for a breather, you don’t have a breather on Jerry cans and his is just a big Jerry can isn’t it.

All I would do is crack the filler cap when you are gravity feeding your main tank to allow it to drain
My mate had this setup on some extended trips we did and it worked just fine
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Reply By: Member - McLaren3030 - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 07:51

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 07:51
Hi Russell,

You are looking at about 85kgs plus the weight of the tank going on top of your camper trailer. How are you going to lift the roof of your camper trailer with this extra weight on it? A 200 Series spare wheel and tyre would weigh less than half that. Does your LC have a roof rack? Would it be better to put the spare wheel on the roof of the LC, then you could fit a long range fuel tank without having to put a rear wheel carrier on the car.

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Reply By: Rusty Iron - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 08:07

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 08:07
Ok people, let me clarify a few things here; My camper is a home made affair. It's on an 8 x 5 base and I have used coolroom panels (35mm thick) to make what is essentially a bed in a box with a small kitchen / storage area at the rear. The box is about 1500 wide and 1200 high above the chassis so overall height is just over 1.8m. I used 76 x 76 x 3 aluminium angle for joining the panels. It is 100% Sikaflexed and riveted every 140 - 150mm. It's basically bomb proof.

I could hold a dance party on the roof because of it's strength. The trailer empty is 550 kg and has a 1200 GVM, so a payload of 650 kg. I've only used about 200 kg of that with the bed and kitchen gear, plus a small box on the drawbar and the spare tyre. Putting around 110 kg of tank and fuel on the roof will not stress it one little bit. It will raise the c of g but I'm clever enough, like a lot of you, to drive appropriately until I can transfer the fuel to the car. I don't do rock crawling or extreme tracks. I mainly do desert trips. The fuel tank would only be filled when needed for tracks such as the southern part of the Canning Stock Route where you need fuel for 1000 kms. I've already done the CSR with this trailer (and a lot of other long and corrugated tracks) and it was the only vehicle in our group not to suffer any issues at all.

So lets get this clear - I have zero concerns about the extra weight on the roof. I will barely notice it. I am towing with a 200 Series so it hardly feels it. I can also put four 20 litre jerrys on it as well in various places. All up, I could carry 318 litres of fuel if necessary, for the longer desert / soft sand trips.

Putting a tank on the camper roof will save me having to spend nearly $5k for a long range tank and rear wheel carrier for the 200. Actually it would be a lot more than that because a 4t GVM upgrade would then be required as well to keep any sort of useful payload in the 200. And being a gravity fed system, there is zero chance of things going wrong with the transfer process.

So, my only remaining problem is to try and stop diesel leaking out of a breather. It needs to be a short breather so it doesn't get knocked off by branches on the narrower tracks. I'm thinking no more than 300mm above the tank. Or, as I originally said, have no breather.
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Follow Up By: Member - Core420 - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 08:57

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 08:57
Maybe this would suit. In the enduro world it's a common issue that has already been addressed.

https://www.mxstore.com.au/p/Ballards-Red-Fuel-Cap-Breather-Hose/15-UNI001-RD?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=MX%20%7C%20Shopping&utm_term=4578435138035830&utm_content=MX%20%7C%20Catch%20All
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Follow Up By: Member - McLaren3030 - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 09:12

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 09:12
Hi Russell,

Perhaps this explanation might have been better at the start, so people have all the information needed to give you some alternate suggestions. I understand that you asked a specific question regarding a breather, but a lot of people think “out side the box” and look for alternatives to solve a problem.

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Follow Up By: Rusty Iron - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 09:24

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 09:24
I don't see it as my issue if people 1) Don't read the original post properly or 2) Start giving me all sorts of completely unasked for advice. The only question I asked was about diesel expansion and the need for a breather or not. It was a pretty simple question. I didn't ask for fuel storage alternatives at all.
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Follow Up By: OzzieCruiser - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 12:08

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 12:08
So the original post and threat starter was Russell P1 so who is Rusty Iron - do we really care what you have what is relevant is what the OP has.
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Follow Up By: Rusty Iron - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 12:26

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 12:26
Both are me. The name change took a while to show up but doesn't change the original post.
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Reply By: noggins - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 09:35

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 09:35
OK then think of something that has a floating valve in it, at rest it will let air past it and when fluid hits it ,it floats up and blocks the vent
Think scuba breather type of system
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Reply By: Bob Y. - Qld - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 12:20

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 12:20
Selection of breather fittings available at Whitworths Marine. Tried a link twice & it's not working!

www.whitworths.com.au

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Follow Up By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 13:54

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 13:54
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Hi Bob,

Whitworth's website was hacked into a couple of months ago and they are still working on rebuilding it.
I have that from the "horse's mouth" which should make sense to you of all people! lol
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Follow Up By: Bob Y. - Qld - Friday, May 07, 2021 at 05:23

Friday, May 07, 2021 at 05:23
Thanks Allan.

Did see mention of some work being carried out on their site. Suppose it's phone or fax ordering then? Just like being back in the 20th Century........

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Reply By: Rangiephil - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 17:18

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 17:18
I have some experience with petrol long range tanks in a Range Rover.
Older Range Rover as standard have about a 1litre surge tank inside the RH mudguard.
I had a long range tank high up inside under the window. It took me quite a while to work out how to stop fuel exiting the tank.

The key with any breather is to have the outlet above the tank at all angles.

One technique is to have only a small pinhole restrictor in the breather . This minimises overflow and can/should be accompanied by a "surge tank" again above the fuel at all angles. With sloshing on rough tracks a small amount may exit via the pinhole into the surge tank, then run back as the tank levels.

The surge tank should have an entry for fuel in the bottom ( with a pinhole restrictor somewhere )and an exit at the top with a small filter to catch dust on cooling down.
Whether you are prepared to have a structure above the tank is up to you but that way will work.
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Reply By: Lurchwa - Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 21:57

Thursday, May 06, 2021 at 21:57
Another option might be to use a fuel bladder and run the breather into a hose that bleeds to the ground. I looked at doing the same kind of set up myself for the same sort or reasons as you and that was the best solution I could come up with. I havent progressed any further with the idea but look forward to seeing your solution.
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Reply By: Keir & Marg - Friday, May 07, 2021 at 10:59

Friday, May 07, 2021 at 10:59
How much does diesel expand? A quick google search reveals the following:
For diesel, the volume expansion coefficient is 9.5 x 10-4 °C-1.
So, for a 100L tank, if the temperature changes by 10°C, then the volume change will be just under one litre.
Hope that helps.
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Follow Up By: Rusty Iron - Friday, May 07, 2021 at 11:23

Friday, May 07, 2021 at 11:23
Thankyou for that. This is the type of clear and simple answer I was hoping for....
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Follow Up By: Frank P (NSW) - Friday, May 07, 2021 at 11:29

Friday, May 07, 2021 at 11:29
The forum does not handle super and subscripts, so the formula above doesn't work.

Here's a cut and paste from a fuel management website that shows it better (for a 200 litre tank tha was mentioned in another paragraph on the site):

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Follow Up By: RMD - Friday, May 07, 2021 at 13:02

Friday, May 07, 2021 at 13:02
Much clearer is the earlier post of 0.038 in 100L which is 3.8 L volume change from 0C to 38C Simples.

The above indicates a change of nearly 8 litres. ????? Is that real!
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Reply By: Gbc.. - Friday, May 07, 2021 at 13:17

Friday, May 07, 2021 at 13:17
https://www.theboatwarehouse.com.au/motors-parts-inboard-outboard/fuel-breathers/fuel-breather-with-p-trap-fuel-surge-protector/

These are readily available
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Follow Up By: Rusty Iron - Friday, May 07, 2021 at 13:52

Friday, May 07, 2021 at 13:52
Gbc, you legend! Thanks very much. Ordered.
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Follow Up By: RMD - Friday, May 07, 2021 at 19:27

Friday, May 07, 2021 at 19:27
Is it a better item than one fitted to a Landcruiser inner rear panel, available at wreckers and never sold by them, 'cos no one asks?
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Follow Up By: Rangiephil - Friday, May 07, 2021 at 21:13

Friday, May 07, 2021 at 21:13
but IMHO it would still have to be above the tank, and a boat does not change angle much so what may work in a boat does not necessarily work in a 4WD.
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Follow Up By: Member - John - Saturday, May 08, 2021 at 00:19

Saturday, May 08, 2021 at 00:19
Rangiephil, obviously never been in a boat...............
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Follow Up By: Member - FSH00 - Saturday, May 08, 2021 at 20:15

Saturday, May 08, 2021 at 20:15
Good practice to never fill your vessels tanks above 90% it is company policy in most cases, same would work well in cases such as this, 20ltr of fuel in 20ltr jerrycan is never full.
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Reply By: mountainman - Sunday, May 09, 2021 at 10:31

Sunday, May 09, 2021 at 10:31
Option one
A balloon
Not sure there is UV stabilised ones available

Option 2 would be a camel back bladder setup
Where you made a canvas bag up and only have the flex tubing in the sun

Option 3 could be a tyre tube
But would take some fittings to rig something up
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Reply By: Batt's - Sunday, May 09, 2021 at 11:39

Sunday, May 09, 2021 at 11:39
There are a few companies the have portable polly diesel tanks that fit in the back of a ute etc find out what they use for a breather would be the easiest solution.

Also as you detest advice fitting it under the camper would be safer because as you mention you can hardly notice you are towing so what's stopping you from tipping it over you may hardly notice till it's to late. It's not the smartest place to put a heavy item especially with your extensive knowledge of raised centre of gravity effects that your not putting into use. Could be a good time to stop venting and maybe listen to others advice as they express their concerns because maybe they actually care .
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Follow Up By: Rusty Iron - Sunday, May 09, 2021 at 16:03

Sunday, May 09, 2021 at 16:03
Get out of the wrong side of the bed this morning Batt's? "...detest advice..." "...extensive knowledge..." "...stop venting..." Bit of an overreaction don't you think? Here's the thing Batty - I asked a very specific question. I made it very clear as to why I wanted to do this. And I also made very clear what didn't need to be discussed.

Unfortunately, people can't help themselves and start offering all sorts of advice on what was NOT asked. Out of 15 replies and 29 follow ups, there were only 4 people who gave good answers and didn't automatically assume I know nothing about towing or the possible ramifications of high (and don't forget, temporary) roof loads. And guess what? You're not one of those 4. But thanks for your input anyway.
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