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Is a long range fuel tank worth fitting?

Long range fuel tanks are aftermarket, high capacity fuel storage for your 4WD. In most cases, it involves removing one tank and replacing it with a larger one, but there are cases where it is a secondary tank installation.

The obvious benefit of installing one is that you can drive for longer between stops, but there is a fair bit more to think about before you rush out and bolt one on. As usual, there are also some downsides of getting a long range tank, which we look into below, along with the benefits.

Long range tank worth it

Australia’s a big place, and it can be a long way between fuel stops

Why would you want a long range tank?

Regain your factory range

From the factory floor, most 4WD’s have a fairly reasonable range, and some have brilliant ones. Generally 600km per tank on a rural drive would be possible, with some 4WD’s comfortably doing up to 1500km and beyond if they come with bigger fuel tanks (Like the 200 series Land Cruiser, or Prado for example).

However, most people that fit Long Range Fuel Tanks are not driving a vehicle thats just come from the factory floor. It will be heavier, have additional modifications, different tyres and often be towing, and all of these reduce your range. Our Dmax would comfortably do 600 – 700km on a tank when we got it, but with all the modifications, and when we are towing our Reconn R2, we are lucky to see 400km before the tank starts to look real dry.

Dmax and Reconn

Once you add modifications and tow something, your fuel economy gets much worse

Less need to stop often

The more range you have, the more options you have for stopping. You can choose to stop just for eating and toilets, and skip some of the fuel stations that you’d otherwise stop at. Australia is a big place, and fuel stops can be a long way apart. That means that if you have a limited range, and you drive past a fuel station where you could have gotten fuel from and didn’t, then you may run out.

If we look at our Dmax again, sometimes we find ourselves filling up at fuel stations only a few hundred kilometres apart, because the next option to fill is further away than our range can do. For those of you who travel with kids, you’ll know that you only want to stop when you have to, and additional stops just make life harder. If you wake sleeping kids, or you get out of the car, they want to, and a 2 minute stop becomes much longer.

Of course, we are not generally in a hurry and its not the end of the world, but waking a sleeping baby up who needs to sleep for a few more hours isn’t generally a good idea!

4WD Fuel economy

The smaller the tank, the more often you have to stop to refill

It can save you a lot of money

The best thing about a long range tank is that it can save you a significant chunk of money. This is vastly dependent of where you take your 4WD, but in some parts of Australia fuel is extremely expensive, and when you have lots of fuel on board, you have more options for where you fill up. Instead of paying $2.20 a litre at El Questro, you can drive another 90 odd kilometres and fill up for $1.50.

On our 2015 trip to the Kimberley, I seriously considered fitting a long range tank to our 80 Series Land Cruiser, purely because of the savings. The tank was going to cost around $1100, and the savings from having the extra range and skipping the expensive stops would have been just over $600, from one trip. 

Now, even around town you have the option of saving some money, if you know what the normal fuel cycle is. If you can fill up saving 15 cents a litre over 130 litres, you’ve saved a chunk of money every time you fill up. The real savings though, come from where fuel is expensive, and you can skip the sellers.

Expensive fuel

Fuel is expensive when you head remote

Remote touring and peace of mind

Running out of fuel isn’t a nice thing to happen, and even running low can have some pretty nasty effects on your fuel pump so its best avoided. Even the thought of running out of fuel isn’t a nice feeling, wondering whether you are going to make it to the nearest fuel station or not. A long range tank takes that worry away, knowing that your range is significantly increased and that all but seriously remote treks you aren’t going to have any fuel issues.

Of course, if you are heading remote, and especially if its hard work on your motor, you still need to be careful but its a lot better feeling than heading away with a stock fuel tank. 

It can reduce your chance of bad fuel

Bad fuel can do some pretty expensive damage to your 4WD’s motor, and thats without even considering what you need to do to get it all sorted. There have been some very expensive recovery costs in getting a 4WD thats taken bad fuel on board to a good mechanic to sort it out, and its one of the reasons we choose to run a secondary fuel filter.

Now, this might seem like a bit of a generalisation, but filling up at the big service stations that have a huge throughput of fuel will reduce your chances of getting bad fuel. Filling up at the small, boutique service stations where fuel might sit for weeks, or months before moving increases your chance of picking up water and other nasties.

Run this through your motor and you can be in trouble. The beauty of a long range tank is that you can avoid such fuel stations, and fill up where the big trucks do, saving you money and reducing the chance of getting some pour quality fuel.

Mt Barnett Diesel

There’s plenty of dodgy service stations you probably want to avoid

Whats the downsides?

There’s no free lunch, and especially with 4WD accessories it always comes at a cost. Sometimes that is financial, and other times its in different ways.

Long Range Fuel Tank Price

Most long range fuel tanks designed for a specific vehicle start off at about $1000 for the tank, and make their way up to about $1800 depending on how much is involved, and then you have to pay for fitting too. That’s a fair whack of money, and it most certainly does put people off.

Reduced clearance

Long range fuel tank manufacturers work very hard to come up with the best designed tanks, that keep clearance at a maximum, but in many cases you will end up with reduced clearance by fitting a long range tank. Sometimes they hang down below the chassis rails, but often they are designed to tuck away.

Still, they will sit lower than the factory tanks, and in many cases they reduce your departure angle marginally, by being mounted at the back of your 4WD.

4WD Clearance

Clearance is important, and long range tanks can reduce it

Weight woes

The bigger the tank, the more it weighs. It also means the more fuel you can carry, which means it weighs even more. Long range tanks can eat considerably into your payload, and if they are far back they will upset your axle ratings too. By this, I mean that a tank mounted well behind the rear axle will apply even more than its weight to the rear axle due to leverage.

This can be amplified when you are towing, or have a dual cab ute as you are already going to have a significant rear axle weight.

Extra weight on your 4WD also means you use more fuel; its pretty simple physics. The more you carry, the more energy required to move it, and thus the higher your fuel consumption.

Weight added by extra fuel

The more weight you carry, the more likely you are to break something

Doesn’t support the smaller, regional towns

I like to support the smaller towns where possible. We often stop at the bakery, grab some groceries and fuel and keep moving. By fitting a long range tank there is less need to stop at the smaller towns, and the fuel stations especially miss out. Of course, that’s your choice to make, but if we all stopped supporting the small towns they would cease to exist.

Walpole camping

We like to support small towns where possible

It’s a big hit to fill up

If you have a long range tank, you soon get used to extremely expensive visits to the fuel station, just less often. I have seen some fuel bills well over the $400 mark when filling up a vehicle with a reasonable size long range tank, or paying a high price for fuel. You might be using a little more driving around due to the extra weight, but in reality you are just combining several, cheap fuel station visits into one expensive one less often.

Engineering or permits required

To install a long range tank correctly in a 4WD, you need to get it signed off, mod plated, or permitted in your state. I wont comment on the legalities for each state, but it is supposed to be signed off. Some 4WD accessory shops offer this as part of the fitting, and others dont, leaving lots of people with a setup that isn’t actually legal.

Aren’t you just better off with jerry cans?

Jerry cans are pretty nifty ideas, and there are heaps of different options out there. They are, unfortunately, not a perfect solution.

Jerry cans

Jerry cans are an option, but they aren’t perfect either

Cost

Again, you have to purchase them. A cheap plastic jerry can is going to set you back about $30, and by the time you buy 3 or 4 (enough to cover the average increase from a long range tank) you’ve spent a chunk of money. If you get good quality ones, expect to pay a fair bit more.

Weight down low

Long range tanks are fantastic in the fact that the weight you apply is done right at the bottom of the vehicle, which has the least impact on your vehicles handling. You will have a very hard time trying to fit jerry cans under your vehicle, which means they either have to go inside your 4WD (not petrol please!) or on the roof, which is about the worst place you could add weight.

Ease of use

I’ve used Jerry cans a lot over the years, and they are a right pain in the backside. If you choose to hold them while you tip them out, its hard work. If you pump them into your tank it takes time, and is extra gear to carry. If its raining, you get wet, and you risk water going into your tank. In terms of actual ease of use, a long range tank takes the cake day after day.

Filling the Dmax with fuel

Jerry cans get old real fast

Fumes and leakage

Even good quality jerry cans leak from time to time, and they need to breath. When you are bouncing around on a 4WD track, the last thing you want to do is smell fumes, or have fluid leak out. Its not great for the environment, it stinks, and you brought it along to use, not to have run out all over your your car!

Fuel contamination

I also believe there is a much higher chance of fuel contamination using jerry cans than a long range tank. You have to use funnels, or spouts, have extra caps and you are taking the cap off your fuel system far more often. A long range tank goes a long way to ensuring that the fuel you put in stays clean and is in pristine condition when you need it.

Custom tanks

You don’t have to spend $1500 on a tank that is designed and engineered for your make and model. I have seen a few people buy generic rectangular tanks and mount them inside (not sure of the legalities in this) or outside of their 4WD. If you have a ute there are lots of options for this; inside or under the tub/tray, in the headboard or in front/behind it.

Some people have them gravity fed into the main tank and it just gets turned on via a manual (or automatic valve) as required. If you are going down this path, find out what you are actually allowed to do first.

So, long range tank, or not?

Only you can answer this. If you regularly use your 4WD for trips where the fuel is expensive, you have the payload and axle capacity and you want to spend the money, then I would absolutely get one. You can do the figures and see how long it will take to pay the tank back, and you might be surprised. As above, a couple of trips to the Kimberley in our 80 Series, and it would have paid for itself.

For us, we haven’t got a long range tank, even though I’d love one. I don’t have the spare weight and axle capacity at the moment, even with a GVM upgrade, so for now we carry Jerry cans in the camper trailer, which has plenty of payload.

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