(Updated on January 22, 2020)
The fuel pressure regulator is a component found within the internal combustion engine of a vehicle. The job of the fuel pressure regulator is just how it sounds. It regulates the fuel pressure of the engine system by changing the pressure whenever necessary.
It features a mechanical diaphragm that is operated by a vacuum to adjust the pressure. However, newer vehicles tend to use electronic versions of the regulators instead.
Both types of regulators serve the same purpose by allowing fuel to be distributed properly to the internal combustion chamber of the engine. Since different driving operations put various power demands on the engine, the amount of fuel it needs will change frequently.
If you have a bad fuel pressure regulator to accommodate these inconsistent fuel demands, then the performance of your engine will be in jeopardy.
How Does a Fuel Pressure Regulator Work?
A fuel pressure regulator can be found in any vehicle that uses an internal combustion engine. It is connected to the engine control unit, which is the central computer that manages the actions of the engine and its surrounding systems.
The fuel system, for instance, is responsible for delivering the right amount of fuel into the internal combustion chamber.
This process begins with the fuel pump taking fuel from the tank and pumping it through the fuel filter. The fuel then goes into the injector pump through a fuel line. From there, the fuel gets pumped into the fuel injector which then injects fuel into the chamber.
When the primary fuel supply line is delivering fuel from the pump to the injectors, the fuel pressure regulator will make sure the fuel pressure does not go over the amount that is required.
So, if the fuel pressure gets to be too high, the regulator will restrict the pressure and allow only the fuel that is needed to flow into the injectors. This would happen when the engine is running at lower revolutions-per-minute because it doesn’t demand as much fuel for its performance.
The excess fuel that didn’t make it into the internal combustion chamber will be sent back to the fuel tank. There is a fuel return line which connects from the primary line to the fuel tank.
When the fuel pressure regulator doesn’t let certain amounts of fuel to flow into the injectors, it will return the fuel through the return line back into the fuel tank. The fuel is basically being recycled so that it can possibly be used again.
5 Common Bad Fuel Pressure Regulator Symptoms
Fuel pressure regulators will not stay 100% functional forever. During the lifetime of your vehicle, you can expect the fuel pressure regulator to go bad at least once. If this happens, it will produce a few symptoms that you should not ignore.
Below are the top 5 symptoms that you will experience with a faulty fuel pressure regulator.
1) Black Smoke
An easily noticeable symptom of a bad fuel pressure regulator is black smoke coming out of the exhaust pipe. There are many possible reasons for black smoke, but this could be one of them.
If your fuel pressure regulator is worn or leaking, black smoke will be the result of that. This is due to an abundance of fuel in the internal combustion chamber which gets burned.
2) Leaking Fuel
When you have a bad fuel pressure regulator, it is common to experience leaking fuel. Perhaps the seals on the regulator are damaged or worn, which is then causing fuel to leak through. As the gasoline continues to leak, it will reduce the performance of your engine.
If you don’t notice the fuel pouring out onto the road behind you, then you may notice the fuel smell that will fill the cabin while this is happening.
3) Engine Misfire
An engine misfire is the result of the internal combustion chamber not having the right fuel and air balance. This is the symptom you should experience most often if you have a faulty fuel pressure regulator.
All it takes is for one cylinder to not ignite normally and you will experience a misfire. Many people think this could only happen when you first start the vehicle, but it can actually happen as you’re driving the vehicle.
In fact, when you’re driving at high speeds, this is the time when it is most likely going to happen.
4) Poor Fuel Economy
With all these problems concerning leaky gasoline and incorrect air and fuel mixtures, you can certainly expect your fuel efficiency to decrease drastically. The more demands you put on your engine, the harder it is going to work to sustain your demands.
But if your fuel pressure regulator is malfunctioning, it could cause too much fuel or not enough fuel to be placed into the combustion chamber, depending on the circumstances. Then your miles per gallon will keep getting smaller until you replace your faulty regulator.
5) Weak Acceleration
One of the more noticeable symptoms of a bad fuel pressure regulator is poor acceleration. If you step on the gas pedal but it does not cause you to move as fast as you’re used to, then it means your engine is not getting the proper balance of fuel and air in its combustion chamber.
Although this could be for many reasons, a faulty fuel pressure regulator is one of those reasons.
Fuel Pressure Regulator Replacement Cost
If you experience 2 or more of the symptoms above, you will likely need to replace your fuel pressure regulator. The average cost to replace a fuel pressure regulator will be anywhere from $140 to $380 total.
The parts cost alone will be anywhere from $60 to $240 while the labor costs will likely be around $80 to $140. Replacing the regulator can cost more for some modern vehicles with electronic fuel pressure regulators. Having a dealership perform the work will also likely increase the price tag.
In most cases, the replacement job can be done on your own if you have some mechanical knowledge since the regulator is not too hard to access. But, since you are dealing with fuel, don’t hesitate taking it to a professional mechanic if you don’t feel comfortable doing the job yourself.