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Thanks to the steady march of progress, automotive technology has advanced in countless ways over recent decades. It’s rare that an innovation completely upends the established engineering solutions, though – for the most part, these improvements tend to come as an evolution or refinement of an existing design.
But every once in a while, something appears that simply rewrites the script. And in the realm of fuel level sending units, that ‘something’ is the new Easy Level. “There’s never been a LiDAR fuel level sending unit in the automotive aftermarket before,” says John McLeod of Classic Instruments. “This is the first of its kind.”
The Easy Level sender is about the size of a regulation hockey puck, only requires three electrical connectors (12v power, ground and the signal connection to the gauge) and can be mounted easily in most applications.
Classic Instruments has been in the business of gauge design and manufacture for hot rods, race cars, and other automotive applications for nearly half a century. While the company is perhaps best known for their custom one-off gauges, the Easy Level isn’t Classic Instruments first foray into high-tech solutions. “We were also the first ones to incorporate a GPS antenna into an aftermarket gauge in order to run the speedometer,” McLeod says.
“It was something that we discovered in a commercial application – it was being used by a mining company in Canada. That was a situation where we identified something that was working in a different industry that could potentially solve problems in the hot rodding world as well. Early on with CAN bus, the aftermarket was having a lot of trouble getting an aftermarket gauge to work, so a GPS-based solution just eliminated all of the guesswork and crazy combinations that were being used to make it happen. You just hook an antenna to your car, connect it to your speedometer, and off you go.”
And that design philosophy of leveraging new technology in order to eliminate common issues – rather than simply trying to work around them – continues with the introduction of the Easy Level.
The LiDAR sensor sensor is the key to the Easy Level sensor. A laser measures the distance between the unit and the surface of the liquid being measured. All you need to know to calibrate the laser is the depth of the tank, and how to set the gauge signal sensitivity via the dip switches (which can be found in the installation instructions.
“Fuel level sending unit problems are the most common call that we get on our tech lines, by far,” he tells us. “And that’s because, in the hot rodding world, everybody is using a combination of parts from a lot of different sources and manufacturers, and folks often run into trouble when they need to measure ohms, or identify where their fuel level sending unit actually came from.”
McLeod says that the situation only got more complicated with the introduction of the modern-style sending units that were designed to work with electric fuel pumps, so about five years ago, Classic Instruments introduced the Fuel Link unit to correct ohm mismatch.
“That was kind of the first step toward addressing these issues, and Fuel Link has been a very popular product for us. But there’s still some setup required to make it work, and having a LiDAR sending unit eliminates the need for all of that. You don’t need to know what gauge you have or anything like that – the only thing you need to know is what the depth of your fuel tank is.”
Easy Level can measure fluid levels in tanks as shallow as four inches, or as deep as 38 inches. It can also be re-calibrated, allowing for use on different tanks, or even vehicles.
Traditional fuel level sending units use a float that’s placed on the surface of the fluid in the tank to measure the fuel level. That float is connected to an arm, and as the float is raised or lowered as the tank is filled up or fuel is burned, the arm’s orientation changes due to its position relative to the float. “That arm is connected to a ‘card,’ and that card has points of resistance along it,” McLeod explains. “And the amount of resistance indicates to the sending unit whether the tank is empty, full, or somewhere in between, and that’s relayed to the gauge.”
While this general design was used for decades, it is prone to a variety of different issues that can result in an inaccurate – or simply non-functional – fuel gauge. “The arm and the float have to be at a very specific length and location in order to get an accurate reading,” he continues. “So that causes trouble with things like baffles and foam-filled tanks. The floats often fail over time as well. Early on we had brass floats, and those can corrode and develop a hole in them. Once that happens, the float itself fills with fuel and sinks to the bottom of the tank, and that means the fuel gauge is probably going to read empty, or near empty, all of the time. We see the same problem with a lot of the plastic floats that are used on modern aftermarket systems, and all the additives we have in newer gas formulas are just adding to the problem because the alcohol is drying things out, and creating build-up on things.”
The Easy Level fuel level sending unit ditches the float-style design concept entirely. Instead, it uses LiDAR – which stands for Light Detection and Ranging – to measure the distance from where the unit is mounted at the top of the tank to where the surface of the fuel is, and that information is then converted into a signal that’s compatible with virtually any gauge on the market today. “We knew it had to work with the products from companies like AutoMeter, Dakota Digital, Stewart Warner, VDO, and so on,” notes McLeod. “So, we did our homework before we brought it to market, and we developed software that could provide that flexibility.”
Since the system uses a laser to measure the distance between the unit and the surface of the fuel, all that’s needed in order to calibrate the system is the depth of the tank itself. McLeod says that fuel tanks are typically 8 inches deep, but the Easy Level can be calibrated to work with tanks are shallow as four inches or as deep as 38 inches. The system can also be recalibrated at any time, and that means that the Easy Level can be swapped into different fuel tanks, or entirely different vehicles, as needed.
“There are very few parts on a car where we have the flexibility to do something like that, and it opens the door to a lot of other ideas. Right now we’re focused on fuel, and this one is designed specifically for measuring that, but the customers will ultimately dictate where we go with this technology. It’s a distance-measuring device, and we can do that with just about anything.”
The Easy Level is designed to bolt up to the five-bolt flange you'll find on most fuel tanks, but can be easily adapted to just about any tank.
Easy Level also features a set of dip switches that allow you to adjust its sensitivity to fuel slosh, which in turn affects how quickly the gauge reacts to those momentary fluctuations in perceived fuel levels. “It basically dictates how quickly the gauge pointer will react,” he says. “So if you have an open tank without any baffles and the fuel sloshes a lot, you can slow the response rate down so the gauge isn’t bouncing back and forth as a result of that slosh. Or if you want to speed it up – maybe you’ve got something with a smaller tank that uses lots of fuel – you can also increase that response rate.”
The system is designed to be a direct fit for the five-bolt flange configuration that you’ll find on most fuel tanks, and it’s available to order right now. “It feels like we’re re-creating the wheel here, in a way,” McLeod adds. “When we developed Fuel Link, we thought that was the end-all answer for everything when it came to fuel level sender problems. But this LiDAR system is the pinnacle – this truly takes all of the guesswork out of it. Anybody can do this.”