Part 4 – DIY Gas Tank Lift for Offroad Clearance on Vitara Tracker


Part 4! Now that everything is hooked up, time to (finally) start building the tank enclosure from scratch with a sheet of 14 gauge steel and way too many man hours.

I am pretty stoked about this project. I have never done a significantly large sheetmetal project. I got some tools on long term borrow from a friend that I am excited to use: Finger brake, Hole saws, and Dimple Dies. I plan to use all of them on this project.

DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
First up I have some crude paper drawings, an idea…
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
…and a 4x10ft sheet of 14 gauge steel
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
I also picked up a new toy. This sheetmetal shear is LEGIT. Cuts through this 14 gauge like butter and it is quiet too!
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
I found that you can also cut corners with the sheetmetal shears. You sneak up to it on one side then cut from the other side until your cuts ‘almost’ meet.
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Once you cut both ways you can break it the rest of the way off with a pair of pliers.

Sheetmetal Shears

Here is a quick note on electric sheetmetal shears. There are primarily only two different types. One is for thinner gauge and is more of a nibbler, the other design is set up more like a shear and can handle heavier gauge.

There many different brands of these and they all appear to be exactly the same. So just find the one with the best price and warranty and go with it.

Here is the thinner nibbler type model that can handle up to 18 gauge steel (in sheetmetal the higher the number the thinner it is)

Here is the heavier duty version similar to what I bought and it is straight up awesome. It can cut up to 14 gauge with ease.

Finger Brake

What is a finger brake? It is a metal bending device that has removable ‘fingers’ that allow you to make multiple intersecting bends in a single piece of sheetmetal.

Finger brakes don’t let you do everything though. I did notice while doing this project that there were a couple of bends toward opposite directions I wanted to do but couldn’t because the work-piece just can’t be inserted in the brake that way. Make sure you plan in advance, sometimes you have to modify your design to accommodate for your tool’s capabilities.

In the below pic you can see I was able to do bends in multiple different directions but that is only because my flange was ~1.5″ and it fit inside of a little cutout in the hinge (you can see the gap on the far left side). There were some situations where I just couldn’t do it though.

DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
This is the front side that had 4 bends.
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Starting to look like something! Still needed to cut a hole for the filler neck on the right side.

TIP: LABEL YOUR PIECES! It is really easy to get screwed up on which piece is what and where it goes. Save yourself some frustration and label well.

DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
So begins the drilling of what will be MANY holes. I spaced all of the holes about 1/2″ from the edge. This whole thing will be bolted together with 1/4″ bolts so it is removable for service.
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Here is a look from the front side. It will go all the way from the back of the rear seats to within an inch of the door.

Bolting together

In case you didn’t know about it, there is an AWESOME tool called a RivetNut or Nutsert tool. Basically it is a pop rivet gun for sheetmetal but the rivets it puts in are threaded so you can fasten sheetmetal together with bolts.

DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Here is my Nutsert tool. Works great and comes with 5 different sizes of threads.
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Drilling more holes. I always start with a small pilot bit, a medium bit, then with a 3/8″ bit specifically for the 1/4″ threaded nutserts.

For each nutsert size there is a specific hole size and thickness tolerance. Be sure to read the specs before you start drilling holes.

DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Once you have a 3/8″ hole, you thread the nutsert onto the arbor of the tool, put it in the hole, and crimp it!
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Here is the backside after crimping. You can see up against the sheetmetal where it gets squished to hold it in the hole.
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Rinse and repeat…
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Marking and drilling the panels that will be attached to each other.
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
A sliding square makes it easy for repeating measurements. In this case I had it set to .5 inch to mark the line for drilling.

Building the lid

The sides weren’t too bad, they had 2-3 bends each with the front side having 4 bends. The top however almost broke my brain. Each side had to fit around three roll cage tubes and had 3 bends. I had to go old school on it and start with some cardboard. Oh, and as a bonus the roll cage tubes were pretty close to symmetrical but not close enough to just flip the template over, so I had to make a template for each side.

DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Nothing like a diaper box to do some serious work with 😀
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Once I established the proof of concept with the diaper box, I laid it out on some blank cardboard for a V2.

TIP: TAKE A LOT OF NOTES on your template. It is really easy to forget what was a cut vs a bend and which way you were going to bend it. The X’s are a great way to mark your scraps so you know what is what once they are cut apart.

DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
After many tests I got it fitting pretty well. I also had to make sure I could get it in and out between all of the tubes.
In this pic you can also see the center support I made. It is just a ~7″ wide piece of sheetmetal with a 1″ bend down on either side as a center support for me to bolt to.
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
I transferred the layout from cardboard to my 14 gauge steel. then started by drilling where the tubes would sit with a 2″ holesaw (this leaves a little bit of wiggle room since my roll cage tubing is 1 3/4″)
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Once the holes were drilled, I was able to sneak up to them using the sheetmetal shears to make a slot. I then cut it out from the bigger sheet.
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Whew! It actually fit. Sometimes I surprise myself, since most of the time I feel like I am in way over my head.

Next step is to bend up the sides! Using this sheetmetal bender was a lot of fun. I will have to come up with some more ‘things’ to build with it here soon.

DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
This is a shot that shows how the ‘finger’ part of the brake works. You just remove one of the fingers to create space for an already bent portion of your part. The head space on this one isn’t very much though, so anything over about 2.5″ and it won’t fit through.

Again, make sure you plan your bends in advance! This doesn’t have to be super official. My process was to stand in front of the bender and ‘bend’ the sheetmetal in my head to see if it would work and in what order I should do the bends in. Thoughts like “If I bend this side first then I won’t be able to fit the piece back in the bender to bend this other side, so I should bend the other side first”.

DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Starting to look good!

Let me pause here to state the fact that there are obviously large gaps between the tubes and my sheetmetal enclosure. I had to have them in order to physically maneuver the sheetmetal into place. I went through a bunch of iterations trying to figure out how to do it in the fewest pieces possible and the best I could come up with was 3 main pieces. My current plan (though I am not there yet) is to build some filler plates that bolt on around the edges and cover those gaps.

DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
It is really handy to have multiple drills on hand. I had each drill with a different size drill bit in it and a nut driver for putting in and out the bolts quickly. Honestly having a 3rd drill with the other drill bit size would have been nice so I didn’t have to change bits as often.
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Back to drilling and bolting. At this point I had drilled ~100 holes if you count drilling the different step sizes for a total of almost 40 bolts (and counting).
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Starting to look good!

I didn’t take very good pics of it but in the pic above you can see where I used 1/2″ thick adhesive weatherstrip from Home Depot to fill the gap between the box and the floor. I had to double/triple it up in some spots where the floor dipped. It isn’t perfect, but the box plenty stout and sealed up around the bottom. I might figure out a way to improve it in the future but it is good enough for now.

DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Here you can see the pieces bolted together. I told you the nutserts are awesome….
DIY Gas Tank Lift Relocation- Vitara Tracker without Body Lift
Semi finished view from the back.

I was able to relocate almost everything that I previously had in a storage tote in the back around this new enclosure (you can see the socket set to the left, and I stuffed some other tow straps and such behind the rear seat).

That should make it so I can reserve the tray space for a cooler and misc stuff when we are wheeling… or groceries… maybe some stuff from the mall? 😛

Conclusion

Honestly, I am a little burnt out with this fuel tank/storage project. It was satisfying to build, but was also a lot more work than I had anticipated. Now that it is functional I am likely just going to drive it for a while and try to make it to an offroading event here soon.

Next steps are to build my filler plates and put some dimple die holes around the top edge for strength and to give me a place to strap stuff. I will probably wait until the weather gets nice before I try to paint it.

Hope you learned something. Now YOU, go to your shop and work on something!!

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