2003 gas gauge problem

I have a 2003 Santa Fe, with the 2.7 V6 engine. The other day I went out to run some errands. I had just over 1/4 tank of gas (I glanced at it when I started). After I had been driving for about 10
minutes, I was at a stoplight and I saw the "low fuel light" come on. I looked and the gas gauge was at "E". In the couple of seconds that I was trying to figure out what was going on, the gauge started going up and stopped at just over 1/4 tank. I was a little concerned, but everything seemed OK so I continued on.
After I left the store, I started the car but the fuel gauge stayed on "E". I keep track of my mileage using the trip odometer, so I knew I wasn't out (unless I had a major leak). After what happened on the way to the store, I figured I really wasn't out of gas, but I was sweating all the way home, waiting for the engine to quit. After a few minutes of driving, the gauge went to the correct level. Everything worked fine after that, so it appears to be something in the gauge or sensor system.
I have several questions:
I realize nobody can see it, but any suggestions on where the problem is most likely to be? Based on the symptoms, is it more likely to be the sender in the tank, or a loose connection somewhere? Would it be something I could fix, or is it a dealer type repair?
I don't know if it makes a difference, but I hadn't driven it for a few days, and we've had 90+ temps and high humidity.
Assuming it is a wiring issue or fault in the gauge, is there any problem with driving it that way until I get it corrected? I can keep track of the mileage so I won't run out of gas, but I didn't know if anything in the engine computer would get confused if the tank shows "empty" when it's really not.
I've got an account on the HMAService web site, but I can't find anything related to gas gauge system. It doesn't show up in the electrical system, or fuel system diagrams that I can find. Does anyone know where on the web site that info would be?
Would this be covered by any of the warranty? I'm at about 5-1/2 years, 67,000 miles. I didn't know if the fuel gauge system might be covered under any of the longer warranty items. I didn't see anything in the TSB area on the HMA service site.
The other twist to all this is that the car is on a lease that ends in August. We're probably going to turn it in (probably going for a new Santa Fe), so I really don't want to put a big expense into it now.
Any information would be appreciated.
Mike O.
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Unfortunately, you're beyond the warranty on this.
Most likely, the problem is with the sender in the tank. "E" basically represents an open circuit, so if the sender has a bad contact (or there's a break in a wire), the gauge goes to "E."
There's an access panel in the trunk to the fuel pump. To replace the sender, you'll need to pull the pump and separate the sender from it. If you can operate a screwdriver and a ratchet comfortably, you can probably do this.
Won't hurt anything if you drive it, unless you lose track and actually run out of fuel.
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Thanks for the reply.
Is there information on the HMAService area regarding replacement for this? I thought I had seen some info regarding the process for replacing the fuel pump, but I can't locate it.
Also, can you give me (or tell me where to find) the specific part number I would need to purchase?
Thank you again.
Mike O.

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It's attached to the fuel pump, so follow the fuel pump instructions, and then separate the sender from the pump.
Per TSB 03-30-001-1, you should use sender 94460-38210.
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Thanks for the reply.
More information: I've driven three or four more times since that one trip where the gauge went down, I've not had it happen any more. Also, I noticed today that the gauge is actually reading slightly higher that it was when I had the problem. Before the problem, it was showing just above 1/4 tank. After the "E" reading incident, and the next time I drove it, it only came back to about right on the 1/4 mark.
Today, I noticed it was back to slightly above the 1/4 mark, probably about where 1/3 would be. This does pretty much match what I would expect based on the miles since the last fill up.
Could it be that there was some contamination on the resistor element that was blocking the signal? I'm thinking that maybe as the float moved from the sloshing in the tank as I drove, it "wiped" the contamination off and the resistor started working OK.
If I do end up replacing it, is there anywhere on the HMAService site that shows exactly where it's at and how to get at it? I took a look today and didn't see any specific area to access it, but I didn't want to pull out the interior trim. I seem to recall seeing somewhere that the access panel is under the rear seats, but I'm not sure where I read that.
The part number you listed in the TSB is for the Sonata, I have the Santa Fe (I also just realized I didn't put that in the subject line)
Also, according to the electrical schematic (I finally found it on the HMAService), there are two sender units in series; it looks like one is part of the pump and the other is separate. I noticed in the TSB, it shows two for the Santa Fe, one "Fuel Tank Sender (Driver Side)" and one "Fuel Suction Sender (Passenger Side)". If I do decide to replace the sender, which one do I change?
- Mike O.

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"Could it be that there was some contamination on the resistor element that was blocking the signal?"
Possible, but not likely.
Sorry about the confusion. We all know what happens when we assUme. With the Santa Fe, you'll need to try to locate the one with the open circuit *while the problem is occurring*. To do this, once the gauge erroneously reads "E," pop the rear seat out and remove the access panels to the fuel pump and sender. Turn the key on (engine not running) so you can monitor the fuel gauge. Then, jumper the fuel sender wires together on one of the senders, causing as little vibration as possible. If this causes the gauge to rise, the one you unplugged was the culprit. If not, the other one is the culprit.
Unfortunately, I don't see anything on HMAservice that isn't at the very least misleading on this procedure. You'll need to remove four 14mm bolts to remove each side of the rear seat. There's a flap in the carpet-- I believe you'll need to cut a small tab(s) to get the flap open. After that, the metal covers should be held in place by several screws. And lastly, the fuel pump assembly and right hand sender assembly are held in place by several #2 Phillips screws. Be very cautious. If these are rusted, they can break when taking them out. If that happens, you'll either need to drill out the screw (carefully enough to not puncture the tank) and cut new threads, or replace the tank. Gotta say, if your lease is going to be up in less than a year, you're probably better off living with it.
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So far it hasn't come back, so I think I'm going to hold off unless it stops working completely. My biggest concern (besides running out of gas) was that I would be causing the system to have problems if it failed and I kept driving it, but you've reassured me about that.
However, if it does fail totally, I figure if I turn it in, they'll hit me with some huge fee if the gauge isn't working, so I'd want to get it taken care of (either myself have it fixed) before turning it in.
The lease is up on about 2 months, so I definitely don't want to take a chance on having to replace the tank or something equally expensive!
Just curious, which rear seat is the access panel under? The TSB mentions "drivers side" and "passenger side" for the senders, but is each under a different seat? I was thinking I could maybe check the connections without removing the entire pump assembly; maybe it's a loose connection.
Also, at the risk of asking a stupid question, is the pump assembly/sender suspended in the tank itself? If I remove the pump, is the top of the gas tank open? If so, I definitely want to make sure I do this when I can work outside with lots of ventilation.
Mike O.

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The pump/sender assembly is under the left seat, and the other sender is under the right seat.
The pump assembly and the other sender come out with the plate attached to the top of the tank, so yes, when you have either out, there is a hole in the top of the tank.
Actually, I doubt they'll even notice the fuel gauge isn't working unless it's just stuck on "E." Even at that, it's usually a lot jockey that'll fuel the vehicle if it's on "E," so the person inspecting isn't likely to notice unless the needle is especially low or he has gas added for fear of running out. Check the terms of your lease to see what they can charge you for.
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Thanks again for all the information. Hopefully I won't need it, but at least I'll be prepared.
It's not so much the needle that I think would draw their attention as it is the bright yellow "low fuel" light.
As for "what they can charge you for", it usually seems that they'll try to get you on anything besides normal wear (using their definition of "normal wear"..)
We had a lease several years ago on a Chevy Malibu. We had replaced the stock AM/FM radio with a Pioneer AM/FM/CD/Tape player. It wasn't an expensive unit, but it was better than the original one.
When we turned it in they told us unless we put the original radio back in they were going to charge us $250 for them to replace it. Fortunately, I had the original and was able to swap it out.
Thank you again.
Mike O.

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That would be a normal expectation. Nobody would expect you to turn in a lease car with anything but a nearly empty tank.

Most leases are actually quite realistic when it comes to the definition of "normal wear".

Why would you expect anything different? It's a matter of turning the car in, in the same condition, minus normal wear and tear, as you received it. An aftermarket radio - even one of better quality does not meet that condition. As for the price - they simply charge dealer price - quite fair.
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