Starting a car after 10 years of storage

July 1, 2011 | By Richard Prince


I just started receiving your magazine and really enjoy it although I am far from being an expert. I have a 1955 Crown Victoria in my garage that hasn’t been started or run for 10 years. Do you know of a manual/publication or checklist to review before trying to start the car? I would very much appreciate any help.


After 10 years the fuel in the car’s tank is almost certainly bad and therefore it should be drained. Even if your tank does not have a drain plug you can easily empty it using an automotive electric fuel pump. If the car has a fuel filter you should change it and if it doesn’t have one you should add a filter in the line between the tank and carburetor.

Clean the battery cables and install a new battery.

Remove the spark plugs and spray a mist or “fog” of penetrating oil into each of the engine’s cylinders.

Change the engine oil and filter. In addition, though it’s not essential, if you’re particularly ambitious you can remove the oil pan and clean out the sludge that’s almost certainly on the bottom. And while the pan is off you can remove the main bearing and rod bearing caps, inspect the bearings, and get a coating of engine oil onto all of the bearing surfaces before reassembly.

Drain, flush and refill the cooling system with a 50/50 mixture of distilled water and antifreeze.

You may get away with doing nothing to the carburetor but there’s a good chance it will leak after sitting idle for 10 years because the seals tend to shrink when they dry up. If you want to play it safe, go through the carburetor and install all new seals and gaskets. Likewise, the fuel pump diaphragm may have gotten brittle as it dried out, and there’s a decent chance it will tear when asked to go to work again, so if you’re a risk-averse kind of a guy rebuild the fuel pump.

Visually inspect the ignition points to determine if they are corroded or stuck together and then replace them if it’s appropriate.

With the spark plugs still removed, try moving the engine’s reciprocating assembly by hand. The easiest way to do this is with an appropriate tool on the flywheel or crankshaft snout.

Make sure you have at least one large, fully charged class ABC-rated fire extinguisher on hand and, assuming the engine is free, crank it over with the spark plugs still removed. This will enable the oil pump to build up pressure and deliver fresh oil to critical points in the engine. It will also prime the fuel system.

After a car has sat idle for 10 years it’s essential that you completely inspect the brake system and at the very least, flush out all of the old hydraulic fluid and install new fluid. If you see anything at all that’s wrong, or if you want to play it extra safe, rebuild the wheel cylinders and master cylinder and replace all rubber hoses.

If you have an automatic transmission now is a good time to replace the fluid. If you have a manual transmission, replace the gear oil and make sure that the clutch isn’t frozen. You can check the clutch by putting the transmission in gear, depressing the clutch pedal all the way, and trying to push the car a little bit. If the clutch is free the in-gear transmission will be divorced from the engine and the car should move. If the clutch is rusted to the flywheel then pushing the car will also cause the engine to turn, so the car will not easily move. If the clutch is rusted to the flywheel you may get away with using the starter motor to break it free but the safer choice is to replace it.

Reinstall the plugs, prime the carburetor with fuel if your previous cranking didn’t bring fuel up to the carburetor, and start the engine. Keep one hand on your fire extinguisher and immediately look for leaks of any kind.