Resurrecting Dead Cars

If you have a car that has been sitting unused for any length of time (say one year or more) here are some basic tips to getting it running again.

  1. Replace the oil in the engine, gearbox and diff, and replace the oil filter.
  2. Bleed all brakes with new fluid and keep bleeding then until you see the nice clean fluid coming through.
  3. Do the same with the clutch.
  4. Put in a new battery.
  5. Drain the petrol from the tank. Take the fuel line off the carby and turn on the ignition, so that you pump all the old fuel from the fuel line. Take the top off both float bowls and clean out the sediment from the bottom.
  6. Take off the air filters and make sure the carby pistons are moving up and down freely. If they stick, take off the dashpots, clean everything, and put them back together.
  7. Spray some WD40 on the choke and accelerator linkages.
  8. Take out the spark plugs, squirt some oil down the bores, and turn the engine over gently by hand until it turns freely.

Stick in some new spark plugs and fire it up.

This is probably the minimum you should do.

Possible problems

a) All brake and clutch hydraulics have been stationary for some time. Brake fluid absorbs water, and there is every chance you have a ring of rust where the rubber seals have been sitting in the master cylinder, wheels cylinders and cluch slave cylinders. The brake (and clutch) might feel fine, but now that you start using the car, every time you use the pedal the rubber seals moves over the rusty ring in the cylinder. It might not take long before you have brake or clutch failure. To be sure this doesn't happen, all hydraulic cylinders should be removed, cleaned, honed and fitted with new seal kits.

b) The clutch plate is impregnated with resin, and can stick to the flywheel. The hydraulics will work, but the clutch will not disengage. It will usually free itself if you start the car in first gear, with your foot on the clutch - but make sure nothing or no-one is in front of you!

c) One of the by-products of burned fuel is water vapour. This means that, when you turned the car off last, there was water vapour in the cylinders. This has by now become rust on the cylinder walls. Depending on the climate in which the car has been stored, you might have even more rust. When you turn the engine, the piston rings will scrape off the rust. Unless it's too thick, in which case the piston rings might break!

I once resurrected a car that had 1mm rust nodules on the cylinder walls. The head had to come off, the bores were cleaned with emery paper, the pistons had to be heated up with Oxy Acetylene to expand them and break them free of the cylinders, the bore was then honed, the head needed a full service as it was also rusted up. When we bolted it all back together, it ran just fine and with no smoke. Amazed me!