Starting a Stored Car

1. If you've taken the wheels and tires off for storage put them back on and torque the wheel nuts to the correct setting. Inflate all the tires to the manufacturer's specifications from the owner's manual or the door decal. If you plugged the exhaust system then unplug it now.

2. Take the car off the jack stands if it's on them. Take a good look underneath for fluid puddles, animals, and dead growth. If there is a lot of dead grass move the car as soon as it's started to avoid a potentially devastating fire.

3. Readjust and tighten any belts that have been loosened for storage. Older cars have V-belts to run accessories including the alternator, power steering pump, water pump, etc. Here's how to check a V-belt's tension: Grasp it in your hand and you should be able to just twist it halfway around. If you can't twist it it's too tight. For a serpentine belt you need to follow the procedure found in the owner's manual or call a local dealer.

4. Reinstall the battery if you've taken it out. Connect the positive terminal first, followed by the negative. Check electrolyte levels if the battery is not a sealed-for-life unit. Add distilled water as needed.

5. Do a quick visual inspection under the hood to be sure nothing will impede the engine when you crank it over. Clear out any animal nests taking care to brutally destroy any critters that defiled your car. Make sure to pop the top off of the aircleaner and check in there. A mouse nest around the filter will make your car run like a two barrel.

6. Check all fluid levels and top up where appropriate. If the oil is milky or inexplicably higher than normal you need to drain and replace it at the least.

7. Now the most critical stage: circulating the oil through the engine before it starts. Ideally you would drive the oil pump with an oil pump drive on the end of an electric drill. For Oldsmobile motors you can just use a 3/8" socket on an extenstion to drive the oil pump but make sure you wrap it in tape to avoid dropping the socket inside your motor. If the car has only been stored for a year most people just don't worry about pre-priming it. Next remove the spark plugs, and squirt about a teaspoon of thin oil (10W30) into each cylinder. Reinstall the spark plugs.

Next, disable the ignition so you can crank the engine without it actually starting up. By preventing the engine from firing up, you can move oil through the engine, coating metal parts gently, preventing damage. Note that cranking the motor before starting will also give the fuel pump a chance to re-supply the carburetor.

If you've got a car with a points ignition remove the coil wire from the distributor and ground it. If you have an electronic ignition system (including HEI), disconnect what's called a primary connector, usually located at the base of the distributor or the power lead (the outside connector on an HEI).

In the case of a distributorless ignition, this same connector can be found at the base of the coil packs.

Crank the engine over for no more than 30 seconds (any longer can cause damage to the starter motor). Then reconnect the ignition.

Caution: Make sure you've unplugged the tailpipe, if you did plug it. If you don't, whatever is in there will fire out like a cannon ball or damage a muffler.

8. Start the engine, but don't let it just sit there warming up. You want to perform a few basic checks, get it off high idle, and then get going on the road.

The basic checks:

A Cycle the transmission through its positions if it's an automatic or work the stick shift and clutch if it's a manual.

B. Test the brakes: pumping the brake pedal a few times, making sure you have pedal.

C. Check lights, turn signals, etc.

9. Put the car in gear and drive away slowly at idle, checking the braking system's ability to stop the car. Slowly turn the steering wheel back and forth to be sure everything is working properly.

10. Go for a gentle drive to the gas station, fill 'er up, and then go out for at least a half hour drive to heat up the powertrain. But don't stray too far in case something goes wrong.


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