by Jim Kerr
You have probably heard this line a hundred times – “it’s in great shape. It was in storage for several years, and I am going to fix it up and use it again”. True, it may have been in great shape when it was put away, but that doesn’t mean it is now. Cars, trucks, snowmobiles, or motorcycles; they all need some extra attention after being parked for a while.
Some things obviously don’t work when bringing a vehicle out of storage. The battery is probably dead, and if it has been sitting several months without a charge, it is unlikely to hold one for long even if you try to charge it. Batteries discharge normally over time, so it is better to remove a battery and use it in another vehicle than to just have it in storage.
Tires are probably low on air. Just like batteries lose their charge, tires will slowly lose air pressure, so it is important to inflate them again. Tires that have been in storage several years may look like they are fine, but rubber hardens with age, so tires will probably develop cracks after being used again. Rather than try to get the last millimetre of tread wear out of old tires, it is better to replace them with new ones. New tires give better traction accelerating, braking, and cornering. If that stored vehicle is worth anything, the new tires will help protect its value and the occupants.
Before starting any vehicle that has been sitting, check all the fluid levels. Engine coolant may have leaked out. The oil level could be low, and be sure to check the brake fluid reservoir. Too many times I have had others describe how they got it running, started to move it, and found out there were no brakes.
Have a fire extinguisher close by when trying to start the engine. A cracked rubber fuel line, stuck carburettor float, or loose fitting could cause a fuel leak, and old sparkplug wires can leak voltage, starting your prize on fire. After the engine starts, keep a constant lookout for fuel and coolant leaks as it warms up. Don’t let it run unattended, or more than your vehicle could be lost in a blaze.
Waterpump seals harden with age, and it is not unusual for a coolant leak to start at the vent hole behind the waterpump pulley. Loosen the rad cap (cool engine only) so the system doesn’t build up pressure, and let the engine idle. The seal may polish the waterpump shaft and start to seal again. Adding a can of coolant conditioner may help. Coolant conditioners contain rust inhibitors and water-soluble oils to help lubricate the waterpump seal. If the pump leaks a lot, or continues to leak after it has been started several times, then waterpump replacement is the only choice.
Occasionally after starting an engine that has been stored, it will start to tick and run rough. This is a symptom of a sticking valve. Oil has drained out from the valve stem and its guide during storage. Now the valve has seized before lubrication could work its way back in. If this happens, stop the engine immediately. Sometimes the valve can be unstuck with light taps on the valve end. Hit it wrong and you bend a valve. Usually the cylinder head needs to come off for repairs to correct a stuck valve.
Although the seals that keep oil in the engine transmission, rear axle, and power steering may have been sealing when parked, these seals also harden and may start to leak large amounts of oil in a short time. Quaker State and Pennzoil make engine oils designed for high mileage vehicles. These oils also contain seal conditioners to help soften older seals. There are also separate oil seal conditioners available on the market for steering and transmissions, but if a seal is leaking badly, it needs to be replaced. Check all oil levels frequently during the first few days of operation – oil leaks can develop quickly and cause a lot of damage.
Time doesn’t help motor vehicles. Even in storage, rubber parts harden and greases dry up. Every rubber part, from windshield wipers to suspension bushings needs to be checked before the vehicle is reliable. Often, the rubber parts may look good until they are used. Then they crack and fail.
One final word – replace brake hoses. Even though the hoses look good, old rubber hoses can fail without notice. For your safety and everybody around, don’t try saving a few dollars here. Making sure the brakes are good is perhaps the highest priority of all when putting a vehicle back on the road.