My definition of a long-dead car is a car (or truck) that has not been started or cared for in over a year. You may see or find these cars out in barns or in the middle of fields, left to suffer the ravages of the elements. Sad. These vehicles, most of the time, can be saved. And there’s nothing like starting a long-dead car. But, you do have to take some precautions.


Like the rusty old tin man in that movie about Oz, that old car needs oil! Change it. The oil is probably bad. Period. Since oil is the lifeblood of the car, you should really change it if you think you have any chance of reviving the car.

Also, make sure you can rotate the crankshaft. If the car is seized up, and you cannot turn the crankshaft, then you probably should not try starting it. Also, be sure to coat the cylinder walls with oil too. You can do this by using a turkey baster or syringe filled with oil. Remove the spark plugs and squirt the oil in as you try to rotate the crankshaft by hand. This will definitely help to save the cylinder walls if you can get the car started.


Obviously, all combustion-based engines need fuel. But you need to make sure the fuel is clean and fresh. Old, stale gasoline can be a big problem. First, it may actually have trouble igniting properly. It can also “go bad” just by sitting. If possible, make sure the fuel going into the carburetor or fuel rails is clean and fresh. This will make your job a whole lot easier.

You may also want to consider changing the fuel filter. If the fuel filter is really clogged, you might not be getting the right amount of fuel. Heck, you might not be getting any fuel at all. So, be sure to check the fuel filter.


Another important element is fresh, clean air. Make sure the air filter is clean, or, take it off. But do not leave it off. Only take off the air filter when trying to initially start the car.  This is especially true if you are in a dirty environment and airborne contaminants are likely. Small particles can do incredible damage to an engine, especially over time.


While you are oiling up the cylinder walls, but sure to check the spark plugs. You may be able to clean the plugs by hand if they are not too bad. Or, you can use an air powered spark plug cleaner.  I have one, and it works great. Better yet, get new spark plugs and gap them properly. New plugs are your best bet.

Other Items

There are a few other things to check as well. Make sure there is enough fluid in the radiator, and the fluid is good. You might want to flush the radiator. At the very least, make sure the fluid is topped off, and there are no leaks.

Another thing to check is the belts. If the car starts, it will rely on the belts to keep it going. Make sure the belts are in good condition. Again, you may want to replace the belts before trying to start the car.


It may seem like a lot of work. It usually is. But when you bring back to life a long-dead car, it is a feeling you will never forget.







Written by Gary Pradel