March is finally here, which means Spring is starting to sneak into a few parts of the country. Portland has already had a few nice sunny days, and if you’re anything like me, that’s enough to make you want to pull out that muscle car that’s been in storage since September, find a straight stretch of road somewhere, and light up the tires.
But it isn’t always simple to wake up a car that’s been sitting for a while, especially if you didn’t prep it for a couple of months of down time. Let’s say you didn’t — you just rolled it into the garage and tossed the keys in a drawer. American cars are usually pretty resiliant, but you’ll still need to take a few steps before heading down the road again. Here are five tips to get you going again without too much trouble:
1. Tire pressures.
Your tires lose pressure over time, especially if they’re subjected to changing temperatures. They’ll be low. Air them up before you head down the highway, and don’t forget the spare, too.
2. Check that battery.
You left it hooked up all winter? Guess what. It’s dead now. Charge it up and have it load tested to make sure everything inside is still healthy. If not, go get a new battery. Weak systems can have you chasing your tail all summer, and they can damage components, too — I had an intermittent starting problem in my Caprice that I thought was either a wiring issue or a bad starter. The battery showed 12.5 volts, which seemed OK — but replacing it completely solved my issue. And don’t forget how hard hot weather is on batteries, too. Plan for success now.
3. Fuel it up.
If you left the battery hooked up, I bet you left untreated gas in the tank, too. In my experience, a couple of months of down time won’t turn your fuel to varnish, but I always leave the tank nearly empty and top it off with fresh fuel as soon as the weather turns nice. Go get some fresh fuel, and as long as what’s in the tank still smells like gas, top it off with new stuff.
4. Tap those floats.
Carburetors use floats and float bowls to supply fuel to the engine. When gas evaporates out of a carburetor, like when in storage, the residue that’s left behind can cause the float to stick in the down position. Crank up an engine like this and you’ll see gas running everywhere from the top of the carburetor’s float bowl vents. Usually it just makes a huge mess, but gas all over the engine can also ignite, and that’ll get out of hand in a hurry.
The fix? You can take the carburetor apart and inspect it, but usually a simple tap from a screwdriver handle or hammer on the float bowls is all that’s needed to break the float free. No disassembly required. Do this before cranking it up for the first time.
5. Check and change fluids.
This is probably the most overlooked item on our list. Your coolant or brake fluid may look clean and full, but how old is it? Antifreeze turns acidic over time, which can lead to electrolysis inside the cooling system — and that can cause all kinds of issues, from leaks to plugged up radiator cores. Brake fluid attracts moisture, which then rusts components from the inside out — especially wheel cylinders in drum brake systems and disc brake caliper pistons.
Swap out your car’s fluids — if not right away, then early in the season, before time gets away from you. It’s cheap insurance, and you can hunt for leaks while you’re doing it. Win-win.
Any other items I missed? Drop them in the comments below.