How do I start an engine that has been dormant for two years?

It depends on your DIY skills
by Joey Bernardez | Jul 27, 2018


Good day!

What should I do with a car that hasn't been used for a very long time? How do I revive a vehicle which has been dormant for two years?

Wilfred A.             

 

Sell it.

Just kidding.

Some of us become rather attached to our cars, including myself. We just can't let go. Sometimes that car just sits parked for a while, until years have accumulated. Then one day we get the idea to sit behind the wheel, start it up, and use it again. Can you just get in and start it? Is that a good thing?

There's a lot of varied advice out there. Some will have you tearing down the engine to inspect each and every piece before you start it. And others will have you flushing out and replacing all the fluids, and changing a few parts before any attempts to get it going. These are all well and good--both very cautious methods if you have above-average DIY skills, or if you have a mechanic that can do all that for you.

I understand the route of caution, but I've seen engines start up after a few years of being unused with just a few turns of the crank and some fresh fuel. Surplus engine sellers do it all the time. The process that I'm enumerating here is not something that I made up. It was the advice of a serious DIY friend who had a similar problem as yours. The process is as follows:

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1) Inspect the belts.

See if they're in good condition or if they've rotted out. If you can inspect the timing belt, that would be better.

2) Take the battery out.

Determine if it just needs a charge or if it needs replacement. If it just needs a charge, do so overnight or however long your particular charger requires.

3) Take out all the spark plugs.

Clean them and leave them out for the meantime.

4) Check the oil.

 See if there's enough and if it's any good.

5) Squirt some lubricant in.

Do this by squirting it into the cylinders through the spark plug holes to lubricate the piston rings.

6) Turn the engine.

Put the transmission in neutral, and with a big wrench try to turn the engine at the crankshaft (and in the right direction). Without the plugs, the engine should turn freely. If there is any indication that the engine does not want to turn, stop immediately. The starter can break it free, but it might damage something.

7) Drain the fuel.

If the engine turns freely, drain the fuel and replace it with fresh fuel. Fuel goes bad without a stabilizer, so it's best to replace it if it's been sitting for a couple of years.

8) Disconnect the fuel-pump relay.

It's a safeguard for the following steps.

9) Reconnect your battery.

So that the starter has juice.

10) Crank the engine

With the starter and without the spark plugs. This process will lubricate the bearings without the pressure of compression.

11) Put your spark plugs back in, put your fuel-pump relay back in, and fire the engine up.

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It may take a while as the fuel system will need to re-pressurize. If everything's fine, the engine should be holding an idle.

This may not be so simple, but we're trying not to damage your engine and this is the least involved way of ensuring that we crank up your engine safely. Once your engine's running you can let it roll a short distance to see if there's anything wrong with the brakes or suspension. If everything's alright, take your car to a shop with a lift to do a thorough inspection underneath.

Hope this helps! Thanks for writing in.

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