Junk it or Fix it?
November 18, 2008 5:25 PM   Subscribe

DeadVanFilter: I know you are not my mechanic but... 97 Ford Aerostar, parked in my driveway for three Chicago years. The google-fu tells me the basics (new gas/oil etc), but I am just wondering if anyone in the hive has experience with such things.

(i.e.) is this multiple hundreds I figure it's going to cost to get it running again going to turn into thousands etc. Any major structural issues I ought to be worried about after not moving for years? Only about 60K miles, no major rust/never been in a collison sort of stuff. Should I just have every damned belt etc replaced and suck it up? There are some good mechs I trust nearby, but this is the sort of thing they seem to hate taking on just for the PITA factor. Any specific Aerostar experience/blue book knowledge greatly appreciated. Thanks
posted by timsteil to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Before spending a cent on it, I would check that it has oil; put some jumper cables on that bad boy; and see if it will start up. Even with old gas, it might well run -- I've started vehicles that have been sitting a lot longer than that. If it runs, then you can start the process of figuring out how much you are willing to spend to make it run well.

If it won't start off of the jumper cables, then you have the endless joy of troubleshooting (or paying someone to troubleshoot) a non-running car. The list of "could be's" is too long to even begin to list here, but it could be anything from clogged fuel lines to squirrel-chewed wiring. Could be very cheap, could be expensive; you won't know until or unless you have to begin that process. Cross your fingers and hope it starts off of the jumper cables.

At a minimum, assuming that it more or less runs, you will probably be looking at all new fluids, new battery, new air filter, and check to see if the tires are cracking. Replacing the belts and hoses isn't a terrible idea, but almost certainly not mandatory, and definitely not the first step before making it run. New plugs and plug wires (and does that van have a distributor?) are a cheap way to help your engine become happier -- some vans have really hard to reach plugs, so check if your hands can fit in there before spending any money on things like this.
posted by Forktine at 5:44 PM on November 18, 2008

The battery will almost certainly be toast, if it has not been kept charged. Flat batteries and cold do not mix at all. Make sure you have very good jumper cables and a strong battery to jump it off to try and start it. Even if it starts, you will need to replace the battery.

There should be no need to replace the hoses, nor the belts really, but if you intend to drive it for a long time afterwards, I'd change them if you have the money sitting around. If you don't, I'd be tempted to leave them. 3 years isn't very long for a belt to sit around, and they don't deteriorate with age too much - only replace those nearing service life anyway (is the timing belt 60K miles?).

Fuel may need flushing through. The easiest way is to fill up the tank the rest of the way and run the pump with the line pointing into a bucket/the empty fuel can until it looks like a good colour or for 30 seconds or so. I'd try and start it before this stage, if it was me.

I'd certainly check the tyres, but Id not replace anything else until it ran. At that stage, I'd just assume replacing of the oil, filter, brake fluid and maybe an electrical service (plugs, leads, etc). Reassess (and repost) after starting it and driving it around the block, as this is the only
way to get any idea of how much money it may or may not need. It's perfectly possible you could just charge it and start it up and go, it is also possible that you may not.
posted by Brockles at 6:01 PM on November 18, 2008

Is your goal to have a functional vehicle that you can drive, or to have a functional vehicle that you can sell, or to get it out of your driveway? I had a Chevy Beauville van that frequently sat around a lot. It had a few really weird ways to die including losing the ground on the battery which just made it basically not start even though everything was fine and something really freaky that made the vehicle not think it was in Park when it was in Park which meant that it wouldn't start, thinking it was in gear. I'm aware that this isn't super helpful but those are two weird ones.

If you have AAA+, you can get them to tow your vehicle (once!) to a mechanic, so keep that in mind. You want to check to make sure your tires are really tires and that your car has all the fluids it needs to drive (oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid) as well as nothing obviously broken like a totally corroded battery or something under the hood broken in two (or mice!).

While cars don't really like to sit around much they often can without too much going immediately wrong (i.e. the frame and big engine parts). Your brakes will make terrible terrible noises [and may be frozen up, check that before you drive too far, preferably in the driveway] but that is likely rust and nothing super damaging. Try to start it, try to drive is, presume on at least a few hundred bucks just to get it stable and then see where you are with it.
posted by jessamyn at 6:09 PM on November 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just by way of followup etc. Got it going two years ago, and black smoke started rolling out of the hood. Smelled like burning rubber, which I (who has absolutely NO mech sense/capabilities assumed was a belt rubbing and thats what I smelled) so I shut it down just because I didn;t want to fry the engine or whatever. I am kapish with the battery aspect, I'm mostly wondering about what /hoping hasnt siezed up inside the engine from my neglect. And I thank you all again for any wisdom passed my way.
posted by timsteil at 6:09 PM on November 18, 2008

junk it
posted by patnok at 7:29 PM on November 18, 2008

Got it going two years ago, and black smoke started rolling out of the hood.

That really isn't a good sign (duh) and at this stage, absolutely no-one will be able to help without you trying to restart it or diagnose the original failure for further information. As mentioned, unless you can restart it, you can't tell how much work needs doing. You already have an existing issue, so analysing that is your only possible course of action other than just throwing it away. It will, however, be potentially expensive to get a mechanic to do it at his shop - diagnosing takes time.
posted by Brockles at 7:45 PM on November 18, 2008

along with some of the options above:

- can you get spark? (new plugs)
- chassis/suspension will need lube
- can it turn over - if it has not been properly stored, rust could be in the piston/ring
- there's more tricks if your interested (seafoam is your friend)

I am not surprised by the black smoke - lots of carbon to blow out!. Check your hoses and belts for cracks (what is on the odometer and what should have been replaced i.e timing belt). It may be more trouble than its worth like patnok said but sometimes we don't have the option of junking it. Go to the library or look online for a Chilton/Haynes manual. Most of this stuff will cost less that a C note and can be done by yourself.

my 2 cents
posted by Country Dick Montana at 7:46 PM on November 18, 2008


start it.

let it run for 20 minutes.

drive it around the block.

park it.

repeat four more times.

Still there?

Drive it. (AAA cards are awesome).

Yes, change the oil. Put gas in it.

Drive it.
posted by peewinkle at 8:29 PM on November 18, 2008

I have a 13-year-old Mazda with 30,000 miles on it. It spent most of its life sitting around (my father bought it new and barely drove it.) I got it a few years ago with 18,000 on it, and drove it like crazy for a year or so. In that time it gave me almost no trouble.

However, I've had to replace odd rubber and plastic bits, because those rot away whether you're driving the car or not; the intake plenum, various hoses, and now the CV joints need replacing because the boots had rotted away. I don't drive it any more, so I start it every so often, but I've gone through two batteries this way and need a third now. The engine dropped a cylinder, which turned out to be the wires, but I chalked that up to the same age problem that impacted other rubber parts.

But if I didn't have another car to drive, I'd probably have fixed the CV joints already, wouldn't need another battery, and would be chugging right along -- and note this car lived in Chicago for the first eleven years of its life.

So do what peewinkle says, and stick to around-town trips until you're confident in the car (don't put yourself in a strandable position for awhile.) And if it blows up, well, better you junk it after it's broken than just on the speculation that it's broken.

Oh, one more thing: once it's running and not pouring out black smoke (did I mention keep the hood up and make sure it's not catching on fire, perhaps roll it away from the house before you light that candle again), drive it to a local shop and have them check the brakes. Tell them you'd like the fluid checked as well. At first your brakes are going to grind from the rust on the rotors, but that should clean up fairly quickly (drive accordingly) after which the shop can tell you what you've got.
posted by davejay at 10:08 PM on November 18, 2008

I'm driving a 1995 Toyota Corolla with 315,000 miles on it. Looks like hell but runs great. Whenever I'm faced with a repair bill, I do some math. If the annual repair costs for the car are cheaper than the annual payments on a replacement car (not necessarily a NEW car), then I pay to have it fixed. I'm thousands of dollars ahead of the curve at this point.

Great advice in this thread thus far. Drive it around the block until you get a feel for what actually might be genuinely wrong with it, then take it to a mechanic you trust and get an estimate, explaining that you want to be able to drive the van for three more years.

If it looks like you'll spend more on repairs over the three years than you would spend on buy a new car, then junk it.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:05 AM on November 19, 2008

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