What do I need to do before driving this car?
June 1, 2010 12:43 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to do before driving this car? A car (2000 Toyota Corolla, previously in good shape) sat outside (in Maryland), unused, for two years.

The battery was dead, but we were able to jump start it. What things do I need to check/watch out for/do to make sure the car is safe to drive and that I won't be doing damage by starting it and driving it a bit? Are there likely things that might seem okay on short distances that will end up making problems on a longer (several hour) trip? I'm not familiar with cars beyond, say, checking the oil dipstick, though I'd like to be more informed.
(And yes, leaving it like that was a stupid thing to do - please spare me that lecture :)
posted by needs more cowbell to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If the car was sitting on grass for that length of time you should check the undercarriage for serious rust. On pavement, check for flat spots on the tires.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:48 PM on June 1, 2010

You almost definitely want to replace all four tires, even if they look fine. And you should probably siphon all the gas out of the tank and replace with fresh fuel. Those are the two main things that spring to mind.

Obviously, also look for signs of rust all over the vehicle and test the brakes and full operation at low speeds with no other cars around.
posted by 256 at 12:52 PM on June 1, 2010

Fluids and probably tires at the very least. Oil/coolant/brake/clutch/power steering fluids/gas should all be changed. I'd probably go so far as to siphon out the gas and replace it with new, though it *probably* won't be an issue.

The tires will most likely benefit from replacement due to oxidation/uv exposure, if they weren't practically new when the car was parked.

The battery should be replaced preventatively.

You might also have some issues with vermin/bugs. Be prepared for odors if something died in there.

Run the air conditioning. The seals may have dried out and it might need a recharge.
posted by pjaust at 12:56 PM on June 1, 2010

Definitely what kuujjuarapik and 256 said, and I'd probably flush the radiator and replace the coolant as well. And change the oil. And, immediately get to a mechanic to check out the brake rotors and pads.
posted by General Malaise at 12:57 PM on June 1, 2010

Also, if you haven't started it yet, have someone pour some oil into the spark plug holes (spark plugs removed, of course) and let it sit for a bit. There's always an off chance that the piston rings could need a little extra assistance.
posted by pjaust at 12:57 PM on June 1, 2010

Definitely change the tires and gas, but also change the oil. While sitting through climate cycles, there has been water condensing in the gas tank and the oil pan. The gas has deteriorated and the oil is contaminated with the water in the pan. Have a knowledgeable mechanic look at the hoses and belts as well for deterioration or weak spots. Look above and around all of the nooks and crannies (such as above the muffler and between the engine and firewall) for rats nests and other things that animals have left and that can end up catching fire. You should probablt look under the seats and the dashboard as well for critters or their nests.
posted by Old Geezer at 1:02 PM on June 1, 2010

Response by poster: Would the gas and oil changes need to be done before starting or driving it at all in order to have any benefit? I could try to change the oil myself, but I've never done it before. Can I siphon out gas myself safely?

Does pouring oil in the spark plug holes have no benefit if I've already started it once?

Generally - can I probably drive to a mechanic, if the tires seem OK and it starts and brakes seem to work, or do I need to I tow it?

And does anyone have a particular recommendation for a mechanic in NW Baltimore?
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:08 PM on June 1, 2010

I usuallly visit or call shops all over the place and ask them by telling them about my situation and hear what they have to say? Mostly someone will agree on a blanket charge plus coolant and other things they may put in it. Getting your own parts saves a lot of money.
May want to contact a reputed mechanic and may have to pay more for them to come to you to do the work.

If I were you I wouldn't start the car unless I did half the recommended changes recommended at the least.
Additionally, try reading automotive technology, a systems approach by jack erjavec to get a better understanding. I am going to get it myself.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 2:41 PM on June 1, 2010

Check under the hood for critter damage. Some critters, for whatever reason, love eating wires. Check inside the air filter housing for a nest, too.
Fresh gas plus a fuel additive will help.

have someone pour some oil into the spark plug holes
By "some" we mean take the oil container cap, fill it about half-way, and pour that tablespoon of oil in. It won't take much.

I would put in a fresh battery. The alternator should charge the battery fine, but it's really not designed to renew a completely dead battery. That's kind of taxing for the charging system and it's not recommended.
If you drive it directly to a shop, it's probably not a big deal if you just have them change the oil instead of changing it before driving.

The brakes will be corroded, so make sure to give them a work-out before you take it on a busy road. Scrub off the corrosion with some heavy braking and make sure the car doesn't pull dramatically in one direction or another. If it exhibits some abnormal characteristics, it's better to not be surprised by them while you're in traffic.

As mentioned above, take a good look under the car for structural rust. I've seen cars sit in damp environments for a couple years and important components, like the subframe for instance, have completely rotted out. If there are big rust holes, get it towed and avoid driving it.

As far as recommendations for a mechanic go, check out iATN.net. The International Automotive Technician's Network is an informal collective of top-noch, dedicated, professional shops and technicians. It's kind of like Ask Metafilter, but just for techs. There's a shop-finder for customers. I'm a sponsoring member and I've recommended them to other Mefites who've had good experiences.
posted by Jon-o at 4:31 PM on June 1, 2010

Check under the hood for critter damage.

Do this. In particular, check the ignition wires and spark plug cables as they must be extra tasty. If it started up, they are probably fine, but if the car starts acting weird on a rainy, wet day, this could be your culprit. Also, make sure the parking brake hasn't locked (generally not a really big deal if it has, you just have to remove the tire and hit the drum with a rubber mallet, but it's a pain to move the car if this is happening.) and in that same vein, make sure the other brakes work as expected. You don't want to be surprised by a frozen caliper when you are doing twenty or thirty miles an hour (or worse).
posted by quin at 1:16 PM on June 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, guys.

I hadn't quite realized that it'd need more than just a jump start no matter what. Fortunately, there seem to be no funky smells or critters in residence.

I found a mechanic that comes to people's houses (and came recommended by a friend), and he's going to look at it, replace the battery, change what fluids and belts need changing, test out the brakes, and go from there.

I'll update later with what we actually do/replace, just in case anyone is interested.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:48 AM on June 6, 2010

Response by poster: Update: the mechanic changed the battery and the oil, and replaced brakes. He said the other stuff was OK. It was OK to drive around town, but then I drove it across the country and, in the process, discovered that it was burning or leaking (no visible leaks underneath, though) oil at a fast pace, which may well be due to the car having sat unused and seals drying up. Sigh. It did still manage to pass the required smog test to be registered in California though, somehow.
posted by needs more cowbell at 1:18 PM on October 4, 2010

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