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Car Care: A safe spring start-up

It's spring car-care season. Take the time to ensure your slumbering beauty is ready for the road once car show season rolls around — it will save time in the long run, as well as aggravation and potential heart ache.
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By Angelo Van Bogart

Going for that first ride in a long-stored vehicle isn’t as easy as hopping in the grocery getter, turning the ignition key and putting a commuter car in gear. The fluids of a stored vehicle have settled and, possibly worse yet, may have leaked. Quieted systems may also have failed due to moisture or varmint damage. Failure to address a stored vehicle’s systems may lead to further damage and an increased tally of repair bills, so take the time to ensure your slumbering beauty is ready for the road once car show season rolls around — it will save time in the long run, as well as aggravation and potential heart ache.

Before lifting off the cover, grab a fire extinguisher and place it near the car. There are several risks of fire once an electrical system is connected and flammable fuel starts to flow. Be prepared with a proper and fully charged fire-fighting device that will suppress both of these types of flames.

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After removing the car cover, place it away from the vehicle in a clean, dry area. This will ensure it’s not draped over any part of the car, such as the tail pipe, or caught between body panels or any moving parts of the engine.

Look inside, outside and underneath for signs of critter damage using a flashlight. Make sure there is no damage to wiring or hoses, and examine the upholstery for damage. Remove any items you may have installed to keep out critters, such as netting over the tail pipe and the air intake on the air cleaner, and animal repellents in the interior, trunk compartment and other areas. Make sure the tail pipe is clear of debris and there is a safe ventilation path for exhaust fumes to exit the storage area.

Check hoses, belts, tires and other rubber components for signs of aging and wear, such as cracks or soft areas of hose, and bumps or weather checking of the tires. Make notes on questionable parts and seek replacements. Ideally, replace these parts before firing and driving the vehicle. Also, check the tire pressure; it’s likely air has escaped during the changing temperatures.

Check for fluids in and under the vehicle. Trace leaks and repair leaks, and otherwise top off fluids (oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake fluid, coolant, etc.). Don’t forget to lubricate parts such as the generator (this is where an original lubrication chart for your vehicle comes in handy — pick up one at a swap meet). Examine the radiator for leaks. Once the fluids are full, the moving engine components should be safe to turn.
Make sure there is fuel in the tank. If the fuel was not treated when the vehicle went into storage, and the vehicle was stored for more than six months with ethanol-laced fuel (12 months with non-oxygenated fuel), dump the fuel from the tank and start fresh. Ignoring this step can lead to costly fuel system repairs.

Make sure the battery is at full charge and clean its terminals and the battery cables. Then connect the battery.

Some sources recommend pouring oil through the spark plug openings to pre-lubricate the cylinders several days before starting the car. If you have not completed this step, refrain from pumping the gas pedal at initial start-up. Instead, allow the engine to turn long enough for the oil lamp to turn off, thus assuring engine oil pressure. Then, pump the gas until the car starts. Once the vehicle starts, watch the instrument panel for warning signs, such as an illuminated oil lamp. Check the carburetor or fuel injection unit and all associated fuel plumbing for leaks. Do not allow the car to run at fast idle at initial start-up.

Look and listen. Do the engine and power steering and alternator sound normal? Is any fluid leaking? Does the exhaust leak? If so, shut off the vehicle and address the leaks.
If the vehicle is running smoothly and there are no leaks, move on to the bulbs and check their function. Make sure the headlamps, tail lamps, turn signals, parking lamps and brake lamps function. Check the windshield wipers for function, as well as the condition of their blades.

Before moving the vehicle, ensure it is insured for the road with at least liability coverage. Storage insurance alone is not enough for even a test-run. Make sure there are no objects around the vehicle that could be run over before moving it.

Place the fire extinguisher in the vehicle, along with a mobile phone and the phone numbers of a family member and/or friend and a towing service that can help if an issue should arise. Pack spare lubricants in a plastic or rubber container that fits in the trunk in case the vehicle springs a leak during a test drive. Also pack a portable tool kit.

Check for brake pressure. If the pedal does not seem firm, do not move the vehicle. Check the fluid level at the master cylinder. If the fluid is down, re-examine the area under the master cylinder and at each wheel cylinder to determine the source of the leak. If there are no visible leaks, one of the cylinders may still be bad, so refrain from moving the vehicle.
Drive the vehicle around the neighborhood, listening for odd noises and watching the gauges. If anything is amiss, return to the safety of home and search for a culprit. If everything seems fine, head out on a longer journey.

Listen for odd noises during the drive and continue to keep an eye on all the gauges to make sure the vehicle is operating properly.

Stay close to home, but drive the car for at least a half hour, preferably at an uninterrupted speed on a back road. This will allow the vehicle to warm up.

Once home, examine fluid levels and check for leaks. Some hobbyists change oil before storage, some after storage and some at both times. If you change oil after storage, now is a good time to dump the oil and change the filter while the oil is warm and the contaminants are suspended in the oil.

Finally, review the vehicle’s upkeep schedule and arrange the necessary maintenance. Now you’re ready for Friday night cruise-ins and Sunday car shows.


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