Starting a Car That Has Been Sitting Up For 3 Years

how to start a car that has been sitting upI have a car that has been sitting for 3 years (in a garage). What do I need to do to it first to begin driving it?
Thanks much,

Howdy Michael,

3 years? That’s a pretty long time for a vehicle to sit, but this is what I would start with if you were in my shop.

1. Drain old fuel from tank and refill with new. If you have to drop the tank to drain out the fuel, I would go ahead and replace the electric fuel pump (if it has an electric pump in the tank) and the in tank fuel filter while I was doing this repair. (Assuming this is a fuel injected engine)

2. Replace in line fuel filter

3. Change oil and filter

4. Replace battery

5. Check all fluids and top off

6. I would add a can of Marvel Mystery Oil to the new engine oil to make sure the top end of the engine gets properly lubricated. You can buy a can at any local auto parts store.

Try to start engine and see what happens, I really would not do much more than that at first….it might just start right up. If it does, I would SLOWLY drive it around the block a few times and see how it drives; does it overheat transmission shift ok, engine sound and drive ok?

If you do get it running, I would also consider doing the following

1. Replace thermostat and flush and refill radiator with new coolant and new radiator cap

2. Service the transmission fluid and filter (unless the transmission is slipping or has Lots of miles on it and you don’t know when the last filter replacement was)

3. Rotate and balance the tires (unless it has been sitting up on blocks) and inspect the brakes

If you can’t get the engine running…you might have to see a mechanic at least to get a diagnosis of the problem and see if you can tackle the repair yourself at home.

Please share this with your friends,

Austin Davis

Posted in: Won't Start Issues

15 Comments on "Starting a Car That Has Been Sitting Up For 3 Years"

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  1. jack and jeorge says:

    thank you for ur help. can we subscribe via this location,, the subscribe button is not working on the website, thanks again . my grandson and i appreciate your expertise and willingness to help us with our car repairs

  2. Justin says:

    I have been stationed overseas for 3 years and left my 2008 Infiniti G35 in storage. The car hasn’t been touched and I was wondering what I could be expecting to spend?? 1-2K? I can’t remember if I added fuel stabilizer to the tank before I left..thanks alot

    • Austin Davis says:

      It really depends, I have seen cars in the same situation start right up with a new battery and not much else. Draining the fuel tank might be needed, but might try it without and see how lucky you are. Spending $1K is not hard to do, just depends on how the fuel system is

  3. michael says:

    thank you appreciate your help

  4. Topher says:

    I may soon be inheriting an early 70s VW Karmann Ghia. It has been sitting in a back yard in Nevada desert climate for as little as a year and as long as (and most likely) a decade with, as far as I know the old gasoline just sitting in the tank and no routine start-ups to keep it alive. Will the fact that that model has no radiator and a pretty simple RR drivetrain simplify or complicate the problem?

    I guess my main question is, is there any chance that it will be driveable or am I looking at a massive money pit?

    • Austin says:

      That’s a hard question to answer. It really depends on what maintenance shape the vehicle was in prior to being put up. You might be able to drain the fuel tank, change all fluids, install a new battery and use a can of starting fluid to get things running again. Will the transmission work, will the brakes stop, will the engine smoke….who knows, unfortunately you just have to try it and see what happens. I would give myself a budget and stick to it, you can easily work your way into a money pit if you are not careful.

  5. Felipe says:

    Hello. I have just inherited a BMW 540i. A lovely car but it has been sitting in a garage untouched for over 5 years. to look at the car is in perfect condition and i would love nothing more than to get it running. i have been told that it was left with half a tank of petrol. what should i do?

    Thank you so much for your time

    • Austin says:

      Well, that is a tricky question to answer because each case I have seen seems to be totally different. I have brought back to life many vehicles after they have sat up for long lengths of time, and some start right up and some don’t. 🙁

      I usually start with a new battery. Removing all old fuel from the fuel tank and fuel lines, changing the engine oil, removing and replacing the spark plugs and installing a small amount of Marvel Mystery Engine Oil to each cylinder to help protect the piston and cylinder wall from damage due to starting the engine and not having enough lubricant in the cylinders.

      Once you get the engine running, I would check the transmission fluid and other under hood fluids, then see if the vehicle will drive……slowly around the block. You might have to remove the wheels and inspect the brakes, sometimes they will rust and lock up and not allow the wheels to turn.

      Sometimes this whole routine is just that, routine maintenance. Other times it turns into costly repairs to undue the damage of sitting up. Given that it is a BMW, I would expect the repair bill to be twice as much as a Ford, Chevy…etc..

      Best of luck.

  6. Hauser says:

    I have a little mustang that i drove to washington where it started leaking oil. I took it to three mechanics there, two said nothing was wrong, one replaced the valve cover gasket, but said that there was a leak coming from the oil pan. Since i got it back to oregon i let it set not knowing what my next step with it would be. It has been less than a year since i started it up and drove it, no problems, but, as i have said, it has been sitting. Any suggestions on what i should get checked out? I need its battery recharged or a new one.

    • Austin says:

      Someone is going to have to clean off the oil spill area with varsol or brake cleaner the run the engine to check for the leak. Without a clean and dry engine it’s pretty hard to pinpoint the source. Do not use water to clean an engine!

  7. Texas says:

    Hi im looking into buying a wagoneer that hasnt been started in a year and a half the guy claims new gas , a battery and a carb cleaning should get it going. I dont know how much i believe that i mean why wouldnt he just do that and raise the price. how would i know if the motor was viable with out being able to start it. i have enough money to do all the things listed hear not for a over haul or replacement so what things should i check thanks for your help

    • admin says:

      I personally would not buy this vehicle….too many unknowns for me to risk. If you are interested in it, have the owner pay to tow it to a qualified mechanic, hopefully YOUR mechanic and let them look it over before you buy it.

  8. bobbby says:

    how much that run you?

    • admin says:

      About $1500 give or take. I have seem some vehicles that have sat up for years and only need a battery and some fresh gasoline to get them started again, BUT those vehicles were stored properly and the fuel was completely drained from the vehicle before storage.

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