Classic Car Sitting: What to do first

It happens to every classic owner: you get busy, the weather is too hot, cold, wet, or all of the above. In any case, when your classic has been sitting for three or more weeks, you really should check a few things before you head out.

Under the Hood: Since you are there to do your checks, look for a carburetor leaking. Gaskets dry out and sometimes cause small leaks. Look around under the hood for signs of rodents attacking the hoses and wiring.

Check hoses like this one for leaks.
Carburetors can leak after sitting.

Coolant Level: It magically gets low. And if it is over three years old, it’s time for a change.

Coolant testers are cheap insurance.

Oil: Most of us can’t remember when they checked the oil in their family car; we just don’t do it anymore. However, your classic is of another generation. In the past, I have checked my oil and found it overfull! That’s because fuel was siphoning from the carburetor into the crankcase. The same can happen with coolant leaking past a head gasket. Check for the correct level and smell for fuel. It could save you an engine.  If you were low on coolant, this could be why.

Tire Pressure: All tires are porous. Some leak more than others. Mine lose about 4 pounds a month. Correct pressure makes manual steering easier to steer, so it’s a good idea.

This tire doesn’t look low, but it is.

Battery Terminals: You should have it on a trickle charger, so there shouldn’t be an issue with the charge. But, look for corrosion around the terminals. Any corrosion present indicates a breakdown in the seal around the battery post. (this is why you NEVER hammer or tap on a battery post) Corrosive gasses are escaping and corroding the terminal. If you have any warranty on the battery, return it for a new one. Clean off the corrosion with a solution of baking soda and water, which neutralizes the acid. Then, use a coating of grease or paint to seal it.

Lights: While you are still in the garage, take a minute to check that the brake, tail, and headlights are working. Just look at the reflection.

Driving: After sitting a while, it’s always good to start your classic and let it idle for a few minutes. What is even better is to drive it a few miles. Doing this brings the oil and transmission fluid up to operating temperature and allows the PCV system to steam out the contaminants in the oil and, at the same time, lubricate the seals.         

Fuel: I’m assuming that you have already added a fuel stabilizer. If you haven’t, this is a good time to do so while topping off the fuel.

This list may seem long, but these tasks will help assure your classic car’s reliability and its value. In reality, you can do all of this in a matter of minutes.

Happy Cruising!

About Mike Herzing: Mike has been in the automotive industry for over 50 years and part of the national media since 2003. Mike is a former dealer Service and Parts Manager and an Independent shop owner for 31 years. Mike holds ASE Certified Master Tech and Med Duty Diesel Certifications and is an active Automotive Technology Instructor in Cypress, Texas.