How should I resurrect a car?

Long story short, I’ve recently come into possession of a 1982 Cadillac that’s been parked in an unheated garage on the frozen Ohio tundra for 2 years. After I clear the cobwebs off it, what steps should I take to try to bring it back to life? I assume I should replace the battery and the gasoline and put some a lot of motor oil into it (since the oil that was there has got to have drained out), but what else should I do?

A bigger concern than cobwebs when cleaning a car is rodents. Check carefully for mouse nests, particularly in the air cleaner and intake manifold ducting. Inspect wires and vacuum lines for evidence of gnawing.

Don’t know where you got the idea that motor oil “has got to be drained out by now”. Motor oil should not have drained out at all. If it has, you’ve got to fix that leak.

You’ll also find that replacing gasoline is a bit more difficult than adding fresh gasoline.

You don’t state whether carbed or EFI, but leftover gasoline may leave residues.

You might get away with recharging the battery, but lead acid storage batteries tend to go bad when left in an uncharged state.

Before trying to re-start engine, it’s a good idea to squirt some oil into all spark plug holes, rotate the engine first by hand (breaker bar on crankshaft bolt), then crank starter with coil wire disconnected. This will verify that the engine is free and will circulate oil throughout the engine before subjecting it to the strain of being fired up.

Many rubber components (e.g., vacuum hoses, bushings) are almost certainly cracked, deteriorated and in need of replacement.

Depending the vehicle’s condition when put up, this could be a fun (if expensive) project. Before beginning, ask yourself whether you really want a 20 year old Cadillac.

No biggie. Just two years is barely a nap- I’ve brought back cars that had been in junkyards for a decade.

First things first: Pop the hood and trunk, and as above, look for mouse nests, chewed insulation, and so forth. Naturally, make sure it HAS a battery, and all the tires, etc are there.

Under the hood, check the tranny fluid (presence of- you check the actual level later when it’s running) engine oil, power steering fluid level and brake fluid. Also check the coolant (again, actual level is unimportant, just make sure it’s “mostly” full) and while you’re at it, the washer fluid. (Unimportant, but it gets you looking- you might notice something you otherwise wouldn’t have.)

Open the air cleaner housing and make sure there’s no mouse nests or other clogs.

Check all the tire pressures, and check the tires themselves for weather cracking, tread wear, “cupping”, and other indications of damage. As long as they hold air, though, you can at least move it under it’s own power.

Stick a voltmeter on the battery- if it’s reading less than 11V, replace it. If it froze without a charge, it’s likely ruined. Clean the cable terminals.

If you’re feeling particularly nitpicky, you can yank the plugs, dribble a little oil or WD-40 into each cylinder, crank the engine a few rotations and replace 'em. (Oh, check 'em for gap and maybe scuff the electrodes while you have 'em out.)

If you skip this step, no real damage will result- it’s something you’d do if it were a '32 Packard or a rare Mustang BOSS 302. For a cheap '82 Caddy, no biggie, won’t hurt a thing.

If it’s carbureted, carefully pour some gasoline into the float-bowl vent on the carb. NOT just down the throats. The vent is typically a little short “pipe” sticking up, underneath the aircleaner lid, near the choke butterflies.

Toss about five gallons of fresh Premium (and maybe half a bottle of Iso-HEET fuel dryer) in the tank. More if there’s room for it. If the tank is almost full, just toss in the half-bottle or so of dryer.

If it’s injected, just turn on the key and let it prime itself.

Now just start the car normally. Listen for untoward noises and let it warm up. While it’s idling, look at the engine and peek underneath the car for leaking fluids or any other obvious problems.

Once it’s warm, try and drive it, at least away from where it’s parked. If all goes well, take it for a short test drive. Check the brakes, get a feel for the condition of the steering, start fiddlin’ with the knobs- radio work? How about the wipers? Speedo? Watch out for the heater- the fan’ll probably be full of dust it’ll end up blowing in your fact. Save that for when you detail it later.

If all goes well and you’re ready to drive the car normally, I suggest giving it an oil change, possibly a tranny fluid and filter swap, have the brakes and steering professionally inspected and you might bother having the tires rebalanced.

Other than that, no mystery to it.

If you don’t know what kind of oil is in it, change it before adding more.

See if you can get a battery charger that also doubles as a power supply for starting the car. This would give you alot more attempts.

Damn thorough answer, Doc Nickel. Nice work.

Personally, I’d do the best I could to replace or top-up ALL the fluids before trying a start, and shoot a blast of ether into the carb throats before the first (fingers crossed) attempt.

I’d also make sure all the belts were present and semi-intact. Don’t go far at ALL on the first test-drive, maybe around the block or just a few hundred feet. If your radiator is going to spew or the tranny or driveshaft is going to fail, it will probably happen on the first excursion. Take her back home, let her warm up and run awhile, and reassess the situation.

Good luck.

Good idea. Bring jumper cables. Make sure the battery has water in it. If the battery is completely gone, pull the cables from the terminal and hook directly to the jumpers. I have seen batteries so gone they drag down the jump and the car won’t start. Weird.

Starting fluid is your friend. Be cautious.

Presuming it’s above about 40 degrees and the battery (new or old) has a healthy charge, there’s no real reason to use starting fluid. Worse, the Ether tends to wash the oil film off of cylinder walls- no prob if you went through the trouble of pulling the plugs and oiling the cylinders, but better that you don’t if you haven’t.

That’s why I suggested “priming” the carb- that’s SOP for me. Fill the carb, work the throttle by hand a couple of times until you see fuel squirted out the accellerator pump shooters, call it good. Go start it.

You only need the ether if it’s cold enough the engine has a hard time starting regular gas.

As for the battery and/or charger, I agree- if the battery’s dead, don’t try and run the car just by starting it with a charger. Batteries are cheap, maybe $50 at K-Mart. If it’s healthy when the thing fires, the alternator won’t have to immediately jump into full-output charging thinking the battery is dry.

And concur on the oil- all engine oil is compatible with all other oils. You can mix 99-cent generic with $5 a bottle synthetic all day long, won’t hurt a thing. If you pull the dipstick and the oil is anything but a dark honey color, have it changed within several hundred miles. If you need to top it up just to start it, the cheap stuff will work just fine.

Another question is why was it parked? Blown engine? Bad radiator? This would be good to know prior to trying to start the car so you don’t do more damage. Running cars are seldom parked unless there’s a major problem.

I would pull the plugs and squirt some light oil into the cylinders, just to lubricate them.

Replace the gasoline, as the old gas has likely “varnished” up.

When you start it for the first time, just crank it for a few seconds. Then try again a minute later. When if finally does crank over, make sure you dont revv the engine. Just let it run at idle.

Good checklist, Doc Nickle.

The tires will have flat spots from sitting in one position for years. I have heard that it’s better to drive the car on surface streets for a while to let the tires warm up before going on the highway. This supposedly reduces the chance of having a tire separate or get a bubble where air gets between the plies.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with just driving off, but I might have just gotten lucky the few times I did.

Excellent suggestions everybody. Thanks a lot! To briefly answer some questions:

Stan, you ask an excellent question about whether I really want a 20 year old Caddy. I don’t personally - after driving compact sedans all my life I don’t think I can park it for one thing - but I think I can get rid of it with a small profit. As for my mention of oil draining in my OP, I was referring to after sitting for so long gravity has pulled all the oil from the crackcase into the pan. Sorry for any confusion on that point.

Nuke, the car was parked because its owner died and his heirs - both adult daughters with no interest in it and no mechanical inclination - just basically abandoned it.

Thanks again everybody.

Stan, you ask an excellent question about whether I really want a 20 year old Caddy. I don’t personally - after driving compact sedans all my life I don’t think I can park it for one thing - but I think I can get rid of it with a small profit.

It’s not a bad idea; right now the car is worth $50-100 for parts/scrap if you can get it to an auto parts recycling facility (aka junkyard).

Running, and road legal (Not sure how stringent OH standards are), it is worth substantially more. Just be sure to have an objective view of the steps involved in getting it from point A to point B before you invest too much of your own time/money in the project.

I cannot overemphasize the word “CAUTIOUS!!!” Starting fluid (ether) can be your worst enemy too!

I had a couple friends who tried to “resurrect” a '71 LTD with starting fluid, and they were nearly killed. Armed with jumper cables and a can of ether, they went at it with a will, until the left valve cover blew off with a bang like dynamite and landed about a hundred yards away – what was left of it, that is. Worn valve guides and valve seals can allow the ether vapors to travel to places you’d rather not have them!

Ether is best left to diesel engines that are NOT equipped with ‘glow plugs.’ Stick with Doc Nickel’s advice and dribble a little fresh gas down the bowl vent; if that doesn’t get fuel to the cylinders when you crank 'er over, you’ve got other problems that can’t be solved with ether or any other potentially explosive substance.