87 Cutlass Siera, 19K miles, sitting unused for a dozen years

My dear great-aunt Peggy just passed away 2 weeks shy of her 100th birthday. In her garage sits a 1987 Olds Cutlass Ciera with about 19,000 miles on it. I have a 17 year-old son who needs a car to get to high school sports practice - 15 miles each way.

I know nothing about cars, so here’s what I need to know. This car hasn’t really been driven in about a dozen years (maybe more!). Aunt Peggy had a local mechanic come once or twice a year to start it up to charge the battery but I don’t think that had been done in the last couple of years. Obviously, it will need a new battery and it needs new tires, but what else would I need to know about getting it serviceable? Would it be expensive? I’m a single mom and can’t afford a car for him, but Aunt Peggy’s car is available as a gift after I get it towed. I just can’t get into a money pit.

Any info you can provide would be awesome!

Have it towed to a mechanic and gone over. Total about $200 and you’ll know what needs to be done and what it will cost.

I think @insightful is right. There’s no way to know what might have deteriorated in the years gone by. Certainly the tires are shot, but belts, hoses, brake lines, all sorts of things could be issues (or not). It also matters where the car was, hot weather, cold weather, mild or hard winters, etc.

Is your son interested in learning about cars and repairs? Does he have a gearhead friend who could help? It’s an interesting opportunity to learn a lot.

Thanks for your help. It was in a townhouse garage near Philly all of those years.

I agree. I think you can expect the normal maintenance to need to be done like coolant change, rubber hoses, belts, etc. Fuel system might be questionable if the gas has been sitting in it that long. A mechanic will be able to detail what is needed.

The gas that was in it is probably not any good and would do damage to the engine if it was started.
I’d have it towed to a mechanic you trust will be fair and honest.
I would ask him to change the belts and hoses and get it started with fresh gas. Also have him write up a list of items that need attention. The most important at the top and working down to the least importart items.
Then I’d pick up the car and take it for fresh tires…unless your mechanic does tires too.

Then you can always make another appointment with him and do the top items on the list.
Just tell him you have X dollars to spend this appointment and he can stop when he reaches that limit.
Then you can make another appointment and tackle the next items on the list untill the entire car is worked over.

@ wentwest had a great idea if you know of someone who could guide him. They could tackle a lot of the items on the list and save the ones they can’t do for the mechanic.


Wow! My first time on the site and you guys are great! Unfortunately, no car repair buddies and no car experience at all for my son. (He’s just getting his license now.) I appreciate your detailed responses! Keep 'em coming!

The car is out-of-state for me, so it’s going to be an interesting experience getting things done and home.

Tires and battery is a given. My main concern at this point and before the tires/battery issue is resolved, is the fuel system. Aged gasoline goes stale and this can gum up fuel pumps, fuel injectors, and fuel filters.

The out of state and no car experience makes this a dicey proposition.

Ideally, what should be done is to remove the gas cap and sniff the filler spout. If it smells like old house paint then the gasoline has varnished.

What would I want to do if it put into this situation? Install a good or new battery, drain any old gasoline out, add fresh gas along with an additive like Berryman B-12, and make sure it will run before spending any decent amount of money on it.

It can be reasonably expected to run rough at first and may clatter due to the valve lifters bleeding down over the years but hopefully after a short time it will smooth out and the lifters will quieten down.

I might add that if the gasoline has varnished and even if it runs with little problem replacing the fuel pump is a given in my opinion due to the fact that many pumps fail at some point after being exposed to stale gasoline.

There are other issues that could crop up but the above would be my priority so as to roughly determine what you’re dealing with.

DEpending on what you drive now…you could rent a car hauler (car Dolly) and have someone help you load it…then tow it home. But you’d have to have a pretty big vehicle to safely tow the Cutlass.

Let us know what you drive along with the engine size and we can let you know if it will be safe.
You would also need to stop somewhere close to aunt Peggy’s and get some new tires for at least the back…to haul it. Only the front tires would be on the dolly.

You could also consider selling it near Aunt Peggy’s city and take the money to buy the son something (car) back home. Is there anyone that you can count on that could show the car to buyers if they make an appointment to see the car.


The best advice that I can offer is to echo what others have already stated. Find a good, independent mechanic and have the vehicle inspected for all the things that will need replacement. The list will be long but it will be worth it to have a dependable vehicle.

You face an issue that I have dealt with so many times i cant even recall how often I’ve gotten vehicles in this manner. The other guys here are basically correct. However don’t worry about any problems that haven’t happened yet…like POSSIBLE damage due to old or stale fuel… Chances are fairly good the fuel system will be ok…albeit stale and in need of new fresh fuel… But don’t start rebuilding the fuel system just because the fuel MIGHT HAVE done this or that… If you can put fresh fuel in there and she runs… Then run it…it will be fine.

An honest mechanic is SO VITAL for you at this time I cannot over stress this point more…

You said the car was in Philly? I am 20 miles outside of Philly myself… I reside in King Of Prussia… If the vehicle is near enough I can help you…and yes I am an honest guy.

If you wind up going to the WRONG PERSON OR PLACE…You will find yourself facing ENORMOUS repair bills…and or find yourself selling the vehicle to the mechanic you asked to look it over.

Believe it or not…some guys will tell you that you need so many things that its not worth it…and at the same time offer you money for the car… which they will repair…and sell at a handsome profit.

In one way I envy you on finding a nice gently used vehicle…on the other hand I don’t envy what can happen to someone who does NOT know vehicles enough to know whats real and whats not in the auto world.

Like I said…I’m an honest guy…almost to a fault…If the vehicle and you are close enough…let me know and I will provide you with what you are looking for…an honest assessment and NO BS. I actually LOVE vehicles of all kinds and I help people on a daily basis…My GF gets mad at me bec I help too many people…Sometimes she is correct but I cant help it when it comes to vehicles and helping people out, bec Ive done this my entire life it comes fairly easy to me to help out in this way. Ive made countless friends over the years…its fun actually. This can be a great opportunity to be able to use a vehicle for many many years…or it can be a nightmare of nickle n dime con artists KNOWING when they see a ripe opportunity to make money…Trust me…Ive seen both sides…and can recognize them from 20 ft away. If you would like help…let me know…it is something I am more than familiar with. If I don’t hear back from you, BE CAREFUL out there. Try not to seem too Un-knowledgeable about the vehicle situation…don’t set yourself up for those Nickle n Dime guys…PLEASE! I will even coach you over the phone if that’s what you require…hahaha… I enjoy helping where n how I can…so let me know. You can send me a private message with any questions… OK…Take care

Well, I’ve got to say, if the OP doesn’t take up that offer from @"Honda Blackbird"‌ she’s making a huge mistake. What this situation needs is an experienced rescuer of neglected vehicles.


I’ll go a little off-topic . . . .

I highly advise you to remove your phone number from this forum

This is for your own good

If anybody needs to contact you, they can send you a private message