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Car has been sitting for 4 years

Hi im 17 years old and about to get my license. My mother is giving me a 99 Toyota camry as my first car but its a bit of a project. It has sat in a driveway unmoved for about 4 years. It ran fine before and only has 55k miles on it along with brand new tires. It just has sat. What maintenance do i need to have done for the car to be road worthy? Battery is corroded so obviously i have to replace that and a oil change wouldnt hurt. Other than that im unsure because I am not a mechanic but i cant afford to pay one.


The biggest problem here is that the gas in the tank is bad and will wreak havoc on the fuel system and engine. I would drain the tank and lines to the best of your ability and put fresh gas in the tank. Drain and fill the oil. It wouldn’t hurt to pull the spark plugs and squirt a tiny bit of oil in the cylinders and then hand rotate the engine once or twice using the crank pulley bolt. Then turn the key and hope for the best!


You definitely want to check all the belts and hoses. Make sure the belts are tight and don’t show any signs of rotting like frayed edges and stuff like that. Look up on YouTube or Google images to see what they should and should NOT look like. Out of your hoses, especially check the one going into/out of radiator–up near the front usually. If that goes, shell loose all the water, overheat and the block will crack. (I’ve been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.And it SUCKS.)
Other than an oil change–which is definitely a must–take it easy for the first 100 or so miles and the first few weeks of driving it. Especially when the engine is cold at start up. Don’t go over 55 or 60 mph during that time.
Check all other fluids too: windshield washer levels, water level in the radiator and its overflow (also make sure she can handle the temperature. I don’t know where you live but find out what temps it should be able to withstand and mix the water and antifreeze/coolant as per instructions, Ideally you should do a flush and fill too, but that can wait if the mix in the radiator looks clean and clear (should be a see-through greenish color, not cloudy.). Check the brake fluid–be VERY careful when checking that. You don’t want to get ANY dirt or crud in there. Wipe any dust or dirt off the master cylinder cover before opening it to look at the level. Add a little at a time if needed. Don’t overfill. Make sure you use the right type. If you aren’t sure ask the guy or girl working there; any auto place personnel can look it up on their computer.
While you’re at it, you might as well check the tranny fluid level too. You’ll want someone to help. Start it up and let it run at idle until its warm (normal temp). Then shift slowly through each gear with your foot pressed firmly down on the brake the entire time. NEVER shift without your foot on the brake pedal. For this use both feet–in case a friend is standing in front of the car you want to be really safe rather than really sorry. Of course, check the battery cells and fill as needed to fill lines inside cells (you already said you would clean it) unless yours is a sealed, maintenance-free type of battery.
I can’t think of anything else off hand. If I do I’ll get back to you. Always repeat those checks periodically, especially the first few months you’re using it. I’d check the oil and water every week or twice weekly for the first month. Keep checking those levels, and any hoses, to make sure you aren’t burning or leaking anything anywhere.
You’d want to do that with any car, even if it wasn’t sitting for a few years. Just maybe not so often. She may feel a little ‘sluggish’ at first but that’s to be expected. Whatever oils and other fluids were in there have settled deep over time. They’re far from where they should be and they need to return and reabsorb & re-coat all the little cracks and crevices inside all those moving parts. Be patient and she’ll loosen up in time (probably by summer, when it counts).

As for the tires, they might have been brand new four years ago, but rubber rots, in dry or damp areas. Make sure the air is at the proper psi (usually somewhere between 28 and 32 for passenger cars). The correct pressure will be listed on a tag either on the inside of one of the door panels (passenger generally) or B pillar (the separating beam between the front and rear seat of the car [unless it’s two door, but I don’t think Camry has a 2-door]) or, in the Camry it’s sometimes inside the glove box.
Always fill them when they’re cold if at all possible. Driving causes friction that heats the air in the tires. This makes the air expand, thereby increasing pressure against the tire wall, and gives a higher than normal false reading. The measurements you take when they’re cold is the accurate true psi measure.
Also, keep in mind that a lot of engine parts have rubber seals and/or gaskets, and these will rot too. If you can’t take them out or replace them you can temporarily swell them with stuff called “belt dressing”. That’s actually just a hydrocarbon in spray form, like ether, ad it gets absorbed by and swells the rubber seal or gasket. But it’s only a temporary fix.If something is leaking it eventually must be repaired or replaced.
Also you should change the the engine air filter, and maybe the fuel filter too. The first is extremely easy and the second is pretty easy also though not as easy as the air filter. There’s a cabin air filter that a lot of guys tell you to change. It runs about $65 to $75 installed, though it costs about $25 to buy and put in yourself. But I personally think it’s a total waste of time and money. Unless there’s a lot of heavy smoking going on in the car, don’t worry about it now (or maybe even ever).
As for spark plugs, if the car isn’t showing any signs of fouled plugs: hesitation, hard starting, running rough at idle, I wouldn’t bother,. They’re most likely platinum and good for another 35 or more thousand miles. If you want to be sure, pull just one and compare it to pictures on line to see if it looks like it needs to be replaced. If it looks clean and there’s no gunk or deposits built up on it, it’s most likely just fine and you can get on with the other stuff.
All together that should have you more than ready to run. Just remember to treat her like she’s a brand new ‘baby’ (after all, to you she is) and with a little tender loving care she’ll be fine.
The Camry is a really good car and she should give you at least another 200 thousand miles or more. Just that engine w just 55 K miles on it alone is worth more than most of the cars my friends have. Even the four cylinder Camry has remarkable “get-up n’ go” compared to her American ‘cousins’. Do your periodic maintenance as scheduled: oil changes, tune ups, etc. and she won’t let you down and you won’t want to ever let her go.
Good luck!


Thanks for your input really appreciate it i have a follow up question. I have a 450$ budget how much will all of that cost.

With an 18 year old car–and especially one that has simply sat for 4 years–it is extremely important to flush the brake hydraulic system, and refill it with fluid of the correct specification. It is very likely that the brake fluid has never been changed on this car, but even if it was changed years ago, the hygroscopic nature of brake fluid means that it has absorbed a lot of moisture from the air over that 4 year period, and is now likely diluted with some amount of water.

Yes, the oil should be changed, along with the coolant, but I wouldn’t even drive this car around the block until the brake system was flushed.


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Wow. ALL of it would be more than $450 if done at one time. But you could get some stuff done for less than that. Are you able to do any of that yourself, or with a friend?
Let me know, and also:

  1. How much do you know about cars?
  2. Do you have (or does Mom have) a regular mechanic who (maybe?) will take partial payments?
  3. What part of the country are you in?

Talk later.

If you have a choice of parts stores in your town, see if one of them has a loyalty program, where you get $$ back after spending so many.
Battery $100-120
Oil and filter $25-40
Brake fluid $5
Radiator fluid/coolant $10-50
Fuel drain $0

You can get started on your check list within your budget, especially if you have a friend who can help out once in a while, and you have access to a few tools.


I know basic tasks oil change changing tires replacing bulbs etc. I have a friend who is a mechanic and my mother knows more about cars than the average man. She changed the brakes for my father before. Also im using this car to learn hands on how things work because my current job pathway is diesel mechanics. Do you possibly have an estimate on what all of this will cost?

Thanks im going to look into the advance auto parts store a few miles from my house and talk to someone about that.

Questions: Why has this thing set for 4 years - has it been unregistered all this time - if not there will back fees to pay - you have $450.00 that will not cover a teenagers insurance for six months so who is going to pay for that - the tires are probably not safe and that will be 400 at least.

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This is a project. I will be on someone elses insurance and the car belonged to my grandfather my mother had her own 09 tacoma and wanted the car to be for me. I already have a tire connection. That isnt pricey. I only said 450 as a base budget. I have a job with no bills to pay so im able to invest. Come on man if your here to criticize what im trying to do please atleast offer what you think would be a solution.

Advance has specials online sometimes. And, you can order it online, get the sale price, and pick it up at your local store.
Being a project car, you can take your time, not feel pressured, not be surprised when yet one more thing breaks. Good luck with it!


Not criticizing, you did not say you were employed. You said you had 450.00 and I just pointed out things you may have overlooked. Don’t be so touchy.

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so, the license tabs are from 2013 as we speak? why do you need to pay the state for yrs 2014-2017 if car sat? in my town, the cops would give you a ticket if car had expired plates and was sitting in your driveway. car has to be on paved surfaces and currently licensed if it is outside. now, if its inside your garage than you can sneak one by the state. cant park overnight on street in front of my house also. so emergency vehicles can get thru. yep.

In some states unless you can prove the vehicle was inoperative or in storage it is treated as if you just failed to renew registration. Some even will want the vehicle inspected to see if it is actually road worthy.

I faced that reality when I moved to TX for a job after going to grad school and taking my car off the road here in MA for only 6 months. They tossed me in the state insurance pool for being considering a high risk when I had a perfect driving record. I had to pay $2000 just for liability alone on a 15 year old car for a year before another insurance company would accept me.

Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about that living back here in MA. Live and learn.

This car definitely has a timing belt, regardless of which engine it has

Unless your brother remembers changing it just before he parked it, and can prove it with receipts, I’d plan on replacing that, along with the accessory drive belts, water pump, thermostat, cap, hoses, idler pulley, tensioner, cam- and crank seals

All of that stuff is old, and probably ready to go, if it hasn’t failed already

A timing belt can break at any time, with absolutely no warning

Fortunately, both engines for this Camry are non-interference

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The first thing you need to do is get a battery and get ALL of the old gas out of the tank. Some fresh gas along with a strong additive such as B12 or SeaFoam and see what happens.
And be sure to handle gasoline very carefully. The vapors you don’t see can be very explosive.

You can expect it to run ragged when first started so don’t fret over that. Once running and you know what you have you can start whittling the needs list down a bit one or two things at a time.


This is good info. The OP should get the engine started with a few things first, just to see how things stand, without diving in and doing all the work at once. Call it stage one, where the car probably shouldn’t even move yet.
Then stage two, doing all the things to see how the car is in motion. All slow speeds and time/patience is a virtue.

I’ve never heard of “back fees” accumulating on a vehicle that hasn’t been registered. Fees usually start accumulating again only when the car is registered again.