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Car parked for 3 years: safe to drive?

I have a 1996 Toyota Camry with 160k miles on it that has been parked behind my house for almost three years. I’d like to get it in sellable condition, but am not sure if it’s even safe to drive it to a mechanic. Clearly I am going to have to give it a jump, but what else should I be doing to resuscitate it? Given that I don’t know how to do anything to a car other than put gas in it, am I best off just getting it towed in to a mechanic? Is it even likely that the cost of getting it in working order again after this long will be less than what I could sell it for? (Blue book says $1500 - $2000) Thanks for any advice.

A lot depends on why it was not driven for three years. There must have been a problem, yes? Let us know the rest of the story.

I assume this car “ran when parked.”

I suggest adding some fresh fuel to the tank before you try starting the engine. 3-year-old gasoline may have started to turn to varnish, and can gum up the whole fuel system. I’d add a bottle of Techron fuel system cleaner, too. Removing the old gasoline, if possible, would help.

Check the oil, coolant, and all other fluids before you start the engine. If you’re up to it, squirting a small amount of oil into each cylinder (through the spark plug holes) and turning the engine over a few times would be a good idea.

The brakes will be very rusty, so don’t go charging off down the street right away if the engine starts. If the parking brake is ON, it may be rusted in place, and the car will be difficult to move.

It’s a Camry, so once you get it running it may be fine. I’d think replacing the fluids and maybe a set of brakes should have it in pretty good shape. A new battery should be on your list, too.

If you want to avoid spending money, you could try selling the car AS IS. You can’t ask top dollar, but with gasoline at $4 per gallon, someone will buy an economical car like a Camry, even if it’s been sitting for 3 years, and they can spend THEIR money getting it running.

Rusted brakes, possibly stuck fuel pump and tank of bad gas, rotten timing belt.

As Steve states, why was it parked?

You might fill the tank with fresh gas and a fresh battery and you’re all set.

All too often someone has a vehicle just as this towed into my shop, and it is beyond resurrection.

I would suggest having it towed to a reputable shop and have them assess the vehicle. Draining the tank and putting fresh gas in it, and putting a cheap battery in would be a minimal expense to see where you stand, but I would bet a 12 year year old car parked for 3 years, needs way more than the value of the car spent to get it back on the road.

Safest bet is donate it and take a tax writeoff.

You should also see how well the tires hold air. Three years of sitting outside without moving may have created flat spots where they were in contact with the ground, and these could well crack if they’re dry-rotted enough.

Thanks to everyone for their feedback. The only excuse I have for the car being idle, unfortunately, is sheer laziness. We got a new car, never drove this one, fully intended to sell it, and then time just slipped away. It was in fine shape before we inadvertently let it rot away.

It sounds like I have a few practical options:

  1. Fix it myself - unfortunately it’s beyond my own mechanical abilities to assess what needs to be done to make the car safe and reliable
  2. Have it towed into a mechanic and get an estimate on what needs to be done, then consider that cost against the resale value. Towing and estimate is probably a $100 - $200 investment?
  3. Sell it as-is to someone willing to put in the work
  4. Donate it

Am I right in thinking that options 2-4 are all probably going to benefit me roughly the same financially? As far as practical effort, donation seems like the easiest path (we’ve already established that I’m lazy) and of course it would give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. But if I’d come out significantly ahead going down some other path, I’d have to consider that - gas isn’t getting any cheaper. A smidgen of Internet research makes me think the deduction wouldn’t benefit me. I don’t normally itemize, and the value of the car will be far less than the standard deduction (which appears to be $5350 this year).

Bluebook for this car, if it hadn’t sat for three years, would be $1500 - $2000. PJ seems to think repairs may cost more than it’s worth, and I’m not inclined to disagree. I’m not sure what to ask for selling it as-is. Does $500 or less seem like the right ballpark? The financial implications of donation are unclear to me, but I don’t imagine it’d be much of a windfall.

Any opinions on the best path, if I’m only considering the dollars and cents?

The battery will be shot, forget “jumping” it. There must be someone in your life or family who can install a new battery (remove the old one, take it to a parts store and buy a new one, install the new one) and then install at least 5 gallons of fresh fuel with some Sea-Foam or some other fuel system cleaner in it, pump up the tires (a $6 hand pump will do) check all the fluids and see if it will start…I would advise removing as much of the old gasoline as possible, but that’s not going to happen, so just hope for the best But at least get as much fresh fuel in as you can…

If you are in a high marginal tax bracket, say 35-40% it might make sense to donate it and be done with it. It seems you are not into cars much and doing everything properly so as to have a safe and saleable vehicle is a lot of work. If you have a young relative who needs a car and likes to put some work into it, that would be a good choice; charge him (her) a nominal amount and both sides will be happy.

Sell it as is and be done with it. I think you will get at least $500 for this car.

It sounds to me like you have already flushed away three years worth of depreciation on what was a working vehicle. Why worry about dollars and cents now? Based on the history you gave us, I think choosing a plan that requires investment from you is doomed to fail. Choose the easiest path and be done with it. Otherwise this car will sit there for another three years.

I agree with some of the others, sell it as is or donate it. selling it as is could be a great hands-on fixer upper for an eager teen as his/her first car project. the local high school/trade school auto shop might love such a project also…speaking of trade school/community college, sign YOURSELF up for a novice auto shop class and have a little fun learnig about cars and fixing up your own. :slight_smile:

Tough love Jeremy - thanks for the feedback.