Car sat in barn for 8 years-how do I start?

Hi, i have a 1983 ford mustang convertible v6, that sat in a pole building for 8 years on a dirt floor with a cloth car cover on it. luckily nothing decided to live in it. It was driven there(the engine ran) unpreped for storage with the intention of not leaving it there that long. I am wondering what i need to do to try to start it? Could someone send a list? I want to get it to my home 75 miles away so want to do the minimum to start it, otherwise will trailer it and then do everything needed. Would someone please give me a list of things i need to do before i turn the key? my intentions are to not ruin the engine. visual inspection looks like the hoses and belts are good enough to at least start it. Thanks,Chuck

To just start it and see how it ran I would: change the oil, pull the spark plugs and spray a little oil each cylinder, siphon out the gas if it had a fullish tank or just add some new gas if it had 1/2 a tank or less, and put a new battery in it. I don’t think I would take it on a 75 mile ride afterward; you are better off trailering it than breaking down on the side of the road.

8 years huh? Well, here’s what i’d do. Purchase the cheapest five gallon bucket of motor oil you can find. And completely fill the engine with oil. And leave this oil sit in the engine for a week. This will ensure that every component in the engine has been pickled with oil so there’s no dry starting. After this time, drain out the oil and remove the sparkplugs. Now try rotating the engine over by hand. If the engine rotates it might be good to go. If not, then there’s a major problem within the engine and will require rebuilding.

Next will be the issue of bad gas. Gas that has sat around for 8 years has surely turned to varnish. Remove the gas cap and take a sniff down the fill tube. If there’s a rancid odor, the entire fuel system will probably require rebuilding.

See if you get this far first before worring about the rest of the vehicle. Because if you can’t get it to run, the rest of the stuff doesn’t matter.


I wouldn’t try and start it at its present location, trailer it home and get to work on it there.

Even were you able to get the car started I wouldn’t trust the brakes until I’d thouroughly stripped down, inspected and recommissioned them, perished brake hoses and system seals tend to fail dramatically and in any case the rotors will probably be useless.

Tester’s advice is good, just fill the engine with oil and let it coat everything for a few days, it’ll give you time to drain and refill the cooling system, change all the cooling hoses, service the tranny and complete your other pre flight checks.

Nothing worse than putting a stored car back on the road when it isn’t ready for it, it’ll just give you a lot of tedious trouble.

Thanks much for the advice i appreciate all the good ideas I got so far! Chuck

Thanks much, pardon my lack of knowlege and the following potentially dumb questions, i am no mechanic but can do basic maintenance on a car. You say drain and fill the engine with oil. i know how to change oil, so are you saying to drain it like i usually would when i would change oil, replace pan bolt, then fill it at the oil filler cap where one would usually add oil, and i should fill it to the very brim instead of the usual number of quarts the manual calls for? I believe that is what you mean. OR do i also fill oil elsewhere? next question. when you say turn engine over by hand after a week, do you mean to use ignition to turn over with the distributer wire off, or do i turn by rotating one of the belts by hand? I am glad i posted, you all are very helpful. thanks again. i have attached a pic of the engine in case that helps you explain to a mechanically challenged guy…Chuck

Yes. Take that five gallons of oil and fill the engine with as much oil as it can hold. After a week, remove the oil drain plug and let the oil drain out. Remove the sparkplugs so that any oil above the pistons is pushed out the sparkplug holes. With breaker bar and a socket that fits the crankshaft bolt, try rotating the engine by hand to see if the engine is free to rotate. If it doesn’t rotate by doing this, then there’s a bigger problem inside the engine.


I have to echo Scudder here . . . the money you’ll try to save by not taking it to your garage by trailer or rollback will easily be eaten up by the first problem you have . . . dry rotted tire going flat and ruining a wheel . . . tie rod letting loose due to dry joint or something leading to an accident . . . engine fire due to rotted gas lines or something crawled up into somewhere . . . seriously, don’t drive it, trailer it and have fun going over stuff when you get it to a convenient and safe location. Rocketman

Thanks everyone for your comments. i appreciate it very much. If anyone thinks of anything else i should do, please let me know. Can anyone tell me if the crankshaft bolt is identifiable on my picture above?

Can’t quite see the crankshaft pulley on your pic, it’ll be the lowest pulley on the engine. Pull the plugs and ensure you turn the pulley bolt in the direction of engine rotation.

…err…and make sure you drain and refill the engine oil to the correct level BEFORE you start the engine. Turning by hand with the engine full of oil is fine, but starting it will blow every engine seal in site. New oil filter is mandatory.

Expect ‘some’ smoke when you start her up, that will be residue oil on the cylinder walls, it’ll soon burn off provided the engine doesn’t have any mechanical issues.

Since you’ll have a little time on your hands oiling the engine up, I’d flush the cooling system, drain and replace the brake fluid and change out all the belts. Your HT leads will probably be dross, change them with new plugs, and get a can of electrical contact cleaner from Radio Shack ~ ‘gently’ pull apart every wire connector you can get your hands on and give it a squirt of cleaner and a scrub with a contact brush, it’ll save you a lot of frustration later.

Other than that, check for any obviously bad fuel lines, drain and flush the tank if you can otherwise try some fuel conditioner with fresh gas and change the fuel filter.

This sounds like a lot of work but think of it as insurance, do it now or try to do it later in less than favourable conditions.

Boy Chuck! If you don’t know where the crankshaft bolt is located, you might be biting off more than you can chew.

Finding a car like this is great! But you must understand that when a vehicle sits idle 8 years, there are systems in the vehicle that may require rebuilding or replacing. For example, are you able to completely rebuild the fuel system? This would include replacing the fuel tank, the fuel lines, the fuel pump, and rebuilding/replacing the carburator. If you don’t have the expierence, facility, and/or the equipment to do this sort of thing, then that means you’ll have to pay someone else to do it. The same holds true for the brake system, the cooling system, steering system, exhaust system, etc… And if you go this route, by the time the vehicle is brought to a driveable condition, you’ll sink more money into the vehicle than what’s it’s worth.

I’ve been working on cars for over thirtyfive years. And if I were to find this vehicle, I would still consider it as being a daunting task to get it up to road worthy condition.

So you may want to think this one over before you get in too deep.


And since it’s a convertible, check the floorboards. They could be rusted out. And now you have body work!


if this comes thru twice, i apologize. thanks Tester, you may be right, i may be getting myself into something here. I thought it would be a great idea with my 3 sons, but this could be a lot more money and time than i thought. You have all brought up great suggestions, and i really appreciate it. YOu just may be saving me from making a mistake!
thanks again,

Oooooh, bad fuel lines and connections are a good possibility to point out. It would be good to have a good-sized fire extinguisher very close by when you try to start it in the case you do have a fuel leak. It could prevent a mediocre day from changing into a very bad one. Don’t try to start it near a building of any kind either. There is no sense in turning a carflagration into a house fire or filling your building with oily smoke.

A lot may depend on what kind of weather you have where this vehicle was stored. If it is dry there, you are going to be a lot happier with your results.

An uncle started his 1930 Harley Davidson ?45 flathead? up in about 1973 after it had been sitting in a barn for about 30 years. It started and ran beautifully, but one of the neighbors assumed the building was burning down and called the local volunteers. All the family kids, myself included, can take credit for the storage success. Often when we sat on it and went, vroom vroom, we also gave the tank-mounted oil pump a push effectively pickling the engine with lubricant.

The car could very well be worth messing with but if you’re unfamiliar with some of these processes it may, or may not, turn out to be a perpetual headache. Many rubber parts (tires, hoses, belts, vacuum lines, etc.) will need to be replaced and once up, running and driveable, it’s possible you could start seeing leaks from dried out seals, brake failure due to hydraulic rubber going bad, etc.

Fuel pump, carburetor, will no doubt need to be gone through. It’s a doable deal, possibly, if you can wade through the basic mechanics on your own. At least parts are reasonably priced for these cars.
If rust has taken hold of the floor pans, rear quarters, and trunk then pass for sure because major rust is one area that is extremely time consuming and expensive to resolve.

I have 1930 Model A Ford which sat for 17 years in t garage. The last trip it made it was driven from Charleston SC to Erie Pa and parked. 17 years later it was pulled out, new tires were put on, wheel berings were re packed, oil changed, fresh gas, new battery and the car started on the first try. 3 years latter I plan on driving that car from New London CT to San Marcos, TX.

Neat find and good story! That’s going to be a whale of a drive in a Model A and sounds like a lot of fun. You’re going to get a lot of looks in that thing.

What’s really sad IMHO is some of these TV auto shows; American Hot Rod in particular. What a joke.
I seldom watch it because of the BS but tuned in one night and saw that they had purchased a complete, straight Model A convertible if I remember correctly. They then proceeded to disassemble and trash 95% of the car in an effort to make a salt flats time trial car.

They wound up ditching everything on that car except the main body shell and even that was modified. This really torqued me off to see an original, straight car destroyed just to put on a show; especially considering this could have been more easily done with the use of a T- bucket shell which is available in the aftermarket.
It’s not the first time those guys at Am. Hot Rod have butchered a piece of history.

Good advice Tester! I once left a car with a relative in a hot humid Eastern city when I spent the summer in Europe. After returning, the engine would not turn over, even with a new battery. I had the car towed to a garage where they did what you suggested, and turned the engine over with a lever attached to the front flywheel pulley.

After that I ran the car for another two years trouble-free. Internal corrosion can really do a number on an engine!

Since belts are cheap, I would repalce all those as well. Eight years will deteriorate rubber sufficiently to where the quality is questionable.