Recommendations old car sitting?

My wife has her first car (1996 Honda civic) sitting in an (attached, but unheated) garage; it’s been sitting for about three years, due to some titling issues (was joint property between her and her estranged mother; issues have since been resolved). Looking to possibly get it road worthy again.

In addition to whatever work it may need to pass MD state inspection- and the obvious (tires, hoses/belts, battery) what else should we anticipate? Currently thinking of having it towed to a local garage for their review before committing to rehabbing this 22 year old car (again, that’s sat without being started for three years), but wanted to ask for thoughts here as well.

Yes, a competent mechanic will go over it with a fine tooth comb. You can expect to pay over $100 for an inspection.

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Biggest cost could be if gas has gone bad, need to drain the fuel.

The garage will tell you to junk it, because they’ll assume you’ll be mad at them if they do any work on it, because anything they do will probably get within a significant percentage of the value of the car.

If you can work on this vehicle yourself, it’s probably a keeper (take this with a grain of salt because you have not told us what kind of condition it was in before it was stored). If you can’t, haul it to a junk yard and take the scrap value.

First steps; do these before you try to start it: New battery. Drain the fuel tank and put fresh gas in. Take out all the spark plugs and put a teaspoon full of motor oil down each hole to get a head start on cylinder lubrication, since they’ll be bone dry after all this time. Check all the coolant hoses - they might well be fine, but you don’t want to find out the opposite after the engine warms up.

Hondas of that vintage often do not require more than that to get them running again. Possible issues after you get it started: Overheating due to hose leak. Frozen brake calipers. Rodent infestation - these are really fun. Places to check include the trunk, under (and sometimes in) the seats, and the blower motor. If you turn the fan on and hear a rattling, turn it back off, remove the blower motor (under and behind the glove box), and clean the food cache out. Do this before you use the air conditioner or you will very much regret it come summertime when the wet food powder becomes a feeding ground for maggots.


Unless you are going to do the work yourself mostly, the odds are not in your favor. A 20 year old car is not worth very much, even if it’s running reasonably well. Do the math carefully. Tires, hoses, belts, battery, gas tank flush, probably brake fluid flush, etc. and you’re at $1,000 already. Add a few unplanned discoveries and you could be at $2,000.

California can hit you with massive registration fees if you just let the old registration expire and did not put the vehicle in legal non-operational status. That can go to $750 here. Check with your local DMV. They may have a calculator online.

It does sound like a DIY project, at least at first.

I would put a charger on the battery and not buy a new one unless necessary to start the engine. It’s easy to take out the plugs and put some oil down in the cylinders, as shadowfax suggests. Unplug the power to the distributor and, assuming the battery and starter are sufficient, give it a few 5-second cranking sessions to distribute the oil. Then reattach the power to the distributor. Put spark plugs back in. Turn the key to Run (not all the way to Start) and listen for the fuel pump to run for couple seconds, then key to Off. Do this “key dance” a few more times. That will bring up fuel and fuel pressure. Then start the engine. If it sounds OK, let it idle a while. If not, turn it off. Take a break and reassess the whole situation (tire pressure and condition, brake function, gasoline quality, rodent depradation, etc., etc.)

And good luck. This could be kinda fun.

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That is an excellent plan.
Let us know how you make out.

It’s a good idea to have a shop go over it for safety issues, and preparing before trying to crank the engine. Shadow’s recommendations above are most excellent. Fuel system clogs would be my biggest worry in that situation. There’s probably a pile of gunk in that tank just ready to get sucked into the fuel pump & injection system and clog it up. I’d probably go beyond just draining the tank. I’d remove the tank and have it steam cleaned, or replaced with a new tank, and clean up the fuel pump and its in-tank filter at the same time. Next – after the engine preparation described above – before starting the engine even once, I’d replace the existing fuel filter with a new one, start the engine, let it idle for 5-10 minutes. then replace the fuel filter again. Believe me, as the prior owner of a VW CIS injected car, I know about clogged fuel injection systems. Something you definitely don’t want to deal with.

The truth is I couldn’t be that patient. My personal system would be a lot like @shanonia suggested.

If it was my car I would put some seafoam or techron in the tank fire it up with starter fluid if needed and let it go through its conniptions and connundrums. It probably needs to run through the old fuel first, but give it time, love, gas treatment, and it may self heal.

Thanks, all! It’ll probably be another month or two, but will report back in then…

Forgot to mention-- re: condtion… I’d never driven/ ridden in it, so can’t speak to it mechanically. From a walk around/ visual, it looks in decent shape-- no oil/ fluid leaks/stains, and no major visible body rust.

…and so far the car’s continuing to sit. Right now it’s been…overtaken by events. (Selling my townhosue), combining properties, etc. Could be awhile.