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Safe to drive a car sitting for almost 20 years? Some electrical problems

I have a question I cant seem to get a “definite” answer to.

Im either going to ruin my life, or make the best decision ever.

Long story short, (Ill try short, but I want to get all info possible out there.) I have a 1989 non-turbo rx7 I picked up through a friend.

(Ive actually known about the car since I was 15. Ive seen it looking like a showroom car.)

It ended up at ANOTHER friends automotive performance shop to get a major tune up, and get ready to be sold since this person is familiar with rx7s.

It has 10,000 miles on it. Its red.

I was told it spent its life being stored in a garage, yet a third party had been storing the car for 5-10? years, so I suspect the last few years of its life it sat outside as per the light coat of oxidization on the paint. (I hope my idea of “light” is indeed just that, but the mirrors are already faded to pink/white. I was guessing 2-5 years. I live in Houston Texas.)

My mechanic friend says he does not think the car has ever been driven in the rain, so at one point it was “THAT KIND” of car.

Interior and engine compartment wise, it looks brand new. Rubber is not brittle.

It was towed to the shop, had its oil/gas/trans, and coolant flushed.

New plugs, belts, fuel filter, fuel tank removed and washed, I think wires and some hoses, and I think the injectors were sent off to be cleaned.

I saw first hand it had a good overhaul done to it. Thankfully I did not have to pay the price tag.

All in all, it starts up, it drives, it idles, and it moves quick. no hesitation, no mechanical glitches, no smoke, and I dont see it burning coolant/oil, or mixing coolant/oil.

I myself have had it in storage with little drives around the block here and there for little over 7 months and am starting to get to a point where it needs to be put on the road.


It needs tires. I have yet to get good seat time because it needs tires.

O-rings on the injectors, and the rear main seal are leaking. I also do not feel as if the AC is working to its best capabilities. Heater does.

The only electrical problems is the headlights will not pop up OR turn on/off. I have to pull a fuse to “turn them off.”

The previous owner at one time hooked up the battery backwards, which he says is the reason for the headlights problem.

(I think this is the reason that the car started to sit. He always had other cars he was more interested in.)

Also sometimes when the car is started, the “seatbelt” warning light will flash with a beep, which can be stopped by restarting the car.

I believe it is giving me an error code I have yet to officially record or it is a malfunction.

Also one night when the car was on and the door was opened, a buzzer went off for a bit, even when the door was closed. happened repeatedly, but then stopped the rest of the night. I think it has to do with the CPU. (More on that later.)

Only 2-3 times have I had the car lose power, or not start back up from being turned off, but I suspect it was my fault for not connecting the battery tight. Playing with the battery fixed the problem every time.

One of the times was at the same moment the “door buzzer” problem happened, that night it took a bit more fidgeting with the battery cable to get the car back on.

The only other “lights” I dont see to be working is the little light for the key ignition, and the door keyholes. Both are controlled by the CPU.

ALL other lights and electrical gizmos work.

Warning lights, dash, gauge cluster, brakes, reverse, turn signals, hazards, horn, seat belts, radio, security light, etc etc.

I will be honest, I have yet to fully dig into the car, I’ve been busy in school. I have yet to fully check and replace fuses and/or headlight relays.

(Recently I kind of went for the big kill and pulled out the CPU so a electrician friend can test it. Its supposed to control a few lights and buzzers as per the factory service manual I have.

Stories on the internet relate some issues Im having to the CPU, such as the blinking seatbelt light with beep, and possibly the burglar alarm buzzing when door is opened.)

I feel pretty familiar with rx7’s since it is my childhood dream car, yet I just dont know what to expect from a car that has been sitting, how a rotary engine deals with sitting, and rx7s are known to have poor electrical systems. I just dont know.

I am considering selling my Camry and turning the rx7 into a daily driver.

I know this could be a bad idea, especially since we are talking about an rx7 of all things, but can I make it happen?

Could I have serious electrical problems, or just simple fuses and relays? Can a engine go bad from sitting? What else can you expect to go bad from a car that has been sitting?

Im not familiar with the maintenance history, I have no idea if fluids were changed regularly. Maybe at one point, but I dont think the fluids my mechanic friend removed was in very good shape. He says the car checked out to be fine, yet says after about 60k miles, I will start to get sick of the engine smelling like gas.

What should I do, I cant tell if I have a problem child on my hands, or something that just finally needs love in its life.

Thanks again

I would worry about the internal seals in that car after that kind of storage. I wonder if there might be rust on the inside of the engine.

I had one and frankly it was a great car. I loved it, but I ended up needing more space.

I wish I could give you some better information, but I just don’t know and I fear you may find it difficult to find someone who does. You should be able to find someone who knows the usual mechanical stuff for that car, and if it were mine, that is who I would be looking for and let them check it out.

BTW a few short drives is very hard on any car. It is usually better not to drive it at all, if you are not going to bring it up to full operating temperature and keep it there for a while.

Good Luck

I thought everything was OK until I read the sentence about the battery being hooked up backward.

Not good.

The RX-7 was a reliable car in its day (I owned an '86 for a while), and many were used as daily drivers. But that was then, and this is now, and your car has not had the best of care, despite its limited mileage.

If you can afford to keep two cars and spend money getting the RX-7 sorted, go for it.

But this is now a hobby car, not a daily driver. At least not in its present condition.

Selling your Camry and relying on a car with known electrical problems does not seem wise to me.

Besides, every rubber component of this car is going to have to be replaced. Hoses, tires, o-rings, etc. The engine and transmission gaskets and seals will start to leak (if they haven’t already) because they’re dried out from sitting for so long.

And the electrical system is a wild card.

Here’s the big question: How much money are you willing to spend?

If you have deep pockets and don’t care about money you can fix everything on this car and keep it as long as you like.

If, on the other hand, your funds are limited, this might not be the best project for you.

Good luck.

Keep the Camry as your daily driver, at least for now. Get the Rx7 licensed and on the road.

The only way you’ll know if this is a reliable car is to drive the Rx7 and troubleshoot the problems as they arise. Long term storage is a wild card especially when it concerns electrical systems. Connectors can corrode just sitting there. I’d recommend locating and disconnecting and reconnecting every electric connector you can get access to. Remove and replace every fuse, every circuit breaker, etc. Some of your gremlins might just disappear as you work the connectors into making better contact internally.

Avoid major parts replacements until you have done the simple stuff first. You might replace the CPU when just the act of unhooking it and reconnecting it was all it needed.

I won’t worry much about the internal cylinder seals on the motor. Anything rubber is suspect however. Some of your o ring and main seal issues might go away as fluids are circulated in the motor. The seals might swell up and reseal themselves. Getting the motor warm and running it is good for the seals, they are more pliable when warm.

Get it running. Get in on the road. Put some miles on it. Have a cell phone and AAA card handy in case you need a tow home. After about 6 months, 2,000 miles, and some nice day trips you’ll learn the important problems that need attention and can attend to them.

This car could have some classic value and if it is in good shape now it might be too valuable to use as a daily driver. This is a great hobby car and it just might return the money you invest in it. Basically, it sounds like you have a good car in “un-restored” original condition. These can be valuable. You want to do the right things to maintain the car’s value as you restore it.

Well… I guess that answers my question. guess it will sit for another 10 years…
Uncle turbo had the same idea I had, get it on the road and drive it for a while, see what happens.

I usually let the car warm up to operating temp and do 30mins-hour of driving around the neighborhood. Does that count, or do I need constant rpm of highway?
I was told I need to move it weekly and not let it sit anymore.

How much to register it? Insure it? A old car that is a classic might qualify in your state for a special plate (with no inspection requirement as long as you drive at or under the allowed miles per year) and insurance on classic cars can be low as they are not driven a lot and are well cared for.

Driving in the neighborhood is better than sitting with no use at all. Driving on rural roads at moderate speeds is best if the brakes and other safety items are performing OK.

Sad if it just sits unused for another 10 years.

Long story short, (Ill try short, but I want to get all info possible out there

Well we definitely missed THAT mark thats 4 sure. You def have your work cut out for you man. The RX7 wasnt the banner child for reliability…esp in the electrical dept. They aren too bad though. Are you familiar with the Rotary? It doesnt seem like you know too much about cars in general…Sorry…but I can kind of tell… it is for this reason that this car will give you problems. It will have all sorts of little things to figure out which you can already see…your headlights dont work bec the switch is probably burned out…or the relay for the light motors is burned out bec of the battery hookup issue.

Your friend wont be able to do a damn thing with that ECU so get it back and put it back in the car…

The small issues you are having can be sorted out if you knew what you were doing…if not you wont be able to afford to get them fixed…or it wont be worth it rather.

The other thing that happens when cars sit like this is they start springing leaks after you start driving them…then other thing that goes is weather stripping seals and such…RX7’s are known for weather stripping issues among other things. The engine has to come out to do the rear main seal…again if you dont know how to do all of this yourself…it isnt worth taking on.

I have owned 3 or 4 RX7’s in my day and I loved all of them…but I am a mechanic and fix everything myself… If I saw this car I’d buy it fix it and sell it… But you seem to want to start a love affair…if you cant fix it yourself…walk away…you cant afford it as is and the way it will be after you start driving it and it starts leaking or showing more issues…etc… I love the RX7 but I know how to fix them…I’d hate to imagine the repair bills you will see if you takeit to someone to fix all the little things…

IF you can fix it then sure why not…it will be a project over time I suppose…but you can sort it out…I just dont want you to be going to a garage with all the little stuff

Well, thank you for your opinions on everything, I could make comments or respond to opinions, but I feel well enough adequate to handle this certain situation I am in.

Found out I had a missing fuse, replaced it, and checked all the others.
Also, I said CPU, not ECU. (Never mind the fact that my friend would be able to do a damn thing to the ECU or anything else for that matter.)
The CPU controls lights and buzzers, etc. Armed with my trusty FSM, I decided to play with it and left one of the connectors unplugged. Headlights now pop up and turn on. And this is why I wanted my friend to look it over. No big deal, I can live without a seatbelt buzzer. Not the fix I was expecting, but Im not going to complain.

I know what Im doing. Im not unfamiliar with all this, just deathly afraid to test an rx7 thats been sitting for so long, yet I have some choices I need to make.
In a few weeks Ill take care of the injectors. Going to go with the 6 month/2k mile plan and see how things go.

One thing others haven’t mentioned yet, is that if it’s sat for that long, then you run a good chance of having a rodent infestation inside the car. At the very least, they might have chewed through some wires.
Basically, you’d need to strip the car to bare metal to see if any rust has formed and to make sure you aren’t carrying any extra passengers.

You have a good point about checking wires, and Ill note that for another check, although I have, as well as my mechanic friend, have done that to a degree.

Rust is most DEFINITELY NOT on the car. (At one point this car was someones baby, pride and joy. We think it has never even been driven in the rain.) I mean… I had to pull off a fender to fix a dent, and the underside was fresh off the showroom floor clean… Cleaner than the rest of the car.
I failed to mention this, but you have to realize, this car has technically been for sale its entire life… Asking price was a tad too much for just a non-turbo… Not a problem for me, First car was a miata, so being slow is of no concern to me (among other cars, had a Celica Alltrac and an M3.)
I always kind of poked him about the car, and finally one day fate shined on me.

From what I know, the Father owned and loved rx7s, he bought this one for his daughter, it was not really her thing, father/son took it over, son took it over but ended up interest in other cars, car ended up sitting in a well maintained garage or such… Fast forward to the last 2-5 years of its life, it was then given to a third party to store (in another well taken care of garage), Third party was not the best baby sitter (Ironic since they themselves are a mechanic), but thats how things go.

The whole car is a dream come true (minus a few dents and nicks, and the paint.)
The real, MAIN scary problem is the motor. I have no idea just what its going to do. worst comes to worst, if I can only get 60k miles out of it, thats about 6 years… plus the way I drive… lets make it 10… TRUE THOUGH… I might only get 10k… or 3k…
As everyone has said if I did/if I do have the money, drop in a new motor and this thing is solid.
But until then, its all about jumping off the deep end and seeing what happens.

Im not trying to make an excuse for it, but just stating that Ive known its history, there is a reason why I feel confident with it… but theres always an IF… and LORD KNOWS theres ALWAYS an IF with a rotary…

(Also I just have to say, the ONLY reason I have not done much with the car is I returned back to school, and Im on the verge of graduating. Some damn car can keep sitting in my garage until I finish school because that is more important to me. Im constantly working on that, and I dont work enough to play with toys, I JUST want to finish school, Im SO close.)

I really appreciate all this advice though.

Question. If the injectors were removed and sent off to be cleaned then why does it need injector seals?

Leaking injector seals can be a major potential cause of this car catching on fire and burning to the ground, which would effectively eliminate any concerns over other problems.

Im not certain they were cleaned, but I thought I heard it brought up.
Im guessing the bill on the tune up started to get too much for someone who didn’t wanna keep it, might have told him to reuse old O-rings.
The leaky injector problem, as well as the rear main seal, have been adressed by my mechanic friend. He has offered to fix these for free (of course pay for parts, and in all honesty, not be a dick, have the heart to pay him back in some form.)
I just rather try to fix some stuff on my own, so Ive been waiting for a bit till I can do it. I mean, whats the point of having something you have always wanted if you dont do some stuff your own. Point being I DO INFACT have “my mechanic” to take care of things if they get near the deep end.

yes… I know they catch on fire for that reason.