This post contributed by our collector car insurance partner, Hagerty®.
It’s summertime! Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, and it’s finally time to get your car back in the regular driving rotation. Of course, you kept it on blocks in a climate-controlled garage under a heavy-duty cover, on a trickle charger, full of fuel stabilizer, and it was in perfect running condition before you tucked it away for winter … right?
Well, if you missed a couple of things while packing your car away in between holiday planning, it’s ok. Here are some basic things you can do to wake your car up, no matter how you left it for the winter.
1. The walk around
Pull off the cover and check for any signs of small animal activity, like chew holes, food caches, or droppings.
Do a circle around the car, looking underneath for drips or debris, taking note of the tire condition, and generally reacquainting yourself.
Things to note:
- Are there any unusual fluids under the car? Where are they and what’s the substance?
- Do you smell fuel or coolant?
- Are there any piles of dirt or shells that might indicate a bird or rodent has moved in?
- Is there air in the tires? Check for any cracking on the sidewalls.
- Are the windshield wipers still pliable?
- How does the paint look? Any cracks, scratches, or thin spots?
- How does the interior look? Any signs of animals or water damage?
2. Under the hood
Take a peek at the engine. During periods of disuse, rubber, cork, and plastic have an unfortunate habit of shrinking up and not doing their jobs. Take a close look at the hoses, belts, and gaskets. Check fluid levels for coolant, engine oil, brake fluid, the transmission. You’ll want to do the final check for automatic transmission fluid when warm, but it’s good to know there’s something in there before you fire up the car. Look for spiderwebs and mouse nests, especially in and around the intake. Removing webs from carburetor orifices is a task best avoided by catching them before they get sucked in.
Things to note:
- Is there noticeable fluid seepage around the carb, intake, heads, master cylinder, or water pump?
- Are belts fraying, cracked, or loose?
- Are fuel hoses hard or cracked?
- Are radiator hoses leaking or rotten?
- Any sign of animal life in or around the engine bay?
- Is the battery showing signs of corrosion or leaking?
3. Start it up
Assuming your previous inspections have shown no problems, you’re ready for the best part: starting it up and going for a drive. Do this outdoors or make sure you have proper ventilation in your garage.
If you have a mechanical fuel pump and carburetor, prime the carb with a small amount of gas in the vent tubes to save you from a lot of cranking. Cars with electric fuel pumps won’t need this step.
Once you’re running, look for leaks. Watch the temp gauge. Feel the radiator hose to see if the thermostat is opening. Carefully put the car in gear and check the brakes.
Things to note:
- Brakes and clutches can get sticky when sitting — they may feel or sound unusual for the first drive. Pay attention. If things don’t smooth out, you may need to do some maintenance.
- Don’t let a cheap part like a fuel filter, thermostat, or hose clamp cause expensive damage. Pay attention to gauges, smells, and drips during your test drive.
- Tires can flatspot during sitting. Usually a bit of driving to warm the rubber will get everything back in shape. If you notice a vibration that doesn’t go away, check the tires before you pull a driveshaft or wheel.
- Do all your lights and turn signals work? Find out now, before you’re leaving a nighttime meet-up.
- Was your battery disconnected for the winter? Reset clocks and memory seats if you have those fancy features.
4. Clean it up
Check for possible leaks in the window seals, open scoops in the hood, and new cracks or damaged paint.
Hopefully your interior will just need a light vacuuming and maybe a bit of leather or vinyl conditioner on the seats before you settle in.
Things to note:
- With the popularity of patina and barn-find cars in mind, not all surfaces are sturdy enough for a heavy water wash.
- As tempting as it can be to swipe every surface with a towel and some dish soap in water before you get driving, it’s important to use different materials for different parts of the car (also, never use dish soap).
- For older classics with chrome, brass, or copper brightwork, look for any pitting, rust, or discoloration, and address that with a metal polish specific to the component.
- Newer classics may have faded plastic trim. There are various conditioners and dyes that can bring back the color and shine.
In the end, starting a car after a long break is similar to what you’d do with a new auction acquisition. Assess, address, then impress.
Here’s hoping you and your car have a lovely driving season this year.
Coverage and availability varies by state and individual risk situation. Collector car insurance policies are offered and underwritten through Hagerty Insurance Agency. Esurance does not process or pay claims for this product.