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Back to Life: Resurrecting a Neglected Car

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Our “Project Automatic” Interior

So you have found a 924S or a 944 or a Ford truck or a Model T that has great bones, decent paint, seats that work, and otherwise could be a good vehicle.  “Great bones” means that the basic car is good, but the cosmetics, maintenance, and other details need attention.  It may not have run in a long time.  What is the best plan of attack?

First understand that there are no exact step-by-step instructions that you can use that will apply to every car.  But the first step is always the same – evaluate the car’s overall mechanical condition.  Look past the cosmetics and get into the question of “Does it start, run, drive, turn and stop?”  Unless there are telltale signs of problems, like a hole in the side of the engine or the transmission is missing, you’ll want to try to make it run, drive, turn and stop.  Before dropping in a battery, putting in some fuel and hitting the key, there are a few things to do.

We can make a list of assumptions that each require some sort of action prior to actually taking the car on the road.

  • The battery is probably going to need replacement.
  • The fluids including the brake fluid and trans oil as well as the engine oil and coolant all need to be replaced.  Also replace the nasty fuel.
  • All filters will need to be replaced.
  • Coolant hoses should be inspected and probably replaced.
  • Image result for porsche 944 timing beltBelts, especially the timing belt, need to be replaced.
  • When replacing the brake fluid, do a complete flush to get rid of any contaminants or insects that may be living in the system.
  • Look at rotors and pads to ensure that there is enough material there for a test drive.

If the car runs, turns, stops and drives, take it around the block for a slow test.  See what works and what doesn’t.  Note any special noises, rubs, creeks, or rattles.

Once you know that it works – or doesn’t work – it is time to dive in.  Here are some things that should go on the list:

  • Drain the fuel and put in fresh gasoline.  Gas these days can go bad in a matter of weeks.  It’s not worth the chance.  The 944 tank has a screen filter that is in the tank where the outlet hose hooks up.  After draining the old fuel, replace that filter with a new one.  While you are there, replace the fuel filter.
  • Change the oil and filter.
  • Image result for compression check gaugeDo a compression check.  Numbers should be consistent across all four cylinders.  Note that the cold compression numbers on an engine that has not been run in a while may be lower than true, and there may be some variance.  When putting the plugs back in, use new spark plugs.
  • Crank the engine to get oil pressure and fuel pressure without ignition by pulling the coil wire.
  • Check for leaks.
  • Connect the ignition and start it up.  Be ready with help and a fire extinguisher.
  • If it does start, monitor visually while listening for noises that shouldn’t be there.  If something isn’t right, shut it down and investigate.
  • If the car has not been run in a while, there will be a bit of noise from the lifters that will go away in a short time.  That is normal and expected.

Remember that this first start-up is meant to determine the general overall health of the engine, not to get it ready to drive.  Expect that initially it will smoke a bit, be a bit noisy and do a little sputter and stall while things try to get back to normal.

If it does not start, it is time to investigate.  Spark? Fuel? Does it try to start?  Start with the obvious and go from there.  (There are lots of great diagnostic tutorials on Clarks-Garage.com.)

These cars are very durable and can come to life after years of sitting and not running.  Going carefully, taking your time and being very observant are all key to a successful resuscitation.  Knowing the history on the car – like why was it parked way back then – is also vital.

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Note the failed “repair” on the fuel line into the fuel rail on this burned engine. Too common.

Finally, don’t get too excited about driving the car until the proper deferred maintenance has been completed.  Change the belts, flush the fluids, and keep an eye on everything.  Also check the flexible fuel lines under the hood, looking for cracking and, even worse, a bad repair.  It seems that almost every car we bring into the shop has had a “repair” on the high-pressure side of the fuel rail with a barbed fitting and a hardware-store hose clamp – a recipe for fire and tears.  See more about it here.

Getting a neglected 944 or 924S back in running, driving condition is a rewarding endeavor.  Take your time and don’t cut corners – it will bite you later!

Kevin Duffy, Author and Chief Geek View All

Kevin Duffy is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Daytona State College in Florida and a dedicated car guy. He divides his time between teaching criminal justice topics in the online environment and working on/driving cars, particularly Porsches. Kevin is one of the principals in InspiringLifeOver50.com.

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