Dear Car Talk:
My 1984 Toyota pickup truck has been sitting for a year and a half. Here's the story:
The battery was running down overnight. My auto parts store said it was probably the alternator. The neighbor replaced the alternator and voltage regulator for me, but that didn't fix it, and he did some damage in the process.
During all of this, the license plates expired, and I canceled the insurance, not knowing how to proceed with little money.
Then two men stole the catalytic converter and probably the muffler.
I realize I have to do something, and it can't sit forever. It has a good engine and transmission, so I'm thinking I'll try to start it.
What should do in preparation before starting it? -- Roxanne
Well, it depends what your goal is, Roxanne. Do you want to get it started so you can fix it and drive it again? Or do you want to start it so you can sell it?
If you just want to get rid of it, I wouldn't try to start it at all. I'd just advertise it "as is." Be completely honest. Good engine and transmission. No converter or muffler. Not currently running due to charging system problem. Excellent truck for a mechanic who wants to fix it, or for parts. Best offer and must tow it away.
There's a certain cult around these old Toyota trucks, and my guess is someone will want it. You may even get some money for it.
On the other hand, if you want to drive it again, keep in mind that you'll need whatever parts caused the battery to run down, whatever parts the neighbor damaged, plus a catalytic converter and muffler. So you're probably looking at over $1,000 in repair costs. At minimum.
Even if that sounds OK to you, I still wouldn't start it. Instead, I'd find a shop you trust (try www.mechanicsfiles.com), and arrange to have it towed there. Your mechanic can take steps to prevent any engine damage when starting the car after it's been sitting for years.
For instance, he can remove the spark plugs and squirt oil into each of the cylinders so you're not moving the pistons against dry cylinder walls. Then he can turn the crankshaft by hand, with a wrench, to get the pistons moving slowly, and make sure the rings aren't stuck.
If all that works, he can crank the engine with the coil wire detached -- letting the engine turn at cranking speed, which is much slower than running speed.
That allows the fuel pump to fill up the carburetor with gasoline, and allows the oil pump to start lubricating all the parts of the engine that haven't seen oil since "Game of Thrones" was in Season 3.
And then, once he gets it started, he can begin to figure out what it'll need to get on the road again. At that point, you can always go back and reconsider Plan A: Selling it "as is." Good luck, Roxanne.