It's not too early to think about getting the old flivver (well, it's most likely a muscle car these days, but what the heck!) ready for its first springtime drive. If you live in the southwestern part of the country you've probably been driving your treasure regularly, but those of us in the East, Midwest and Northeast don't have such luxury. We're happy to get the occasional drive between bouts of wet, icy, snowy weather, constantly fearing road salts - and that's if we're lucky.
Most classic cars housed east of the Rockies, therefore, get little or no use from November through March and getting them ready for the road is just a bit more complicated than turning the key. Casually starting a car that hasn't run in months can put more mileage (damaging wear, that is) on it than driving across the country, so here are some tips on ways to "wake up" your car while doing the least possible harm.
Hopefully you disconnected the battery when you first stored the car. If not, there's most likely an accumulation of corrosion on the terminals and the cells are nearly discharged. Put a trickle charger on the battery and leave it long enough to get a full charge, typically overnight. While you're waiting clean the terminals and cables. You want to start the season with the freshest possible electrical system.
While you're looking around the engine bay, take the time to investigate for loose hoses, belts and evidence of rodents. Mice love to nest in engine bays for some reason, and when that happens the little devils tend to chew on wiring.
Check all fluids. Things like brake fluid and coolant can leak out slowly and dry up without leaving much trace, so verify that everything was as you left it. Don't forget to check tire pressures (betcha' the spare's flat, so check it now!)
Put your foot on the brake pedal to make sure the system hasn't bled down. Turn on the ignition and test for stop lights while you're at it.
Over the past several months, oil has drained from the engine's galleries and lifters. Starting it now will tend to cause undue wear on the bearing surfaces, so we want to pre-pressurize the oil system. Some owners have pre-oilers installed on their cars but these things are unnecessary. The best pre-oiler is the starter motor, so let's use it...
Leave the choke off so no raw gas is drawn into the engine. Disconnect the coil wire from the distributor cap to prevent firing, then hit the key to turn the engine over without touching the accelerator. Let it spin for about 10 seconds, then stop for 10 seconds to keep the battery and starter from heating up. Repeat this two or three times or until you see oil pressure on gauge-equipped cars. Now that you have oil pressure you can re-connect the coil wire, set the choke and start the car.
No! The worst thing you can do is to warm the engine to operating temperature and then put its power through a cold transmission, u-joints and differential. Get the engine to run smoothly enough so that it won't stall, then put the car in gear and drive. Go slowly until the engine and drivetrain components reach full operating temperature together.
In those first few hundred feet of driving, test the brakes. They will probably groan and pull a little until surface rust goes away, but in any case don't wait to test them until you're going 60 mph. That's no time for a surprise.
Drive the car for at least 20 minutes. It should start to smooth out as flat spots on the tires go away and bushings flex, and bear in mind that the gas in the tank has lost some of its aromatic content. Don't expect the car to feel all that powerful because it probably won't. Top off the tank on your way home.
When you get back to your garage don't forget to test all the lights, signals and horn. Once you know everything is working, give the old machine a good wash and wax.