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Bringing sitting vehicles back to life

Tuesday, November 29, 2016 - 09:00
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In my shop, it seems like we get hit pretty regularly with the ones that have been parked somewhere. A colleague of mine called me a couple of years back about a 1973 VW Beetle she had driven in high school. It was sitting in a barn on her property and she as all excited about getting it going again, because, while old Beetles used to be the cheapest car around for somebody who couldn’t do better, some folks consider them are really cool nowadays. Well, they’re not as cool as some people think they are, and to be honest, there are more than a few for sale around here that are over-priced. I probably owned a dozen VW bugs (and a Ghia or two) before I turned eighteen because my dad had a VW shop, and to me, a VW bug was something I drove when I couldn’t do any better. That being said, I had a lot of fun power sliding around dirt road curves on those back-heavy bugs and plowing through waist-deep mud bogs that would stick a four-wheel drive pickup, and dad taught me how to make a plain old VW bug run like a Porsche on a shoestring budget.

It’s no wonder they wanted this one back on the road — they even cleaned it up before they brought it to us.

Anyway, this lady I knew thought she and her husband were going to roll that old bug out of the barn, put a battery in it, run the field mice out of the glove compartment, fire it up, and drive it to the courthouse wearing a big smile. And while we’ve all heard stories of people who, with minimal effort, recovered a ride that had been sitting for years, we all know that isn’t usually the case, and I warned her that the moving parts on that barned bug would most likely be rusted together.

In spite of the fact that the bug had been parked out of the weather, she later reported to me that I was right on target. Everything except the steering box was either locked up or so stiff it could barely be moved. She was intelligent enough to shelve that project and move on. The bug wasn’t cool enough to merit the weeks or months of spare-time and rusty love it would take to get it back on the road.

I once purchased and drove a 1970 model Ford pickup from a guy who had found it sitting in a barn. He told me he had put a battery in it, got a tag for it, and drove it for a few months before he sold it to me. And I later sold it to somebody else, but it ran well, even though it looked rusty and junky.

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Back in ’72, I was at a friend’s house when his dad and his brother dragged a 1953 Ford out of his late grandmother’s garage.  This thing was covered with dust and had been sitting in there for years. Granted, the car was only 19 years old – equivalent to a ’98 model in today’s world, but we hooked a rope to the front of that old bomb, put the column-shifter in second, and dragged it down the dirt road with a pickup. It fired up and ran like brand new. My friend had just turned sixteen and thought he was looking at his first car. Wrong. His parents literally gave that car away to a relative, who sold it for junk. Go figure.

Rats and a three valve

Then there are the ones that come to us having been driven every day, but with critter damage. Rats, squirrels, and dogs can do ruinous things to a vehicle. One of my guys works at the local Ford dealer and he found critter damage on a brand new vehicle with less than five miles on the odometer – it hadn’t even been through pre-delivery, but the knock sensor harness was chewed in two under the intake manifold. I’ve found bird nests with eggs in them under the hood on a car that was driven every day, dead cats in the radiator shroud (along with a busted and out-of-balance fan), and one F150 with so much dog-tooth damage that a very thick wire harness was chewed completely in two and some of the EVAP hoses were destroyed as well. At the dealer, that was a thousand-dollar repair, and it was the work of the neighbor’s hound. If that wasn’t bad enough, the same dog got under there a few days after I repaired it and did even more damage.

This is a picture of rat damage that kept reoccurring on an Explorer we worked on a while back. It got so bad that the lady put rat poison under the hood. It got the rats, but not before they got the wires one more time.

Anybody who has done much automotive electrical work has seen animal damage to wire harnesses and hoses. This truck came to us with the “barned for years” syndrome and was also reported to have rat damage as well. It started, but all it would do was idle, and it didn’t even do that very well.

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