Spring startup: The complete checklist for how to move your car out of storage

Editor’s note: No car, or have a project that’s not quite ready for the road? No problem. You can still get the most out of the nice weather by renting a cool car from DriveShare.

Ah, once again the moment that all car nuts in northern climes anxiously await: The smell of spring is in the air. Soon we will be inhaling the familiar essence of our collector car driving through rejuvenated lands and towns with the windows down — pure bliss. Waiting for rain to cleanse our roads can be a drag, but now is a perfect time to get your classic car ready for another fun-filled driving season.

First, check your fluids

  • It is important to know how to change the engine oil before each driving season: You don’t want any water or contaminants that may have piled up over the winter getting into the engine. While you are in there, change the oil filter. The oil has been sitting at the bottom of the oil pan for a while and when you start your engine, you want that filter in tip-top shape as the fluids circulate.
  • Check all other fluid levels and note whether any fluids appear dirty. If the transmission fluid smells burnt, it needs a flush. Vehicles stored for a year or more should receive a full fluid drain and flush, including transmission, coolant, brake fluid and power steering. This will purge the systems of any water or impurities. And don’t get yourself caught in a sticky situation: fill the windshield washer fluid reservoir.
  • Draining the gas tank tends to be a topic of debate. If your vehicle was only stored over the cold months and your car was winterized with a fuel stabilizer, this isn’t as big of a worry. Still concerned? There are ways to test your fuel, such as using a water probe indicator. If water is found in the gas, a product like E-Zorb can be used — or just bite the bullet and drain all the fuel for a complete refresh.
  • Make sure the brake and clutch master cylinders are full of fluid. If the fluid is low, there may be a leak somewhere. Before you put the pedal to the metal, confirm that your brakes are firm and in working order, and don’t forget to check the operation of the handbrake!

Inspect your engine bay

Spring Maintenance check-up
  • Check for leaks around the engine bay and underneath the car. Sometimes temperature fluctuations can affect seals and gaskets.
  • Examine all the belts and hoses closely. If there are any cracks, swelling, fraying or any leaks from the hoses, get a replacement. Even if a belt or hose looks borderline, it should be replaced. Summertime heat and humidity fluctuations may leave you stranded on the side of the road.
  • Remove and check the spark plugs to make sure the engine is firing strongly on all cylinders. Give them a light refresh using a wire brush and spray-on plug cleaner, then apply di-electric grease on the ends for optimum connection. If your vehicle was stored for over 90 days, it is recommended to squirt a little oil into each cylinder to lubricate the pistons and rings before reinstalling the spark plugs.
  • Examine your car battery connections. If your battery was kept in the engine compartment, winter weather could have caused the connections to corrode. If the posts are dirty, remove the cables, negative cable first, then clean them with a wire brush and a baking soda water mix. Make sure the battery is charged and keep it in a warm area until you are ready to drive.
  • Examine the air filter, does it need replacing? If you have an air compressor, remove the filter, and blow the dust and dirt remnants off outside. A clean filter allows the engine (and you) to breathe easy.

A few more things before you hit the road

Spring Classic Car
  • Examine your tires and check the pressure. If you find any flat spots, worn tread or dry rot, consider replacing your tires for optimum safety and handling. While you are down there, check to make sure all lug nuts have proper torque applied.
  • Is your blinker fluid full? While we may be joking, bulbs burn out over time. Check your brake lights, turn signals, headlights and running lights. 
  • We recommended giving all suspension joints, bushing and pivot points a look-over. Inspect the rubber for any cracks, splits, or deterioration. They should be soft and flexible to the touch; any hardened boots will crack. Since you’re there, check the shocks for signs of fluid leaks, and if there are leaks, replace or rebuild them.
  • It is important to keep your vehicle’s interior and exterior clean and refreshed. Give it the royal treatment. Apply protectant to leather and vinyl, touch up chips that reveal bare metal, and check the condition of rubber seals around doors and windows. A good wash and wax will make your ride shine as bright as your smile on the first driving day.
  • Finally, the most important and commonly forgotten detail: Review your paperwork. Make sure your car insurance and registration are up to date before hitting the road.

Checklist complete? Then you are ready for the spring driving season! Remember, when you first start ‘er up, don’t immediately rev the engine. Cold oil doesn’t flow as well and putting the pedal down too early could cause bearing and cylinder damage. Instead, let the engine idle until it reaches operating temperature. This is especially important with older classics and turbocharged cars. A shorter 30-minute drive is recommended to loosen everything up and evaporate any moisture in the exhaust and engine. When you get back home do another check for any fluid leaks.


Summer will be here before you know it – learn how to keep your car cool.

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