How to get a (Gasoline) car starting that has been sitting a few years

280se

As an example I will use this rotten 280SE that has not been driven for a long time. It has been standing outside, somewhat half of it under a roof next to a barn for 3 years.  So how do you solve the mystery of starting a car that has been sitting for so long? This method applies for all Mercedes and all other gasoline cars in general.

280SE M110 Engine
Sleeping M110

I will also touch upon the subject of what you have to do after you get the car started in order to make it drivable.

Preparation

This list is the bare minimum preparations to get the car starting. To get it to a drivable condition you will need to do much more stuff. I dive into that at the bottom.

  1. Get a new battery
  2. Get some fresh fuel
  3. Get some new spark plugs
  4. New fuel filter and fuel tank filter
  5. Check condition of ignition system to determine if you need to get new parts like distributor cap and spark plug wires.
  6. New air filter
Procedure
  1. Remove old battery. The old battery is quickly dead if not been used for a while. Just throw out the old one at the same place where you buy new one, they will recycle it for you. Don’t cry over the old battery, maybe this time you will take better care of the newer one?

    old car battery
    Ready to be recycled
  2. Empty the tank from the old fuel since this fuel is pretty much useless. If the car has been sitting for more than a few years then just change the fuel filter as well. There might be the case where you cant raise the car to get under it to drain the fuel and change the fuel tank filter as was the case with this particucular case. Then you have to drain the tank by sucking out the old fuel from the tank filler hole. It is easily done by “stealing fuel trick” (just suck on a hose hopefully not with your mouth, just use a vacuum pump instead). It wont get your filter clean, but often it is not completely clogged in a gasoline car and you can get the car running by pouring some new fuel in.

    removing old fuel
    Removing old fuel from the tank, used the old suck on the hose until it start flowing.
  3. Remove the old spark plugs, they probably are so dirty they won’t give a proper spark.

    old vs new sparkplugs
    Can you spot the which ones are the new spark plugs?
  4. Pour a little oil into the cylinders from an oil can to make better compression upon startup, the oil will make a temporary seal between the compression rings.

    oil being poured into cylinders
    Pour some oil into those cylinders
  5. Put in new the spark plugs, gapped to the right specification.
    spark plug fitting
    Torque the new spark plugs to not damage the engine block threads

    Go over the ignition system again if you didn’t get new parts, like removing obvious corrosion inside the distributor cap. Check for cracks and corrosion on the spark plug wires. Remove all traces of corrosion since it might hinder current to the spark plugs.

  6. Check the engine oil level, fill up if low. Low level might indicate oil leakage and dried up gaskets.
  7. Check radiator coolant level, this has probably evaporated quite a bit and you have to fill up with new coolant.
  8. Throw out the old air filter. Simply remove the air filter housing at initial start up to get the maximum amount of air into the combustion chamber. Don’t forget to put in the new air filter after startup to avoid dirt getting into the engine.
  9. Crank the engine first by hand from the crank pulley, go in clockwise direction when looking from the front of the car over the engine. The engine should be able to turn without too much force. If not you might have a big problem! Then the only chance you have is that the engine will turn with the starter motor.
  10. Check for blown fuses, easy fix and often overlooked.
  11. Put in the new battery and check that the battery pole clamps are cleaned from corrosion. Put them on tight.
  12. Fill the car up with some new fuel, but just a little since you don’t want to waste fuel id you can’t get it started.
  13. Cross your fingers and try to start the car. You know that a good Mercedes should always start unless….

Hopefully you got your car starting, congratulations and pat on the shoulder! Then now what?

rusty 280SE
I managed to get the car starting, and moved it inside, but it is so rusty that it is not worth saving. I will take the engine though since it is in quite good condition from looking at the service history.
After procedure

Some even have the trouble of even moving the car after starting it, can the wheels turn or are the brakes completely seized?

Well the job is not done just because you only got started. Now the big job is starting. The absolute most important thing is changing all the fluids and filters! The fluids change property when being stored for a long time and does not have the right cooling and lubricating properties anymore. That means changing the engine oil, coolant, transmission oil, servo oil, brake fluid and differential fluid.

The brake disks are probably rusted beyond recognition and has to be replaced along with the brake pads and pad sensors.

rusted brake disks
This is a no go

Engine valves needs adjusting if this is not done automatically if you want peak power and better fuel economy.

Serpentine belts needs replacement since they probably are slipping and are cracked.

Change the tires, they probably have cracks in them and are not round at all after sitting this long.

Check the brushes on the generator, they probably need replacing.

Consider cleaning or replacing the injectors since they probably have bad spray patterns making poorer performance and again lower fuel economy.

There is an environmental problem, but only seen in the eyes of us now, in a larger picture this is not new or the worst, 20000 years ago when there was mass extinction of all large mammals on Earth due to over hunting.
Bosch CIS injector
After thoughts

Getting the car started is just a small part of the job, making it drivable is a much more tedious job that might take you . Leaving a car sitting for long periods of time is not good for the car or you. It leaves you a lot of work and more things than you think needs replacement after just a few years. The engine does not like it and it is quite tedious to get rid of all the old fuel in the tank and filters that makes life miserable. Not even to begin mentioning old dried up gaskets.

I have my car parked for around 5 months of the year during the winter, and I do not recommend leaving the car for much more than that. I make sure I do the necessary preparations before parking, like removing the battery to inside a warm place and recharging it before use again. Trying to have as little fuel as possible in the tank when parking. Blowing up the tires to around maximum pressure. Parking the car without touching the brakes and not using the parking brake to prevent seizure. Then covering the car in a car blanket to protect the paint. The brake rotors will unavoidably get a thin rust layer, but thin enough it will all go away rapidly after a going hard on the brakes a few times. Leaving the car for more than one + year will make the rotors so rusty that they have to be replaced. You have been warned.

Cheers!

Author: robs

Passionate about older Mercedes Benz where driving, maintaining and learning new things is what keeps me doing this. Enjoying writing about cars and teaching others on the black arts of car maintenance. Have a major in space technology engineering and currently doing IT consulting for a living.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *