I was at a charity car auction where a hundred cars and trucks were donated to a college by a generous car guy.


The vehicles were delivered as-is where-is to a team of eager volunteers whose job was to get them up and running for the auction.




The team of volunteers had a large building donated by a car dealership that had moved to a more modern facility and the volunteers had several months to tackle the donated vehicles. The volunteer participants were allowed to work on the vehicles and help build toward the ultimate goal to get them running in time for the auction.


The process was hindered by communication breakdowns so the donated fleet had vehicles with multiple oil changes before a system was installed to alleviate the confusion problem.




The next time I saw the vehicles was at the auction and I noticed pretty quickly how many of them were not running very well- or at all in some cases. I watched the army of volunteers tinker with the vehicles outside of the auction building in a last minute and futile attempt to fire them up.


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The rough idle and pungent aroma of old gasoline was a dead giveaway to the core problem: the old vehicles were running on new gas mixed with old gas in an un-cleaned gas tank through an un-cleaned fuel system.


The result was predicable: the old warriors didn’t stand a chance in the game. There was no way that a sketchy fuel delivery system was going to deliver a smooth-running vehicle to the auction.


Many of the vehicles were subsequently dragged or pushed into the ring and arrived in less-than-glorious fashion for the onlookers/potential buyers. Nothing says “let’s shoot down the bid price” better than a non-running car or truck and this auction had plenty of them.




I thought back to the large team of volunteers I saw at the old dealership building and I began to wonder whether how many of them were aware of a basic principle of old vehicles in storage: old gas and no startups will screw them up, so you need to get rid of the old gas and clean the fuel tank and lines before you run them.


There is no shortcut to this basic principle. The vehicles from the past were built to run on leaded gasoline-not great for the environment but the old warriors loved it. Unleaded gas also has a short lifespan before it could almost be used to put out fires instead of starting them.




The result is an old engine designed for leaded gas that sounds like it is knock-knock-knocking on heaven’s door after it has not been started for a long while; if it even runs at all. The weak octane old gas works against it, the points-based distributor works against it, the tired starter and possible six volt system works against it, the dried-out carb works against it, and the tired fuel pump works against it.


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The effect is obvious when you see an old vehicle fighting long odds to fire up without all of the aforementioned ducks in a neat row. That is what I saw on a big scale at the auction.


Recently I saw a spanky-looking 1967 Dodge Charger with a For Sale sign at a car show. I watched as the car left and could not help but notice the very thick cloud of black exhaust smoke and undeniable aroma of raw old gas that followed it away from the show.




Most car guys would be undeterred by the optics of the problem if they were seriously interested in the Charger, but they would likely try to beat the guy up on the price. They could cure the problem, but it requires a fair amount of work and they would have to factor that work into their price offer for the car.



The moral of this story is pretty simple: think long and hard about the fuel system before you fire up an old car that has been gone, forgotten and neglected for too long.


Especially if you want to sell it.


Jim Sutherland

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