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Stuck Engine Thoughts


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I was replying to another post and decided my thoughts were better separated.

Those long term storage cars need a gentler hand than what I have been reading here. The lubricant in the cylinders is fine. You need to work that engine back and forth slowly at the flywheel teeth if you don't want the next owner to have a bigger bag of problems than they planned.

Using the starter at early stages will push that piston through the bore forcing all the rust and scale along with the ring. If it doesn't bind everything to a screeching halt it will at least score the walls up good and fill the ring lands.

The best practice is to use a flywheel turner or large screwdriver to free the engine by working back and forth slowly and adding lots of oil as you go. Do this with the plugs removed. Once it is free enough to turn the flywheel with your hands you can put lots of flushing oil in the cylinders and spin it with the starter. Keep looking at the brown oil and flush until it becomes clear.

Now you are at a point where you can use a vacuum pump to draw fuel from the tank to the carb. Watch this closely, as well. Keep dumping the fuel until it looks clear and smells good. Next drain the oil that has all the brown penetrant in it. This will probably get a flow of water when you first pull the plug. Being open the the atmosphere, condensation will form during temperature changes. the same happens in the transmission and the rear end. Many of you have probably seen the surprising amount of water in an old gear housing. Best not to "start 'er up" and run that over the bearing surfaces.

Once the car has started after a long storage you will most likely find 4 low compression cylinders. Those would be the ones which spend storage time at the bottom of the bore. They tend to compress and stick that way. A couple hundred miles of driving may free them up. The four cylinders at the top of the bore will compress on their first journey's down the bore and be OK if you were careful about the rust.

Over the years I have found there is less than a 50% chance a car like this will continue in use. Usually they do not recover completely. Or there are so many other things wrong (about 300 $100 jobs) that they are "disassembled for restoration".

This is where the sad part starts. The owner may end up committed to a $1,000 sedan and complete the restoration. At the beginning a convertible or hard top may have cost another $3,000 to $4,000. In the end the same 300 $100 jobs get done; or maybe just half. Then the owner has a less desirable car if "fire sale" time comes around.

I will be 63 tomorrow. Please do not think for a minute that I have followed my own advice to the letter. I am working toward it; I may not live that long, though. I'm just sharing experience hoping someone smarter than me will read it.

Old cars are really a fun and adaptable hobby, though.


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Good stuff Bernie. Thanks for posting this.

I just want to add the following to help with Penetrating Oils

Machinist's Workshop Magazine (March/April or May/June, 2007) actually tested penetrants for break out torque on rusted nuts. They arranged a subjective test of all the popular penetrants with the control being the torque required to remove the nut from a "scientifically rusted" environment.

*Penetrating oil ..... Average load*

None ..................... 516 pounds

WD-40 .................. 238 pounds

PB Blaster ............. 214 pounds

Liquid Wrench ..... 127 pounds

Kano Kroil ............ 106 pounds

ATF-Acetone mix....53 pounds

The ATF-Acetone mix was a "home brew" mix of 50 - 50 automatic transmission fluid and acetone. Note the "home brew" was better than any commercial product in this one particular test. Our local machinist group mixed up a batch, and we all now use it with equally good results. Note also that "Liquid Wrench" is about as good as "Kroil" for about 20% of the price.

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Guest Kingoftheroad

Good Information !! Thanks.

This is why I fire up my jalopy semi frequently in the bad / cold weather seasons, actually all year round whether I drive it or not.. A cheap precautionary measure to keep things moving:).

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There are no short cuts to the original scenario. If a engine is stuck like you say then ATF or marvel oil the top of the pistons for a few days. Then get that engine out of the car and turn it over and do the same and the same amount of time to the bottom of the bores. Then get as many rod bearing caps off as you can and push the pistons through (use a ridge ream if needed) then try to move the crank to get the rest out, but GENTLY though because you might break rings trying--and you will never know unless they come out to see. Then take the caps off the main bearings. The most important thing here is to look at the bearings and the journals, then the pistons/rings and cylinder walls. Then you can pop the gallery plugs and look at the oil galleries.

If a engine has been sitting that long and is stuck and you manage to get it free to turn and fire up, I wouldn't trust it for a ride to the gas station. The engine may run, but it can NEVER be trusted. I've had many engines run just fine and were quiet, but after having them apart realized they didn't have far to go before they were toast. Don't fool yourself.


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Years ago I also found that most cars go into long term storage unintentionally AND without a fresh oil change. Oil gets mildly acidic in use. The acids in the oil on engine bearing surfaces tends to etch the babbit over time. Generally when you start the car the etched babbit wipes away and leaves you with a extra .001 or .0015 thousandths of extra clearance. That is enough for some good rod rattles.

Those old cracker barrel guys would tell stories about a car sitting in a field for year and "firing right up with a little gas". Maybe a Model T, but not a modern car; and I figure a modern car as mid '30's and up. I had it happen with a 1939 Buick I bought in 1974.

There are exceptions, of course. The odds are in your favor just like Las Vegas. I want to hear it run OR it has to be something real special so I am prepared for the imminent engine rebuild.


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