Car Unused for 4 years - cost to repair?

Tiny
CORDUROY
  • MEMBER
  • 2004 HONDA ACCORD
  • V6
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 58,000 MILES
I haven't used the car for 4 years due to extensive travelling. It's a 2004 Accord V6 Sedan EX with 58k miles. Since 2011, it has been sitting in a covered, climate-controlled storage, completely unused.

I bought it brand-new in 2003, drove it regularly, and had followed the recommended oil change and maintenance schedules.

At this point, I'd like to sell the car but wonder how much I would first have to pay to get it into a drive-able and sell-able condition, given the extended non-usage?

I don't have time for a private sale, so I think that leaves the following options:

1) Have it repaired and then sell it outright to a used car dealer
2) Have it towed as-is to used car dealer and sell it
3) Donate it (if repair costs are high relative to selling price)

I ran online quotes on the car value, which are in the $4000-6000 range. However, without knowing how much it would cost to repair, I cannot make an informed decision. Can someone be so kind as to give me some feedback regarding the expected repair cost? Even a rough range would be helpful. Thank you very much!
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Thursday, May 28th, 2015 AT 9:03 AM

8 Replies

Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
What needs to be repaired? Most likely the battery is sulfated from sitting in a discharged condition, so you replace the battery. If the gas tank is close to empty, add some fresh gas.

I have a '93 Dodge Dynasty that I bought new. It currently has less than 4,700 miles because it also sits in storage for many years. The gas in the tank right now is over five years old and the engine runs fine on it. The only thing I have to do when I drive it is put a new battery in it because I steel it to use in my other vehicles.

Don't be alarmed if you hear grinding noises from the brakes. That's due to surface rust buildup from the humidity in the air. The noises will stop after a few brake applications.
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Thursday, May 28th, 2015 AT 2:55 PM
Tiny
CORDUROY
  • MEMBER
Thanks for the reply! If all it needs is a new battery then that's great news! The car was in good condition when I placed it in storage 4 years ago. In trying to research online, I came across a list of possible repairs, as follows:

1. New Fuel tank
2. New fuel lines (Fuel return line etc, ) whatever is made of rubber
3. Change all fluids and all filters
4. Change all belts
5. Possible bearing change

In your opinion, are these likely for my situation (climate-controlled, covered garage)?

Thanks again!
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Friday, May 29th, 2015 AT 5:04 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Fuel tanks rust out from salt used on roads like where I am. We throw a pound of salt on an ounce of snow to turn the roads into seriously dangerous slush pots. As I'm typing this, I'm sitting in an '88 Grand Caravan that I had to replace the gas tank last year due to a rust hole. The original tank lasted 26 years of daily driving, including snow and salt, never going through a car wash, and never being in a garage. Unless yours is leaking from rust or something hit it, the tank isn't going to develop a problem from just sitting.

I suspect some people are suggesting to replace the rubber fuel lines due to the ethanol in today's gas that is very corrosive. Fuel system parts for cars are designed to withstand the effects of ethanol. As far as that hose is concerned, it doesn't know or care if the gas has been sitting there for four years or if gas has been running through it for four years. Either way, if ethanol was going to deteriorate the rubber, it would do the same thing if you had been driving the car all these years.

The concern with the belts, along with rubber fuel lines, is dry-rotting over time. You know the belts aren't worn out from use. There hasn't been any use for four years. I put a used belt on my Caravan's engine around 2002 and it's still doing fine. There's two things you can look at. The first is the rule of thumb is the ribbed side of serpentine belts can be allowed to develop one crack across it per inch. Less than that, it's fine. More than that, it's time to think about replacing it due to mileage and the amount of flexing it has gone through, not how long it has been sitting and not doing any work.

As for fluids and filters, how emotionally-involved are you with the money in your wallet? Engine oil is oil, and will always be oil. It's the carbon deposits and blowby that build up in it, and the additives that become depleted that are the reasons we need to change it. Some additives become used up over a period of time from the normal heat of the engine. That didn't happen from sitting for four years. There was no blowby and no carbon deposits. My bigger concern, which is still a tiny one, is four years is a long time to let the oil run down from on top of the engine and from various passages. All of those passages will not become totally empty. When we start a freshly-rebuilt engine for the first time, we used to prime the oil pump with a special tool on the end of an electric drill. That filled those passages so the bearings got lubricated right away when the engine started. We can't do that any more on today's engines due to the pump's design. We just start the engines up and hope the pump catches a prime and starts pumping real quickly. If you see the "Oil" light turn off right away when the engine starts, or the gauge comes up right away, everything in the engine will be getting lubricated soon enough to avoid any damage or excessive wear.

At one point my Dynasty sat untouched for almost seven years. You know what I did to get it going? I threw in a new battery, turned the ignition switch, and drove off into the sunset!

I don't know which bearings you're referring to. Sometimes a wheel bearing will become noisy after the car is trailered for a long distance and it was strapped down very tightly. Pounding on them as the trailer goes over pot holes can dent the races the ball bearings roll on, but the same thing happens when you drive the car over those pot holes. There's no pounding going on when the car is just sitting.

That leaves the fuel. There are different formulations all over the country based on the intelligence of the state's politicians. I'm in the middle of Wisconsin, and I have never had a fuel problem. The only issue I have is with a 1980 Volare with a carburetor. The fuel evaporates out of the float bowl overnight. There was a simple fix for that but I never did it. When that car sits for a year, the battery is still charged, but it takes considerable cranking to get the fuel into the carburetor for the engine to start. Other than that, this car also has gas in it that is over five years old. (I like to add a few gallons of fresh gas every two or three years, but this car also rarely gets driven).

To be fair, there are some places in the country where gas can go stale in as little as a month. I'm not an expert in what happens to it other than engines won't start, or they'll run very poorly. One of the concerns is varnish buildup. That can plug the very fine filter screens in injectors. Most gas today has additives to dissolve that varnish and prevent it from forming. If that has happened on your car, it's there now, and draining the gas isn't going to get rid of it in the injectors. I would install the new battery, then see how the engine runs. I would guesstimate there is perhaps an 90 percent chance the engine will run just fine.

Related to this, there are people who insist the gas tank should be full when a car is put in storage because that leaves no room for air with its humidity that will condense into water. These are the same people who never let the tank get lower than half full in winter for the same reason. That story doesn't hold, ... Uhm, ... Water! If you have a 20 gallon tank and run it almost empty, then fill it, you sucked in 20 gallons of air to replace that gas, along with the moisture in the air. If you run it half empty twice and fill it each time, you sucked in 20 gallons of air and the moisture in it. The difference is if that humidity condenses into water droplets, ethanol mixes with it and helps it to burn in the engine and be gone. When the tank is empty, (of gas), it's also empty of condensed water. If the tank is always at least half full, there will always be condensed water in it. Fuel line freeze-up is no longer a concern since ethanol in the fuel is like adding a dozen bottles of Heet fuel line antifreeze, but corrosion of metal parts is still an issue.

Also, if you DO put the car in storage with a full tank of gas, and it goes stale, how do you fit any new, fresh gas in it later? It makes more sense to park the car with very little gas in the tank so you can add later when you're about to start it again. I'm not sure about your car, but most models around that time used a fuel pressure regulator on the engine, and a return line to the tank. Each time you turn on the ignition switch, the fuel pump usually runs for about one second. It will stay running any time the engine is rotating, (cranking or running). That means the gas is circulating very quickly up to the engine and back into the tank, perhaps as much as a gallon or two per minute. That means any fresh gas you just added will make it up to the engine almost right away. You don't have to wait for the gas in the line to get used up first.

Once the engine is running, take the car to have the oil and filter changed, mainly to replenish the additives that deteriorate over time. Those are detergents, seal conditioners, anti-foaming agents, and things like that. If the oil drained out of the filter and air mixed with the sludge that was left in it, I suppose it's possible the filtering element could become plugged. There is always a bypass valve to allow oil to get through, but it will be unfiltered oil. I don't know if I'd be concerned with the fuel filter unless it's due for regular maintenance. There is always gas and ethanol in the filter. The only difference is it's standing still when the car is in storage and it's moving when you're driving.
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Friday, May 29th, 2015 AT 9:17 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
I forgot to add one more point of great value. We had about 50 cars donated to my technical college's Automotive program. I used a dozen of them with prepared problems for my Electrical students to diagnose. Those cars got used once per year for eight weeks, then they sat until next year. The students had to carry out a battery for each car, each day, but other than that, we never did anything other than add gas once in a while. There was nothing in the performance to suggest the cars were not used for a whole year.
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Friday, May 29th, 2015 AT 9:24 PM
Tiny
CORDUROY
  • MEMBER
Thanks for the detailed info! It sounds like the non-usage of my car isn't as detrimental as I'd feared from a repair standpoint.

Actually, my husband had also left his car in storage for 4 years completely unused (we were travelling together). However, it's an open (uncovered) storage. He placed a vehicle cover on the car but it probably did little to protect it from the elements.

His car is a 2006 Toyota Scion xB (purchased new) with 44k miles. What kind of repairs might we expect, and what might be the cost?

Thanks again for your help!
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Saturday, May 30th, 2015 AT 2:38 PM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Okay, let me put my sarcastic face on. I haven't had the chance to do that for a while.

When cars are designed, the engineers suspect they might be driven outdoors in the elements. Some will be driven for more than four years and will be exposed to the elements, so they're designed with that in mind. They'll see thousands of miles of wear while baking in the sun and splashing through water puddles.

The difference with your car, and my '80 Volare, is while they're baking in the sun, there's no wear taking place inside the engine or on the tires. I bought that Volare new and it has never spent a day in a garage. It has never gone through a car wash either. I know if I stick a battery in it, it will start right up and I can drive it. What I DO have to worry about is dry-rot on the tires. That takes place whether the car is being driven or stored. The difference is they will usually be worn out from driving before that becomes a problem. One of my tires flew apart a couple of years ago due to that dry-rot. I never bothered to check. Had I been driving the car regularly, at some point I would have noticed the tread starting to crack apart.

The other issue from sitting outside is moisture from the ground, grass in particular. That will promote rusting of exhaust system parts and body sheet metal. Some people put a sheet of plastic down and park the car on that. Brake parts will get rusty too. In severe cases that can lead to parking brake cables sticking, especially on Ford products that are already prone to developing that problem, but also on brake drums and rotors. The worst thing that will happen there is a grinding noise during the first couple of stops, but that will go away real soon when the rust wears off.

There are a few other things to think about if they show up, but don't worry yourself until they do. One thing that comes to mind is some cars have flexible rubber brake hoses that have a metal bracket in the middle. That bracket is crimped around the hose, and sometimes rust builds up inside that crimp and can restrict the free flow of brake fluid. You'll be able to apply the brakes but that one won't release. I've had that happen three times already on vehicle that have sat for a few years. The fix is real easy and takes just a minute, but you have to be as smart as I am to know where to look.

As I said, I need to unload some sarcasm from time to time!

For this second car, stick a new battery in it, drive it to warm up the engine, then take it for a normal oil change and inspection of the steering and suspension systems. Those inspections aren't needed because it was sitting. That should be done every year or two on all cars.
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Sunday, May 31st, 2015 AT 9:45 PM
Tiny
CORDUROY
  • MEMBER
Caradiodoc,

Thank you again for your help! I thought I'd write and let you know how it all went:

Honda Accord - I installed a new battery, and pumped some air into the tires. The engine wouldn't start at first, but finally it did. Then I took it in for an oil change, and from then it was smooth sailing! Ended up selling to a friend.

Scion xB - installed new battery, pumped air into tires, and engine started right away. Took it in for an oil change, and was able to sell it for a reasonable price.

Phew, I was afraid it would be a lot more complicated, and was relieved how things turned out (as you had anticipated). Thanks again!
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Sunday, July 19th, 2015 AT 3:45 AM
Tiny
CARADIODOC
  • EXPERT
Thanks for the update. Happy to hear all is well.
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Monday, July 20th, 2015 AT 8:13 PM

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