In many parts of the country, winter seems to have a way of forcing most people's "hobby" vehicles into the garage where they'll stay awhile.
But spring changes everything. The sun's warmer, plants are greener, the roads are starting to lose the last evidence of snow, and most Corvette owners are thinking about bringing their cars out of hibernation.
Vehicles destined to spend between four and six months in the stable usually undergo a storage routine in preparation for winter. They're washed and waxed, they get a change of oil, interiors are cleaned and detailed and, sometimes, equipped with a bag of desiccant material to fend off humidity. In addition, spark plugs are pulled, fuel stabilizers like STA-BIL are added, and some engine oil is squirted into the cylinders. Owners have even been known to put their cars on stands or occasionally roll it forward or backward a few feet to avoid flat-spotting the tires.
Even with pre-storage preparations, it isn't a great idea to fire up your Corvette after it's been sitting for a while. You can't give it a hot cup of coffee and it isn't going to do any stretching exercises. But there are some things you can do to make that first springtime startup less traumatizing.
1. First, remove the battery if you didn't when it went into storage, and connect it to a charger so you'll have plenty of oomph when you start it the first time. Make sure it's holding a charge and that each cell, if applicable, is topped off to the proper levels with distilled water. Leave off the caps while you're charging the battery. You may want to consider upgrading if you discover a battery problem.
2. Change the engine oil and oil filter while the battery is charging. This helps eliminate any moisture in the crankcase. While you're under there, have a look at the condition of your tires and suspension components. Look at the insides of your tires. Brake fluid there indicates a leak at the calipers. Sort out those leaks with fresh parts, if necessary, then flush and/or bleed the system using the right procedure for your car, making sure to keep the master cylinder topped off with the proper type of fresh fluid. Also consider greasing the zerk fittings on all suspension components according the directions in your car's shop manual.
3. Once you're done under the car, move to the engine compartment and visually inspect all the hoses. Check every vacuum line, coolant hose, and fuel line, paying particular attention to the hose ends immediately adjacent to the clamps. Sometimes these areas can develop small tears or cuts that can result in fluid or vacuum leaks that can be difficult to track down later. Replace any hardened or cracked hoses.
4. Open the radiator and expansion tank, if applicable, and have a look inside. If there is oil floating on the top, you may have larger problems and you shouldn't be cruising anywhere for a while. If the coolant level is low or discolored, or if you can't remember the last time you gave the cooling system a flush and a fresh batch of coolant, drain the system and add the proper mix of fresh fluid and water. This is also a good time to consider installing a new thermostat with the proper temperature rating for your car.
5. Next, inspect your distributor cap, rotor, points (if equipped), and spark-plug wires. Renew them with fresh pieces if there's any doubt about the condition of any of these components. Remove the spark plugs and add a couple of healthy squirts of fresh engine oil to each cylinder. Rotate the engine a few times by hand, then replace the plugs with new ones of the proper type and heat range.
6. Hopefully, you started your Corvette's engine periodically during the winter and allowed it to come up to operating temperature. If you didn't, it's probably best to treat your first engine startup of spring as if you were starting a new engine for the first time. Remove the distributor and prime the engine with a pre-oiler (see sidebar). Remove the drill and pre-oiler, reinstall your distributor, and button it all back up.
7. You should have topped off the fuel tank before you put your Corvette away for the winter. This simple rule-of-thumb borrowed from aircraft owners helps prevent condensation buildup inside the tank. Since water is heavier than gasoline, guess what will get sucked into the carburetor the first time you start your engine? Siphon out as much of the old gas as possible and set it aside in an approved container. Use it to top off your daily driver, lawn mower, or other yard tools. Add four or five gallons of fresh gas to the tank.
8. Check your carburetor and other fuel-system components for signs of leakage, varnish, excessive dirt, or other unusual conditions. Make sure all the linkages are free, the throttle return springs are in place and serviceable, and your choke functions properly. Some carburetors may have dry fuel bowls at this point. If your Corvette is Holley-equipped, loosen one of the lower bolts on both the front and rear bowls on the Holley carburetor and see whether fuel dribbles out. Then operate the throttle while looking into the carb and make sure there's a healthy squirt of fuel from the carb's shooters. Remove, clean, and/or replace them as necessary. Work the throttle on your Quadrajet while looking inside to see whether the accelerator pump squirts fuel into the carb. If the carb needs priming, squirt at least a few tablespoons of fresh fuel into it via the vent tube(s), then thoroughly wipe up any spillage.
9. By now, your battery should be charged. Clean the terminals on the battery and cable ends-either the clamp or screw type-with a wire brush. Put a smear of dielectric grease on the terminals and install the battery, making sure to snug up the cable connections to get good contact at both terminals. Reinstall the battery.
10. Start the car and let it idle for a while until it gets up to operating temperature. Keep a close eye on the engine compartment and the ground under the car. Look for leaks and correct them. Finally, pull your Corvette out into the sunshine and give it a good wash and wax with your favorite cleaning products. Then take off the T-tops and hit the road for that first stylin' cruise of the year.
Pre-Lube It Or Lose It
Build Your Own Engine Pre-oiling Tool
When you're getting ready to bring your Corvette to life for the first time this year, it's time to tackle your first automotive-related project at the same time.
Many companies will be happy to sell you an engine pre-oiling tool. But why not save some money by making your own from a junkyard distributor or one of the spares in the parts box?
Grab the distributor of choice and strip it. Remove the cap, rotor, condenser and points, if equipped, as well as the advance weights and everything else that's in there. Put it into a vise and drive out the roll pin holding the drive sprocket using an appropriate-size drift pin and a hammer.
Remove the sprocket and completely grind off the teeth so you have a nice cylindrical piece of metal that won't catch or hang up on anything inside the engine. Reinstall the now-stripped drive gear onto the distributor shaft by reusing the previously removed roll pin.
Next, using a Dremel-type tool or a die-grinder with an abrasive stone or whatever you choose, carefully grind the top of the shaft into a roughly triangular shape so it can be inserted and securely cinched down in the chuck of your chosen drill.
To pre-oil the engine, remove the distributor from the engine and replace it with your homemade tool, making sure the tang on the shaft engages with the slot in the top of the oil-pump driveshaft and clamp it down securely. Remove the rocker-arm covers, attach a drill to your pre-oiler, and let 'er rip.
Spin it clockwise with the drill for a few minutes until oil comes out of the rockers. Consider using a 11/42-inch drill for this if you have a high-pressure and/or a high-volume oil pump in the car. These units take some serious torque to turn, and you run the risk of frying your 31/48-inch drill in this case because the process could take several minutes.
Congratulations! You've just saved some money and completed your first project of the year.