There’s nothing more exciting than picking up a new project car, especially if it already runs and drives. Even if it doesn’t, often, what’s kept it off the road is something simple enough. However, regardless of whether it’s been sitting derelict for a long time or has just seen better days, there’s a reason why project cars tend to be the ‘sort by cheapest’ option online. Naturally, that means they’ll need some love before you can dig into the most exciting stuff like suspension, engine, and wheel upgrades. This week, it’s all about the easy maintenance to start your project car in the right direction and bring it back up to snuff so you can jump on modifications worry-free.
First, you should replace your cabin air filter, engine air filter, and fuel filter. You don’t want to breathe dirty old cabin air filter air, nor does your engine want to breathe nasty old engine air filter air. They’re easy and inexpensive to replace and should be the first two filters you tackle. It is also a good proactive idea to replace the fuel filter, as old gas may have sat in your project car turning to varnish, which can goop up a fuel filter in a jiffy. To give your first start the best chance at success, make sure you include a fuel filter with your first services. We trust Hengst Filtration, an OEM supplier for European vehicles, as our go-to source for all our filter needs.
An excellent way to see what you’re working with in terms of engine health is to inspect the spark plugs and replace those easy ignition components like coil packs or plug wires, the spark plugs themselves, and possibly the distributor, depending on your vehicle. With the spark plugs removed, you can assess the air/fuel mixture by physically seeing the evidence of rich or lean cylinders, which tells you quite a bit about the engine’s condition. You can also spot potential blow-by if they’re coated in oil or, in the worst case, identify a leaking head gasket if you find evidence of coolant on the plug. Finally, any way you look at it, your engine is going to be happy with new plugs and coil packs at the least. Our helpful Assembled by ECS Ignition Service Kits will set you up with the right parts for your engine.
Even if the previous owner claims they just changed the oil, it’s in your best interest to start fresh so you know exactly when the last oil service was and what is exactly in your car. This is true of any used car but especially important in a project car that may or may not have been running when you bought it. It’s also a good time to bust out the trusted LIQUI MOLY engine flush to make sure everything is nice and clean inside your block and head. Simply pour a bottle in with the old oil, let it run for about 10-15 minutes, and then drain it out as you would normally. You’ll be amazed at how much carbon buildup and gunk this stuff strips out, which leaves you with a great starting point to pour in that fresh LIQUI MOLY oil and pop in a brand new Hengst filter. Of course, our Assembled by ECS Oil Service Kits have all of that in one box for your convenience, including a new magnetic drain plug, crush washer, and filter o-ring.
When you’re performing the early stuff like ignition and oil service, you should take that time to also inspect your brakes, suspension bushings, and hunt for leaks in the cooling system. If your brakes have seen better days, an Assembled by ECS Brake Service Kit is the way to go for a quick and easy solution. New pads, rotors, and sensors are a great start, but you can take it a step further and knock out the brake fluid flush, too. To make that easy on yourself, pick up a European Brake Pressure Bleeder so you can handle the fluid flush without a friend.
Cooling System Service
As we mentioned, it’s best to start fresh with a project car that has an unknown history. If you spot a coolant leak, you know you need to do this anyway, but even if you don’t, it’s a good idea. With my beaters and project cars, I tackle everything that could usually put my car on the side of the road upfront just for the peace of mind, especially when a cooling system refresh kit isn’t a huge expense. A new thermostat, water pump, drive belt, coolant hoses, and temperature sensor go a long way in old cars and ensure that everything in that system is working as it should. Of course, you can also add a new radiator or electric fan with that for a total overhaul, but I wouldn’t recommend going with the scorched-earth approach here unless you know the radiator is blocked/leaking or the fan is broken.
This should be as-needed. Suspension bushings last a long time, but not forever. The boots on ball joints in control arms and tie rods are the same way. Just make sure you inspect everything for oxidation in the rubber or deterioration. If you do spot something that seems like it’s seen better days or feel some wobbliness in your test drive, a suspension service is in order. Fortunately, we have full suspension service kits that include pre-installed ball joints and bushings in many cases to make it a quick and easy job. You may notice we didn’t mention shocks, struts, and top hats here. If you plan to upgrade, a cup kit or set of coilovers will cost about as much as replacement parts in those assemblies, so you’re better off buying what you want on the front end there. If your suspension feels crashy or you can tell you have a blown strut or two, go ahead and upgrade unless your plan is to keep the car stock. We offer all the best suspension manufacturers, like H&R, Bilstein, Koni, BC Racing, and even have our own line of in-house developed Street System coilovers for many popular vehicles.
Details, Details, Details
Alright, not so much in terms of maintenance, but important nonetheless. Washing and detailing your project car’s exterior and interior serves more of a purpose than just making the thing clean. You get to know a vehicle when you go through all the nooks, crannies, and crevices of your car during a detail. It’s often that while cleaning, you’ll spot something that might just be a simple fix or something you’d never notice otherwise, like small door dings, broken trim pieces, faulty seat controls, etc. A full detail will have your car looking less like a project and more like a functional car. (Even if it doesn’t run yet.) Griot’s Garage is my go-to car wash and detailing supplier, which I can’t recommend enough. Grab some of their products, a few wash buckets, and go to town.
While a lot of this may seem obvious, it’s all too easy with a project car to pass over a service because everything seems to work at the moment. I can’t stress it enough that while things may work now, it’s highly likely that something simple and preventable will break due to age or disuse. When a car sits for a long time, they don’t stop aging. In fact, bringing life back to them will likely be the final straw for things like belts, hoses, and mechanical parts that have spent a long time sitting. So, make your life and your project a bit easier with these service kits on the front end rather than prematurely trying to put something back on the road that will likely break if left un-serviced.