5 Tips for Starting an Old Engine


Check the Timing

Timing belts, or chains, are the part of your engine that keeps the camshaft, distributor, crankshaft and pistons in sync. When the timing belt breaks or is damaged it can keep the engine from starting up. Most timing belts will last about 60,000 miles (96,561 kilometers) but if your engine has been sitting for a long time it might be a good idea to inspect it.

Many cars use reinforced rubber belts, but older cars and many newer luxury cars still use metal chains. In either case, a broken timing belt (or chain) will inhibit your engine from starting.

Although it may take only a few minutes to actually slip the belt on, getting to the belt might not be all that easy. It's likely you'll have to take off multiple hoses, move electrical wiring and remove other engine components to gain access to it. Once you're able to access the belt you'll have to make sure to align the crankshaft and camshaft markings and ensure the number one piston is at top dead center (TDC). If you don't get this exactly right you can throw the entire engine off its timing and probably cause some serious internal damage when all of those metal parts start crashing into each other.

Needless to say, changing the timing belt isn't for everyone. It requires a high level of skill, and in some cases, it might even require taking off an engine mount to gain full access while suspending part of the engine as you work on it. If your timing belt or chain is old, stretched, worn or broken though, you'll need to replace it to get your engine started. Consider taking it to a mechanic if you don't have the tools and skill required to replace it.

Related Articles


  • Allen, Mike. "How to Find a Vacuum Leak." Popular Mechanics. Feb. 28, 2011. (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/how-to/maintenance/how-to-find-a-vacuum-leak
  • Antique Automobile Club of America. December 2009. (Jan. 23, 2012) http://forums.aaca.org/f169/old-engine-start-up-274491.html
  • Autos.com. "How to Test Ignition Coil." (Jan. 25, 2012) http://www.autos.com/car-maintenance/how-to-test-an-ignition-coil
  • Autotap.com. "Engine Stalls, Misfire Code and Cylinder Misfire." (Jan. 23, 2012) http://www.autotap.com/problem6_engine_stalls.asp
  • Bill, Kaiser. "Old Car Start-Up Procedure." Kaiserbill.com. (Jan. 24, 2012) http://www.kaiserbill.com/Web-PDF/Start-Up.pdf
  • Firestone Complete Auto Care. "Car Battery and Starter Repair." (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.firestonecompleteautocare.com/repair/carbattery_starter.jsp
  • Juran, Ken. "Replacing a Timing Belt." Popular Mechanics. Feb. 23, 2007. (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/how-to/maintenance/4212995.
  • Memmer, Scott. "A Shocking Expose: Your Car's Battery." Edmunds.com. Dec. 17, 2000. (Jan. 26, 2012) http://www.edmunds.com/car-technology/a-shocking-expose-your-cars-battery.html
  • New Hampshire Department Of Environmental Services. "Waste Antifreeze: Management Requirements for Handlers and Transporters." NH.gov. (Jan. 27, 2012) http://des.nh.gov/organization/commissioner/pip/factsheets/hw/documents/hw-4.pdf
  • Peters, Eric. "Does Gas Go Bad?" AOL Autos. March 31, 2008. (Jan. 25, 2012) http://autos.aol.com/article/does-gas-go-bad/.
  • Rosenthal, Morris. "Diagnostic Flowchart for a Car that Won't Start or Stalls." Ifitjams.com. (Jan 24, 2012) http://www.ifitjams.com/starting.htm


Will new motor mounts increase engine response?

Will new motor mounts increase engine response?

Is it possible for something as simple as new motor mounts to increase engine response in your car or truck? Find out at HowStuffWorks.