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Classic Auto Doc: Break in newly rebuilt engine

Steve Linden is a classic, antique, and collector vehicle expert who offers advice, tips, and news on all things classic car related on Long Island. Send in your questions to

My son and I own a 1982 Corvette with 65,000 miles that is in good condition. After driving the car for a while and shutting it off, it will not always start. When the ignition key is turned to the start position nothing happens. The car has a rebuilt starter that was in the car when we bought it three years ago. We’ve tried tapping the starter with a hammer, adding a heat shield to the starter, pulling the fuse for the anti-theft system, checked for proper voltage at the starter, and checking the neutral safety switch. If we place a battery charger on the battery for only a moment, or let the car sit for 2-3 hours it will start right up.

Gee guys, thanks for checking all the obvious things and leaving me with the tough part. You’ve eliminated all of the things I would have recommended, so I’m going to have to suggest that you replace the starter again. I don't think the problem is the starter, but I think it might be the starter relay, which is part of the starter on your car. Three of the clues are typical of a bad relay. One is that you get no sound at all when turning the key. Another is that it works after you put a charger on it, and lastly it works after sitting for a few hours (cooling off). The quality of rebuilt starters varies tremendously, so I would try a new starter from a quality rebuilder. I think there's a good chance this will solve your problem.

I just purchased a 1959 Corvette with a completely rebuilt engine. The seller told me to make sure to “break it in” properly. What’s the proper procedure for this?

Everybody seems to have a different idea of what's the best way to break in an engine, but there is some common ground and these are the most important points to follow for the first 500 miles:

1. Vary the engine speeds by alternating between “around town” and “highway” driving. Try not to maintain the same speed for prolonged periods.

2. Don't rev the engine too high. You should be able to drive in a normal manner and still keep the engine below 4000 RPMs.

3. Don't "lug" the engine. That is, don't shift too soon and put the engine under load when you reach the next gear. I find this to be the most important.

4. Change the oil after about 50 miles. A lot of people will say that this is unnecessary, but I consider it to be cheap insurance. The first 50 miles is when most metallic contamination will end up in the oil. Change it again after 500 miles.

I’ve been using this procedure for decades with great success.

I own a 1988 Mustang GT with 110,000 miles. I need to add one quart of oil every week and I’ve been told that the rear main seal needs to be replaced. I’ve tried some of the additives that are available at the auto parts store, but none have worked. My mechanic said that it’s very expensive to replace this seal because the transmission must be removed and he suggests that I have the transmission rebuilt at the same time since it will already be out of the car. I’m hoping to keep the car for another two years. What should I do?

Your first mistake was speaking to a mechanic. You should have consulted a mathematician. You say that you want to keep the car for two years. If you keep it for two years and add 1 quart of oil per week, that's a total of 104 quarts of oil. You can buy oil for $2.00/quart so your total outlay over the next two years will be $208.00. As an added benefit, at the rate you're leaking oil, you won't have to do oil changes nearly as often since you're replenishing the engine with fresh oil at a rate of 1 quart per week. I would change the oil and filter once a year just to make sure the filter is clean. I doubt that the leak will get worse, but if it does, you can always reassess what you want to do. Something tells me I’m going to get a lot of responses to this answer.

Tip Of The Week
Never tow your car with a car cover on it. At least not if you value your paint job. Even the softest car cover will act just like sandpaper as it flaps in the wind for mile after mile.



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