First time posting, let me know if I'm doing everything right!

We've got a '92 Volkswagon Cabriolet, with 175K+ miles on it, that's been sitting in the garage since 2010. Wheels are all flat, and I haven't even tried turning it on, as the contents of the garage have engulfed the car.

Now, we're (finally) in a good position, car/money-wise; we don't need another car, but we could afford it if one died. But my mom has problems letting things go (for example, the only reason she let go of a 26-year-old baby seat was because I showed her several articles and a recall notice). I think the only way for her to let this old clunker go is to understand how much money will be sunk into making a boxy old convertible run again.

Is there a rough estimate of just how much it would cost to get this thing running? Or if it will ever run again?

Here's the breakdown:

  • 24 year old car
  • All wheels need replacing (completely flat, for the last 2 years at least)
  • Hasn't been touched in 6 years, no preventative maintenance before putting it in storage
  • Stored in the garage, but in the Midwest; hot summers, frigid winters
  • Heat barely worked last time it was used
  • Tape deck, radio antennae snapped off
  • Rust above the wheel wells
  • I'm the family member with the most car-fixing experience, and that was following a video to replace a headlight bulb

Please help! I want to let my mom keep her (working) car in the garage this winter.

  • 3
    How much old fuel is in the gas tank? Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 19:14
  • 4
    Checking on Kelly Blue Book it seems that a 1992 Golf Cabrio in driving condition is worth only a few hundred dollars. I wasn't sure whether a 24 year old car has some oldtimer value already, but apparently not. So the question is how many hours you are willing to work for 500 or 600 dollars max. Bottom line: The car is just a worthless piece of junk. That should convince anybody. Get rid of it. Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 9:41
  • A bit off topic, but this book came to mind when I read this.
    – Gary Bak
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 11:38
  • 3
    Not an answer, but maybe a tactic for convincing her to get rid of it. Cars like that can be donated to many charitable causes, where it can do much more good than it will sitting in the garage.
    – mikeazo
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 16:42
  • great little power plant if you needed it but the rust is a death-by-crushing sentence unless the rust is easily fixed,in that case any vehicle that you can keep intact and restored will be worth something eventually although it could be 20,30,or50 years from now.think of it as mom does its a family heirloom
    – user22380
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 6:03

6 Answers 6


It's usually possible to restore any car as long as you have the appropriate knowledge, tools, money and time to do so. As others have mentioned, you may want to consider if it's worth it to fix a car that wouldn't be worth much even if it is running. I'm currently restoring a 1976 Fiat 124 that hadn't ran in around 10 years, sitting outside in the rain uncovered. I'll warn you that nearly every restoration of this type is very expensive, time consuming, and always, always always involves more than you think it does. I find new surprises nearly every time I work on my restoration project, which only adds to the final cost.

Some quick things to check first:

  1. Does the engine turn over? There are number of ways to determine if the engine is seized. The least risky way is to check to make sure there is oil in the engine, and crank the engine by hand. You can attempt to start it with the starter itself, but if you know nothing about the state of the engine, doing it by hand is less risky. If the engine turns, then at least you know it might not need a rebuild. Regardless of whether you attempt to turn it by hand or using the starter, you should remove the spark plugs and add a small amount of engine oil to lubricate the pistons.

  2. Does the engine have compression? Next would be to determine if your not-seized engine is no better than a seized engine. Without compression, the car either won't drive or will have a lot of problems doing so. A compression tester will help you there. If you test compression by starting the engine, you'll need to ensure that there is oil in the engine and that all ignition related items are addressed (fuel, air, spark). If the engine doesn't have compression, you might want to stop there. An engine rebuild is costly if you have it done right and costly if you do it yourself, because most DIYers do it wrong, which means you'll probably have to pay for someone to do it right the second time, or in a worst-case scenario, have to buy a new engine.

  3. Are the cooling or lubrication systems working and leak-free? Pretty simple here, but could be costly. Leaking coolant or coolant that doesn't circulate or stay cool means overheating, and leaking oil or a bad oil pump means excessive wear or potentially a future catastrophic breakdown. Make sure both systems work efficiently before driving the car any distance.

  4. Is the car's structure intact? This is the area that can be the most costly. Cars that sit - especially cars that sit outside - rust. Rust can start everywhere and anywhere, and that means that the critical structure areas of the car's chassis/body could be compromised. A thorough inspection of the body's exterior, underbody and interior (preferably after being stripped of carpet, seats and trim) will indicate whether a few $50 patches need to be a put in, or a $10,000 body rebuild is what will make the car safe to drive.

  5. Are the brakes, steering and suspension all in good, working condition? Cars needs to stop, absorb impact and travel with aligned wheels. Not correcting any steering and alignment issues would mean those new tires will be trashed shortly after installation. Bad suspension or brakes could mean death to you, the car or both. You'll want to inspect the shocks/struts, springs, brake rotors, pads, and calipers, as well as the ball joints, tie rods/ends and CV joints, as well as any remaining stabilization parts.

  6. After all the above is checked off the list, what else will you need to fix? There's electrical, instrumentation, cosmetics in the interior and exterior, etc. You'll need to determine how far you want to take some of these things (like cosmetics), but you also need to make sure that instruments and lights all work before the car will be legal to drive on public roads.

It takes a little experience to be able to tell if a restoration is a diamond in the rough, or a bankruptcy waiting to happen. Sometimes you get lucky, other times not so much. You could always have a mechanic friend stop out to take a look at the car to determine some of these things, or tow it to a qualified mechanic to have them give it a thorough inspection.

I will say that sometimes, 5-6 years of sitting (especially in a covered garage) is not that bad. Rust will form on any car that sits long enough, but sometimes you get lucky and it's just surface rust or exterior rust that doesn't affect safety. Then again, sometimes you have to bite the bullet and get a cheap new or used car that you know for a fact is safe to drive.

Good luck!

  • 2
    If it is petrol engine I'd recommend removing spark plugs before turning. There will be lower resistance (no compression at all) and possible liquid in the cylinder will be blown away. I know about cars standing for decades and still working.
    – Crowley
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 19:17
  • It's worth seeing if the engine turns over, but it's also worth mentioning that the battery will definitely need replacing if it's been sitting flat for 6 years. Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 20:24
  • 1
    I'll add to what @Crowley said, before turning the engine at all, remove the plugs, and it's also worth dropping a small amount of engine oil into the cylinders with the spark plugs removed. It'll burn off pretty quickly, and will hopefully help the pistons start moving after so long.
    – Gargravarr
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 9:04

I restored a 1981 Mk1 Golf some years ago. It was an abandoned project and came with the engine in the boot, no interior and no front wings. Total cost to put back on the road was around £550 (GBP) around 8 years ago and total effort was around two to three months of working on it evenings and weekend at a fairly relaxed pace.

Without more details it's impossible to say what would be involved in putting the car back on the road. Generally when you find a car in this state, there is a reason it was parked in the first place. Typically you have to recommission the car, fix any number of items relating to how long it's been stored and then fix the original reason it was parked up.

My best advice is; spend a day or so and a little bit of cash. Fully charge the battery, put some fresh petrol in it, check the oil and coolant levels and attempt to start it. You may be pleasantly surprised. I've bought any number of cars which have been parked up for a number of years and in all but one case, they did manage to start, run and move under their own power with minimal effort.

If the car starts, don't assume you can simply fill the tyres with air and take to the road. The car should be, at minimum, subject to a full mechanical inspection, a full service (including brake service, all fluids and all belts) and it is invariably worth budgeting for either four new or four good part worn tyres to replace what are fitted to the car.

Assuming this is all that the car requires, the cost could run to a few hundred. However, if the car doesn't want to start (or even attempt to) or you find it's unable to select gears or move under it's own power, for someone with limited mechanical skills, I'd say the best course of action would be to find a Volkswagen enthusiast who will take it on as a project. You may find that someone offers you a good amount for the vehicle plus you're then going to free up garage space which could be very worthwhile.

Please, whatever you decide to do, don't let the poor thing sit there any longer than it needs to.


Yes it can run again, but is it worth it.
Edmunds show a poor condition 1992 as worth about $650, where as a very good condition is around $2000.
With your posting that it has rust above the wheel wells (not knowing how bad that is) it would likely need a respray after patching the metal. If your a do it yourself person cost can be fairly low but to to have that work done could be negative gain in value.
Four tires mounted and balance are easy to price though several on line tire stores. But will likely run 200-600 for four new mounted and balanced.
All oils will need drain and refilled, as well as the fuel tank and fuel lines.
At this point a new battery put in and if your lucky it may start and run. If it does start without no other major problems you have a car that with the right market you could make a few dollars or lose a few dollars.
So is it worth the effort and cost, for resale not really, for keeping and sentimental value maybe.
If it was parked in the garage 6 years back, it sounds like to me it had something a bit more wrong then a bit of rust, so say your engine is DOA it could become a money pit.
There are folks out there that like these and seem to buy them (not willing to pay a lot though). I have passed on a couple at auctions for the simple reason is cost to repair compared to cost gain.

  • Came here to post a similar remark. KBB (US pricing) lists a '92 VW Cabriolet with all the options at $1400-$3000 USD from a dealer. This is a common car which is over 20 years old. You can buy a nearly perfect example for $3000 or spend a significant amount of time and money restoring OPs car. Fiscally, this car should be sold as scrap because mechanically there is so much work to do that the numbers don't make sense.
    – Freiheit
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 19:57
  • Four months back I passed on a drivable early 90s convertible with good body and interior for $1500. It had a OEM fuel pump issue and had a aftermarket electric added. The guy who bought it gave up on trying to redo the OEM pump and then listed it for $1800 but was still for sale last month. Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 22:07

Many years ago, my mother and I disposed of a running-but-rusted Austin A35 by giving it to a couple of teenagers who had a similar car they were restoring. By combining working parts from the two cars, they got one working car.

Of course, the skill and labor they put into the project would have cost a lot more than the value of the resulting car, but it was their hobby.

Maybe look around or advertise for someone with a car restoration hobby, and give them the car. That may be more satisfying than scrapping it.


Rust is your biggest enemy. An engine can be repaired, or worst case replaced. But if the bodywork is shot, the car is dead.

Modern cars have incredible rust-proofing, so they hardly ever rust out. The early 90s was when they got this nailed, so if there's significant rust on it then it seems likely that yours is pre-modern-rust-proofing.

Go online and get some numbers for decent second-hand cars. Then see which ones your mum likes. They will definitely be a cheaper option.

  • The OP said it's been sitting in a garage... Rust probably isn't a big issue.
    – anonymous2
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 22:15
  • @anonymous2 The OP also said it had rust in the wheel arches (wheel wells in the US). If it's got to the point where it's noticeable enough that the OP feels it's worth mentioning, that metalwork is just gone. If it's got to that point without some other damage having exposed bare metal (and I'm assuming the OP would mention accident-damage on his list), then the car can't have been built with effective rust-proofing. And if that's the case, you've almost certainly got a whole lot more bubbling under the surface.
    – Graham
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 9:42
  • Good point, I missed that.
    – anonymous2
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 11:28

Six years really isn't that long for vehicle to sit idle. I've gotten old Mustangs running that have been sitting unused for twice that time period, also with no storage preparations.

The major problems will be fluids and flat-spotted tires. Change the oil and don't rev the engine until the oil pressure builds up, replace the fuel, and test that the brake lines don't leak when pressed hard before driving off. Drive a few tens of kilometers slowly and carefully until you've found all the minor issues. It there's moisture in the brake lines you won't know until the brakes heat up after repeated use.

You'll find that the main crank seals may leak and so may the door seals. The later is easy and inexpensive to replace, the former not so!

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