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Similar to this question but with some specifics.

In the TV show The 100, the kids find a cache of assault rifles in the equivalent of a munitions dump. 97 years have passed since the latest timeframe when the guns could have been placed. They were stored in barrels of oil (or some other fluid, I believe they refer to it as oil in the show). They have a cache of ammunition in working order as well, but it isn't shown (or I don't recall) how that was stored.

If the guns were stored in crude oil would they still be functional once pulled out after 97+ years?

Theoretically, how long could they survive under those conditions and still be operable?

How could ammunition be safely stored for a century or more and still be functional?

What would the best way to store such weapons be to keep them functional (both the assault rifles and the ammunition for them)?

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Short answer would be yes on the firearms. Cosmoline is a common petroleum based preservative applied to firearms to prevent rust and corrosion. The firearms are dipped and allowed to dry before crating. The idea is to keep moisture and contaminants off the firearms. So if they are sitting in oil, which by nature won't let moisture anywhere near the firearms, you get the same effect.

The ammunition is a little harder, but again yes. The storage facility and packaging would have to keep the air bone dry and cool. Again, moisture is not your friend here and heat accelerates breakdown of the powder and primer. Additionally, it would need to be stored in such a way to prevent any chemical contamination. Something as innocuous as Windex can ruin the primers in a matter of years. So basically you'd need a natural method of environmental control since you wouldn't have power to dehumidify and cool the area.

In theory, if the oil was simply motor oil and you could control the ammo storage environment, the firearms would be usable indefinitely.

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  • $\begingroup$ if, for example, the bullets were put in a waterproof container free of contaminants and dropped into the oil as well (more for physical protection than anything else) would they be safely stored? $\endgroup$ – Marshall Tigerus Jul 7 '16 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ Assuming the containers were BPA free and you could control the temperature, there shouldn't be a problem. If the container developed a leak of any kind, the ammunition probably wouldn't make it. Each component of a cartridge is crimped or pressed into the adjoining components. Most off the shelf ammo is not sealed. You can get some NATO ammo with sealed primers and that would help. But if any oil got into the powder, your round would be weakened considerably, it it worked at all. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Jul 7 '16 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ Cosmoline is great, but these days firearms are simply shipped in vacuum sealed bags. Same protection, much, much easier to clean before first use. Ammo is more sensitive, but the same general principles apply. To be fair though, I could see how pests might chew through the bags, whereas a large container of crude would probably remain undisturbed. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jul 7 '16 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ Crude oil is probably a bad idea. The heavier fractions of it are likely to stick to the guns, and require serious cleaning before the guns will work. I've cleaned cosmoline off things, and you need solvents after a few decades. Lubricating oil is a much better bet. $\endgroup$ – John Dallman Jul 7 '16 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDallman, agreed. But the OP specifically asked about crude. I'm guessing he had motor oil in mind and not actually crude. Either way, they would be preserved. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Jul 8 '16 at 1:48
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Firearms are usually simple mechanical machines powered by springs. While there are complicated firearms like gatling guns that rely on electric motors, most types we use today would be perfectly operable if stored in oil for a century, so long as they could not corrode. Mechanically, a modern assault rifle is only a little more complicated than a spring driven mousetrap. The ammunition would be more problematic. We have some pretty stable chemical propellants nowadays, but even absent moisture, they might start to break down over time. I think a hundred years is feasible, but longer than that and I think primers would be much less likely to ignite. In a post apocalyptic setting, you could still use a (modified) firearm even if primers were usually bad if you had an alternate way to ignite the charge in the shell casing (maybe simply by applying enough heat the right way). If the round were chambered, the bullet would still be forced down the barrel by expanding gasses and physics would take care of the rest.

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Something which wasn't addressed in other answers with regard to the ammunition is that over time it has a tendency to "settle". The propellant will slowly compress on the bottom, so properly stored ammunition is rotated every so often (1-3 times annually) to prevent this.

Storing ammunition reliably for a long period of time is quite tricky, and generally requires monitoring and effort. It's possible that storing it vertically (i.e. base down and bullet up) would mitigate this effect, although I have no knowledge or experience of how that would affect the viability of the round WRT the propellant.

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I store ammo loose in a canvas bag with a table spoon of PLC oil thrown in and shakers around for a nice even thin coat on the rounds and a bit on the bag itself. Then I toss the bags into metal 50 cal ammo boxes with intact seals. Not even a spot of rust or signs of failure to fire and I’ve got some in rotation over 5 years old. I just never mix steel and brass case.

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  • $\begingroup$ Not old oil “PLC” oil. Autocorrect got me. $\endgroup$ – Tom Jan 16 '18 at 1:11

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