Know What to Look Out For
If you’ve got the car of your dreams nestling in your garage, you’ll want to know how to keep it in prime condition. Keeping classics in top shape requires a strict programme of maintenance. Even if your vehicle has a full MOT, there’s no getting away from the fact that most classic cars needed more care and fettling than your average modern machine. The more a car has been used, the more worn out its component parts will be, but good maintenance can significantly avoid further wear and tear, meaning that you don’t have to replace rare, expensively priced parts.
Many classics had question marks over their reliability even when they were rolling off the production line, so poor maintenance on a car that is already prone to mechanical dysfunction will only pour oil on the fire, making owning a classic a lot harder and more expensive than it has to be. If you haven’t already got one, it’s a good idea to go out and buy a handbook and workshop manual for your car. But first, here are some of the more common maintenance issues faced by the average classic car owner to get you started…
Know What to Look Out For
Over the years many owner’s clubs and marque-specialists will have addressed the common problems encountered with particular cars, so ask around and do some research into the common failings of your vehicle. You may find ways to avoid popular malfunctions, such as keeping the coolant/antifreeze mixture well up to the mark in Triumph Stags, or keeping water off the distributors on Minis. You might also discover that modern advances or products can lessen the impact of your car’s original design failings.
Classics are often teeming with electrical gremlins, so it’s a good idea to perform a quarterly test of your car’s mechanics.
Try all the lights, and remove all lenses, ensuring that none of the bulb connections or holders exhibits any signs of corrosion. If any do, then it’s time to replace them.
Old cars usually feature a fairly simple wiring system. Try to get hold of an original manufacturer’s workshop manual as this will have a nice, clear wiring diagram for you to work from. Many of the electrical problems you will encounter stem from faulty earthing. This can cause the engine to randomly cut out, and can usually be traced to a malfunctioning main earth lead running from the engine to the gearbox, across to the chassis or body.
Intermittent engine problems can usually be attributed to either fuel or electrical problems. To combat them, try to eradicate any electrical gremlins from your car by checking over the spark plugs, plug leads, distributor cap, points (if they’re fitted), rotor arm (if fitted) and the low tension wire that runs from the coil to the distributor. Examine the dizzy cap and coil too, keeping an eye out for any hairline cracks or badly damaged/burnt contacts – these are bad news and will need replacing immediately. The best way to see if there is a problem is to run the car at night with the bonnet open – if you witness a firework display of sparks around the engine, it’s time to budget for new items. Reproduction parts are often poor quality, so it’s best to try and track down original ‘old stock’ parts.
To check the fuel system give the carbs a once-over, and check that the inline filter (if fitted) is not blocked. While you’re poking around the side of the engine, take the opportunity to examine the fuel lines and check that none are corroded or chaffing on the bodywork, especially underneath where the pipework is out of sight.
You should regularly check over all systems and replace anything that looks faulty or is easily replaceable. Give the brake and clutch lines/linkages a good going over every six months or so too.
Most classics were designed to receive regular maintenance, and one of the grimier routines is greasing, which is often neglected. Classics built up until the 1980s tended to be fitted with grease nipples – lots of them. They’re usually found on suspension and steering components, propshaft joints, handbrake linkages, pivots and so on. Each model has them located in slightly different places, so make sure that you find all of them to make sure you’re not neglecting any of these areas. Some mechanical items seem to survive better being lubricated with oil rather than grease, such as the stub axles on Triumph Heralds and Spitfires, so it’s worth asking other people with the same model whether your car has any of these idiosyncrasies. Finally, give the engine a filter and oil change, and lubricate all of the control cables and anything else that looks like it would benefit from a dab of oil.
Keeping track of the jobs you have and haven’t done can be a nightmare, so it’s a good idea to keep a log of any maintenance tasks you perform, especially if you have more than one classic. Try drawing up a schedule of tasks that need attention, basing it on the service schedule specified by the original manufacturer. As well as the regular care your classic receives, such as frequent oil changes, don’t forget to schedule in the infrequent jobs, like dropping a dab of oil into the dynamo every now and then. The more preventative maintenance you do, the less likely you are to end up stranded in the middle of nowhere, smoke pouring from under the bonnet, as the rare English sunshine dissolves into pouring rain.
Monthly Masterclass: Classic Car Bodywork Maintenance