Ten steps to make sure you and your classic car start the driving season as good friends
Depending on where you live this spring, this story is either a month too late or too earlly for collector car owners. If you’re in England, the weather has see-sawed back and forth between Athens and Helsinki temperatures, so it’s a 50-50 proposition which weekend you’ll get.
But sooner or later you will be (or were) surprised by the onset of spring, 65F/18C-degree weather and bright sunshine. Time to take The Old Beast out for a spin.
Normally this story follows the one about preparing your car for winter storage. Let us assume you did that. We’ll deal with what you have to do now if you didn’t when we get to the end. Suffice to say, there isn’t a big puddle of water under the engine, the tires are not streaked on the inside from leaking brake fluid and the brake pedal doesn’t go to the floor, the ammeter actually DOES move when you turn on the ignition and the tires are not flat. You didn’t leave the handbrake on so that it’s stuck, did you?
Mice will generally leave when the car starts moving, unless of course they have made a home in the muffler, or a squirrel has stored nuts there. In my case, a wheezing mouse was blown across the garage in a nest, quickly determined to have been part of the car’s upholstery, in the other instance, bystanders hit the ground, as hazel nuts ricocheted around the room like balls in a pinball machine.
Before you head out, let’s check a few things:
1 You paid your insurance, right? The last thing you want to happen if your brakes go out is to hit somebody when you’re uninsured. Ditto for your road tax. It would be a shame if the officer wrote you for that too, when he was investigating the accident.
2 Check your car’s fluid levels: brakes, radiator, engine oil, gearbox and back axle. Or better yet, change all the fluids, unless you did that during the winter (as you said you would, remember?).
3 Replace your wiper blades. It won’t start raining until you’re 50 miles from home, somewhere rural where there are no parts stores, and besides it’s Sunday, isn’t it? The store probably won’t have your wipers anyway, if the car is old.
4 Check your tires and inflate them to the correct pressure. Also look for cracked sidewalls and treads. That tire that’s low, you think it might have a nail in it? Don’t just blow it up, check. Also wiggle the valve stems in case they are perished. By the way, how old are your tires? Never mind if they don’t look worn. Old tires get hard and eventually start coming apart in chunks. In the meantime they don’t grip the road at all, especially if the ground is wet. Maybe you should just buy some new ones? While the wheels are off you can see how you brakes are holding up. Maybe it’s time for brakes, too: shoes or pads and maybe discs or drums. See if they can be turned first. You’ll need to be there to OK that, or your shop might decide to order some new ones and pitch yours for scrap.
5 Grease the wheel bearings while the wheels are off, and check out all the grease zircs, unless you’re lucky enough to have a Bijur system and can just pump the pedal or work the lever a few times. If you do that, make sure the fittings are all working. If you can’t get grease to come out of the king pins, jack the car up and lift the wheel off the ground, and see if that helps. Also have somebody turn the steering back and forth, when you are greasing kingpins and tie rods end.
6 Flush the radiator and check your hoses. How old are the hoses? If they’re more than four years – replace them. Use new clamps. Even if the hoses are recent, check the clamps have not worked loose, and tighten them.
Check your battery levels and if you don’t have a battery tender, replace your battery. In fact if it’s more than five years old, replace it anyway. Sure you can charge it up, but changes in temperature are sometime the last straw. It’s hard to get a jump start if you’ve stopped somewhere nice for a picnic – and there’s nobody there. It’s also a royal pain to leave a nice restaurant late at night to rrrr,rrrr,rrrr, and that’s it.
8 You put stabilizer in the fuel tank and filled it all the way up so there won’t be any condensation or rust, didn’t you? Now put some octane booster in the gas and add some carburetor cleaner. Warm the car up first, then drive it about 50 miles – enough so that you can put fresh gas in the tank.
9 Before you leave on your shakedown trip, walk around the car and make sure all the lights work. Have somebody step on the brake pedal and see that the brake lights and turn signals work. Also make sure your license plate light functions. If you’re blowing the cobwebs out of your E-Type Jaguar or your AC Cobra and you zip by a police car going the other way, all the officer needs is a small reason to have a little talk. A license plate light could be just the thing. Then if it turns out that your tax disc has expired, trouble may have found you.
10 Tell somebody where you’re going and take a cell phone with you. If you passed that cop at an uber-legal speed and he got you on radar, you’re going to need to make at least one phone call (they allow that). At least you can say you’ll be late for dinner, and maybe breakfast, if the judge doesn’t get there until 10 a.m. “And, honey: Bring bail money.”
Finally to address our first point: If the engine block cracked during the winter or the brakes have gone away, have the car flat-bedded to your friendly mechanic. Arrange to be there when he examines your car and tells you just how big a mess you’re in. At least the car will already be at his shop, out of sight and out of mind.