Classic car maintenance guide

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Running a classic car may not be as daunting as some may think. There are things to take into consideration such as parts availability and economy. But, for the most part, these cars are a labour of love and not a vehicle for the daily grind.

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Running a classic car can be a rollercoaster of emotions. On the one hand you can literally take a trip down memory lane, experiencing the 'golden age' of motoring.

You may even end up with an appreciating asset that you can still enjoy driving. However, classics can also become a labour of love - or at worst, a financial nightmare.

The good news is that owning a classic needn't cost the earth, providing you do your research, choose wisely and maintain it properly.

Now that most cars more than 40 years old are exempt from road tax and the annual MOT test - and they can be insured on classic car policies (which are great value) - you could say it's never been a better time to own an older vehicle.

Do your classic car research

Before buying a classic car, try not to let your heart rule your head.

Read articles on specialist websites and in magazines to find the right car for you. Check to see if your chosen car has a good reputation and isn't just a rust bucket on wheels, if it has a thriving owners' club and the availability of spare parts.

Whether you buy it privately, from a dealer or at an auction, get it checked out properly. Finally stick to your budget and be realistic about restoration and/or on-going maintenance and repair costs.

Where should you keep your classic car?

Hopefully before you took the plunge you factored in a basic of classic car ownership - where to keep your pride and joy. If it's a project then you really need a garage or car port. If it's a runner, then a garage is still preferable. However,  if it has to be left outside, invest in a breathable, waterproof car cover.

Finally, if there's no choice but to leave it out to face the elements, then keep it clean and waxed, and consider an underseal to protect against rust - the biggest car killer.

Basic classic car maintenance 

Even modern cars need regular attention - with classics it's vital. For additional information or help, check your owner's handbook, or better still, invest in a Haynes manual for your car.

Here are some classic car DIY essentials.

Tyres

They are one of the least appreciated components of a car, yet tyres affect handling, economy, stopping distance, comfort and refinement. You could be fined up to £10,000 (£2,500 per tyre) and receive 12 penalty points on your licence for driving with illegal tyres, so check for damage and tread depth regularly and keep them pumped up to the correct pressure.  

Coolant

Check the level regularly and make sure the correct water/anti-freeze mix is maintained (usually 50/50). Ideally, you want the protection level to be as low as -25 Centigrade.

Lighting

Legally, all lights must be operational - that's everything from the headlights to indicators, and even the number plate bulb. Check them regularly, and if you can't see them all, get someone to help you.

Engine oil

Check the dipstick regularly and keep the oil topped up. Also keep an eye out for leaks. Aim to change your oil and filter every year and don't ignore any warning signs. Remember, the worst case scenario is that the engine will seize up which could end up costs thousands to rebuild or replace.

Battery

Rven batteries on modern cars need attention and it's no different for classics. Check the acid and water levels and for corrosion around the terminals. If your cherished car is used throughout the winter, then be aware that the battery will have to cope with higher use of lights and heating, for instance. See below for separate advice on winter storage.

Grease

Older classics and vintage cars were fitted with grease nipples so that fresh grease could be injected regularly to minimise wear between moving surfaces. For more information about your car, ask an expert or consult your handbook/manual.

Hoses

Tricky, unless you have access to the underside of your car, but it's worth inspecting  flexible hoses for signs of splitting, bulging, perishing and other external damage. These are essential to the operation of the hydraulic clutch and brake systems. for instance. Unfortunately, internal problems, such as the collapse of the hose walls, are not so easy to detect. 

Wipers/washers

Faulty wiper/blades and washers are one of the most common reasons for an MOT fail. Even if your classic is MOT exempt, legally you must ensure that they are all working correctly and the windscreen is not chipped or cracked.

Fluid levels We've already mentioned oil, battery and screenwash. Don't forget the clutch, brake and transmission fluid reservoirs, and you may also need to check your power steering, if fitted.

How to store your classic car for winter

If you store your classic during the winter months, don't just drive it into the garage and expect everything to be fine the following spring, follow these tips:

1.) Without use the battery will go flat and suffer long-term damage. Ideally, remove it from the vehicle, invest in a trickle charger and keep it topped up. Alternatively, disconnect the battery from the car. It will drain, but at a slower rate.

2.) When a car is left standing for a long period of time, tyres can flat spot and deteriorate if they are left underinflated. You can either remove the wheels and put your vehicle on blocks, or leave the wheels on, over-inflate the tyres, check them regularly and roll the car occasionally to prevent flats forming. 

3.) Don't leave the handbrake on while your cherished car is in storage - use chocks instead. This will help stop the brakes seizing. Of course, they can still seize (especially older drum brakes).

If this happens, jack up the car, remove the wheel and gently tap the brake drum with a mallet until the drum can be easily turned by hand. If the car pulls to once side on your test drive, then a wheel cylinder (drum) or disc may have seized. 

4.) You might think that's it's best to store your classic car with minimal fuel on board. However, an empty fuel tank can develop condensation which can lead to rust. As a general garage safety tip, it's also a sensible precaution to keep a fire extinguisher nearby.

5.) It might be worth investing in a dehumidifier for your garage. Condensation can build up which can encourage rust and the formation of mould. A dehumidifier removes moisture in the air. You might also want to consider buying a 'bubble' storage system which creates a ventilated environment around your car.

6.) Check on your car every few weeks. The tyres might have deflated or there could be a leak. Also, pump the brake and clutch pedals to make sure the mechanisms are free and easy, and try the handbrake, gearbox and steering.

Avoid firing up the engine every few weeks because this can do more damage than good because the engine oil will not get up to temperature, though there is some debate over this issue. 

7.) If you take your classic out for a winter run, it's best to do it in the dry because there's likely to be salt on the roads which is highly corrosive if left. When you get home, wash your car thoroughly, including the underside, and dry it properly.

8.) When you decide to get your car back on the road, it’s best to get your classic car serviced. And even if your car is MOT exempt, you can still opt to have it tested for peace of mind.

Drive and enjoy 

The best way to keep your vintage vehicle in the best of health is to simply keep on using it regularly because lack of activity is the one of the biggest problems of all.

Make sure you have the right classic car insurance so that your car is protect while it's on the road and remember that, unless you've bought your classic car purely as an investment, the whole point of owning a piece of motoring heritage is to get maximum enjoyment out 

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