It’s hard to sustain a state of panic, a sense of imminent doom, when the sun is shining, the breeze is warm – and you’re getting your classic car ready for spring.
This is a necessary and therapeutic annual ritual. Like the first green shoots and buds on the trees, it marks the end of the dead season and the beginning of a new beginning. We could all use a lot of that right now.
The basics first. Air up the tires, check all the fluids; a general walk-around and close inspection. Cars that sit for weeks and months have different needs – and develop different problems – than regularly used cars.</p>
For example, there’s more to check than just the air in the tires. Cars that are driven regularly usually wear out their tires before the tires age out. Cars that aren’t driven regularly often have tires with plenty of tread but hairline cracks on the sidewall and maybe also structural deterioration you can’t even see – the result of age and oxidation of the compounds that make rubber pliable.
My car is driven maybe 500 miles each year. Its tires will never go bald . Well, maybe the rear tires will – from burnouts – but you get the point. Unless you drive your classic car at least a few thousand miles each year, it is very likely the tires you buy today will still have most of their tread a decade – or even two – from now. But by that time, they may no longer be safe to drive on.
I next check all the lights. Head and brake and tail and turn. Hi and low beam. Make sure they’re all working before you go driving. Remember that the cost of a turn signal bulb is much lower than a ticket from an AGW – or the cost of body and paint work for your classic car – and the cost of the hit you’ll take on insurance for being the cause of an accident that occurred because you though you signaled a left turn in front of that car coming at you but didn’t actually.
Oil and filter change. My practice is every spring, regardless of mileage. As with tires, the passage of time is the determining factor here. The oil does not wear out – certainly not after 500 miles (or less) of driving in a year.
But it does get contaminated. By gas especially, which inevitably leaks down into the crankcase from the carburetor – a fuel delivery device that most cars made before the mid-1980s used. And by short-distance driving. Older cars do not warm up as quickly as modern cars, which are specifically designed to – in order to lower their emissions. Older cars weren’t – and if driven short distances or just fired up and allowed to idle a while in the garage during the winter months – will accumulate things in the crankcase that are not good for them.
Changing the oil and filter purges out the not-good-things and the fresh oil coats all those important things with the lubricants and anti-wear additives your old car’s engine deserves. If it’s an engine with a flat-tappet camshaft (which is almost all American car engines made before the early ‘80s) it is really important to get oil that has the zinc/manganese additives (ZDDP) which off-the-shelf oils no longer have – for emissions control reasons. AMSOIL sells such oil – see their ZRod line – or you can buy the additive to add to off-the-shelf oil.
The years roll by fast and it’s easy to forget how long it’s been since these were last changed. Keeping a log book with dates and what you did is extremely helpful here. Check the fluids – and then check the book. Deal with each as necessary. Which will be differently necessary than the original factory service recommendations because those didn’t anticipate a car that mostly stays hunkered down in a garage. Once again, forget the mileage and focus on the time. I replace the above three every three years, regardless of what the odometer says.
What the calendar says matters more.
Pre-flight done, the next part is the really enjoyable part. For me, it’s the once-annually wash. I avoid getting my old car wet – whether by weather or by hose – because water is a rust-accelerant. But a wash is periodically needed to really clean the car. In between one can use waterless wash products – “detailer in a can” – but accumulated heavy dust and other such is better dealt with using good old H2O.
And there is joy to be had, out in the warm – with the sun not too hot – going over the panels you know so well, like that one special woman but this one never gets old even though many decades have passed.
Towel her off – the car, I mean – and then it’s time for a drive. Your excuse here is to blow-dry the crevices, to get all the water out. But there’s an even more important reason, especially this season.
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