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Preparing your classic car for regular use.
Even if your steed has a full MOT (if applicable), it is essential to give the old girl a thorough checking over. Just because the MOT inspector has given your car a clean bill of health, there's no getting away from the fact that most oldies need more fettling and maintenance than your average modern machine, and even more so if the car hasn't seen regular use for a while. In fact cars that have seen little regular use, while maybe being less worn mechanically, will probably require more servicing in order to transform them into a reliable regular runabout, than a car already used daily.
Brakes and tyres.The bottom line is check over all its systems and replace anything that looks faulty, or is easily replaceable. For example, if your classic motor car has hydraulic brake and clutch mechanisms, in most cases replacement seals only cost a few � and it's well worth going around and replacing all the hydraulic seals, you don't want them giving out on you while you're using the car. Give the brake & clutch lines/linkages a good going over also. Likewise, take a long hard look at the tyres - they may have oodles of tread left, but how are the sidewalls looking? are there any hidden bulges on the inside walls? Take each wheel off and have a good look. Barrelling through twisty lanes puts huge loads on the sidewalls of your tyres, so best play safe. Many tyres are dated, so check them and replace if you're at all worried about their age. Talking of tyres, many classics originally were fitted with crossplies, and now run modern radial type tyres. Radials give better grip and seem to last longer than the crossply variety. However this extra grip can potentially be a problem. Whereas crossplies gripped less and let the car slide a little, radials hang on much better and in so doing pass extra loads through the wheel and into the suspension. It's not unknown for A40s and other BMC machines to exhibit stress cracks between the wheel mounting holes, so have a good look while the wheels are off, and replace any wheels that look "suspect".
Electrical gremlins.Now is the time to hunt down any electrical gremlins that your classic or vintage car may possess. Try all the lights, and remove all lenses and ensure that none of the bulb connections or holders exhibit any signs of corrosion - replace where necessary. The wiring in an old car is usually fairly simple, and an original manufacturer's workshop manual will have a nice clear wiring diagram from which to work. Many electrical problems stem from faulty earthing. Random cutting out of the engine can often be traced to a faulty main earth lead that runs from the engine or gearbox, across to the chassis or body. In fact ensure that the engine's electricals are in tip-top condition. Intermittent engine faults can usually be attributed to either fuel or electrical problems. So to try and erradicate electrical gremlins from your car, check over the spark plugs, plug leads, distributor cap, points (if fitted), rotor arm (if fitted), and the low tension wire that runs from the coil (check that too) to the distributor. When looking at the dizzy cap and coil, look for any hairline cracks or badly damaged/burnt contacts - these spell bad news and will require replacement. A good way of seeing if there's a problem with either is to run the car at night - if you get a nice display of sparks around the engine, budget for new items. Some modern reproduction parts aren't of the best quality, so it pays to either track down good original "old stock" parts, or else new parts that are known to have been produced to a good standard.
The main objective is to track down and rectify any potential problem areas, before you start using and relying upon your classic car
One idea that has merit IMHO is to buy some "car mechanic" type magazines from the era that your car was common, if possible. Usually such magazines are packed with DIY technical information and advice, and can really shed light on a particular car's strong and not-so-strong points.
Lubrication.If you have a look through your handbook you'll see that many classics were designed to receive regular maintenance. One of the grimier routine items is often greasing, something that is also often overlooked. Many many classics built up until the 1980s (and in the case of the Jaguar XJ SIII which soldiered on until the early 1990s) were fitted with grease nipples, and lots of them. They are commonly found on suspension and steering components, propshaft joints, handbrake linkages and pivots and so on ... each car is different, so make sure you know where they all are. Another thing worth bearing in mind is that some mechanical items, such as the stub axles on Triumph Heralds and Spitfires, seem to survive better being lubricated via their grease nipples with oil instead of grease, so it's always worth asking around with people who already own such cars, to find out if yours has any of these idiosyncracies.
Last but not least check the engine itself - give it an oil and filter change, and lubricate all control cables and anything else that looks like a dab of oil would help.
Toolkit and essential spares.No matter how much preparation you do, Murphy's Law says that something is bound to go wrong at some point. Therefore it's wise to carry around a basic toolkit at all times, and a selection of consumable spares that you might need while on the road - things such as bulbs, a few hydraulic seals, some spare plug leads, first aid kit, water, engine oil, gearbox oil, and even a tin of fuel just in case your car's fuel gauge isn't as accurate as it could be! Don't forget either that you may get stuck in queues of traffic on your regular run to the shops, so how efficient is your car's cooling system?? Replace any cooling hoses that show cracks, same goes for the fan belt, and make sure you have a healthy mix of antifreeze/corrosion inhibitor in your water system (normally 30-50% is a safe bet).
If nothing else, I'd recommend breakdown cover from one of the major players, and a (charged-up) mobile phone, in case of emergency.
Getting used to driving your classic.
You'll find you need to be more aware of what's going on around you; with braking distances being longer than with a modern, you'll need to read the road that little bit better. Although Ford's finest is unlikely to get you into a lurid oversteer powerslide (unless you hit black ice that is), greasy roads need some respect so go carefully. Heater systems, if fitted that is, were often notoriously bad so bargain on spending more time clearing ice and dampness from your screens on those cold mornings, prior to setting off. Talking of cold weather, get yourself acquainted with your starting handle if you are fortunate enough to have one for your car.
One thing you will find is that you may get harried by pushy types in their modern Audis, and similar charm-less white goods. As soon as they see a venerable old classic pottering along, many will not rest until they get past at the earliest opportunity. Equally, said individuals don't tend to notice semaphore indicators daintily sticking out from your classic's flanks, so make sure that they've clocked the fact that you wish to turn right before swinging to the centre of the road - you have to try and second guess everything that other drivers might do. Plus not all old cars are as slow as other drivers may assume - if you see an Austin-Healey being enthusiastically driven by a flat-capped gentleman say, he could surprise many a GTi driver should the red mist descend.
You can go here to find out more on this subject: Driving classic cars & staying sane..
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