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Downsides when running an old car
Classic car ownership can have its negative points too!There are few classic car owners who, if perfectly honest, would say that everything to do with running a classic is all sweetness and light. Of course it isn't. For me and many others, the positives easily outweigh the negatives, but it'd be pushing it to say there are no downsides at all, especially if a classic is your daily use car.
The more a car gets used, the more it's component parts wear out. Good maintenance can minimise such wear, but there's no denying that piling on the mileage can only increase the wear on the running gear, coachwork and even the trim. Tyres, brakes, suspension and engine components will all wear to a greater or lesser degree, and this will bring to light how good the spare parts situation is for your particular motor. Some cars, such as popular MGs and 1960s Austins, have a good spares supply. Owners Clubs and numerous specialists stock many parts, either new-old-stock or remanufactured, to help keep these older cars on the road.
Many classics had question marks over reliability even when they were rolling off the production line (Hillman Imp owners will know what I'm saying), so chances are, similar reliability issues will still be an issue. Triumph Stag and Dolomite Sprint owners will know about keeping their coolant/antifreeze mixtures well upto the mark, cooling issues also being the bugbear for many of the forementioned Imps. Mini owners will know about keeping water off the distributor, handily positioned right behind the grille and regularly soaked in wet weather driving. Spitfire owners will need to keep a close grease (oil) gun to hand for the front trunnions, as will owners of similar Herald-based classics. Over the years many owners clubs and marque-specialists will have addressed the common problems encountered with particular cars, so if choosing a classic as a daily motor, it will pay to do some research into the common failings of a particular vehicle, and find out whether modern advances or products can lessen the impact of original design failings.
At least many classics are a lot simpler under the bonnet than a modern yawn-mobile, so if something does expire, you have half a chance of being able to fix it. Make sure you have a decent selection of tools in the boot of your car, and don't forget spare bulbs, an inflated (!) spare tyre, jack, insulation tape, a few tie-wraps, and a tin of fuel if your car's gauge is a little dodgy. If this all sounds too much like hard work, make sure you don't leave home without a mobile phone and paid-up membership to a breakdown organisation like the AA.
A well maintained car should present few reliability problems however, but a well maintained car doesn't just happen by itself. (You can read more prepping older wheels on the Running a Classic car page).
So maintenance requirements and the failings of the original design of some classics are downsides to be very aware about. But potential negatives of running a classic don't just relate to reliability (or lack of).
Many older cars are not overly burdened with hare-like pace. If your retro motor is only 20 or so years old, then it'll keep up with modern traffic. But if your interests have drifted further back in to the mists of time, issues of speed may be a problem. For someone who does a regular motorway commute into a city centre, a little runabout from the 1960s or earlier may not be the best choice. The problem, at least with many British cars, is their very low gearing. Some cars are revving their wotsits off at 40mph, and are more suited to a leisurely saunter at a more respectable 30-35mph, keeping the engine revs right down (and mechanical wear to a minimum). If you only drive on genteel back roads then a smaller classic should be fine, but for a higher speed trip, involving overtaking and mixing it with reps in their BMWs, it'll be no fun at all. Better get something a little larger. Some family sized cars had more sensible gearing in the 1960s compared to their older relatives, a few with overdrive gearboxes available as an option, and these will be a better bet if reasonable top speeds are important to your situation.
Whichever way you look at it, no classic car will offer similar levels of safety when compared to a brand new nanny-mobile. Peer inside the gloomy drabness of your typical modern box and you'll see airbags sprouting from all corners of the cabin, soft squishy bits with which to impact your head against, and several miles between the front seat occupants and the windscreen (laminated of course). Settle down into the cabin of a similarly sized classic and you'll be greeted by a characterful dashboard, all hard metal, spiky switches, rock hard steering wheel, and toughened screen just inches from your nose. Of course there is an argument that all this safety equipment, while obviously a good idea, can lead to drivers being less careful in their driving, feeling all cocooned and invincible in their cosy tin box.
Which leads me on to the final area that I think may be a negative of older cars, at least in some peoples eyes. That of equipment. Back in the 50s and 60s, drivers were indeed lucky to have a heater built into their car. For many drivers back then, the idea of a car heater was to put on a second pair of socks, a thick scarf, and a suitably insulating piece of headgear. Ventilation was fairly average on many old cars, although this would be mitigated somewhat by the opening quarterlights that often came as standard, directing a chilly blast onto the inside of the screen and the drivers right knee. Air conditioning was the preserve of the monied set, and only available on the very finest of motoring machines. Interiors could be jolly basic places to be, some peasant-spec motorcars being devoid of passenger sunvisors, carpets, radios, wind-up windows and similar delights. Those who like to see the positives in all things, will tell you that, on a 40 year old car, this is a very good thing as there is less to go wrong. Good point.
But If you're willing to adjust to the way that old cars work, and their needs, then they can be a lot of fun. Put a little time aside to keep on top of routine maintenance, and allow a little extra time for your journeys (unless you go for a sportingly rapid machine). Expect things to go wrong every now and then, take some precautions to minimise the impact that such problems cause, and you should get by ok and keep most of your sanity.
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