The classic car fraternity may well have invented the word ‘fettle’. And if they didn’t, they should commandeer it as their own. It’s the reason why so many love to own a classic. It’s not just the pleasure of owning and driving something distinct from a modern motor but also the satisfaction of regularly tinkering with an engine that doesn’t rely on ‘black box’ electronic wizardry, or simply being able to change a headlight bulb – ever tried changing a bulb in your modern car?
There are many classic car maintenance jobs that can be done on a DIY basis even for those with little mechanical knowledge or experience. Others you may choose to outsource to a classic car specialist. Many of the jobs you will need to do are seasonal but, depending on how often the car is used, you can break the checks down into weekly, monthly or annual tasks.
Assuming you’re using the car every day or reasonably regularly, here are some of the checks you should make part of your classic car service routine.
Every week (or before a long journey)
A classic will tend to use more oil than a modern car – which often go from service to service without using any. Keep oil levels topped up and look out for any leaks. Check your lights work properly and check the tyre pressures when the vehicle is cold; inspecting the condition of the tyres for any splits or low tread. It’s worth noting that old tyres on a classic, even when they have sufficient tread can be an issue. Generally tyres, however good the condition they appear to be in, should be replaced after no more than ten years. Other regular weekly checks include making sure engine coolant, brake fluid, clutch fluid, battery and screen wash levels are all correct.
Washing and waxing the bodywork on your classic will keep the paintwork looking good and prevent it deteriorating. Don’t forget to pay attention to the underneath of your car. Corrosion is a challenge for almost every classic – even a rust proof fibreglass Reliant Scimitar, for example, sits on a rust prone steel box-section chassis. The salt that we throw liberally around our roads every winter is hugely damaging to exposed metal. Regular jet washing of the underside of your classic and wheel arches will keep the dirt and salt off and help prevent rust forming. Make sure you tend to any stone chips promptly to prevent rust forming. Keep the interior clean. Interior trim can often be one of the hardest parts to source on a classic so keeping them in good condition is important.
Every three months
Inspect brake hoses, and make sure the flexible hoses in the engine bay haven’t deteriorated. These have a tendency to perish and give out at the most inconvenient times. If you have a grease gun, you should lubricate areas like steering ball joints and front suspension. Lubricate other areas such as door hinges and catches.
Make sure your classic is properly under-sealed to protect against rust with the process repeated every couple of years. An annual service is also essential – including oil change, new oil filter and air filter, even if your mileage is low. This might be best left to a classic car specialist if you don’t have the appropriate tools and facilities.
Keep it protected
Protecting your car from the worst of the elements will help and if you can store your car in a dry garage then so much the better. If you don’t have a garage, consider a quality car cover. These should be breathable to prevent the car becoming damp underneath.
Drive it and enjoy it
The good news is, classics like to be driven regularly and perform better when they’re given a frequent run out compared to those that sit idle for long periods, as long as regular maintenance isn’t ignored.
As one of our clients, John Dunn, told us recently:
an enthusiast is someone who devotes their time, energy and efforts to maintaining their beloved car to the best of their ability and their pocket".