Spring has sprung! That means it’s time to start thinking about getting your classic cars and trucks ready for the season.
Now don’t go running for the garage to fire up those engines just yet. In the Midwest, our cars usually sit for about five months. And that’s a lot of time for bad things to happen. After not starting it, there’s a list you should check before turning over the engine and another one before heading down the road. It’s critical that you give yourself plenty of time to get your vehicle dialed in before your wheels hit the pavement.
Before you get rolling, follow our maintenance checklist to ensure your ride is running right.
Step 1: Fluids and Hoses
- Check the oil. Is it at the proper level? How does the quality of the oil look (it should be a golden honey color)? If it’s milky looking you have moisture; if it’s black, it’s due to be changed.
- Check the antifreeze. Make sure the radiator is full and if you have an overflow can that it’s filled properly. It’s convenient to use a pre-mixed 50/50 bottle of antifreeze and water when topping things off. If you are changing the antifreeze, it’ economical to buy full-strength antifreeze and dilute it yourself with distilled water.
- Check and adjust belts and hoses. Check the belts for dry rot and wear. Adjust them to the proper tension. If you are nearing the end of the total adjustment to get the belt tight, it’s time for a new one. Hoses should be checked for dry rot and leaking. Make sure all clamps are tight on the radiator and heater hoses. Also, make sure the thermostat housing and heater hose fitting into the intake manifold and water pump is not leaking.
Step 2: Electric
- Check all the wiring in the engine compartment. Old wiring can become brittle and break or corrode.
- Because it’s a fire waiting to happen, secure any loose wiring, making sure it stays clear of the exhaust and any sharp edges on the frame or body; zip ties and electrical tape work well for this.
- Check the battery water level and fill to the required level with distilled water if necessary. Check the battery terminals and clean them if they need it. Make sure the battery is fully charged and ready.
Step 3: The Fuel System
- Check all fuel lines and hoses leading from the tank to the carburetor or throttle body. Look for leaks, corrosion, and dry rotting. Don’t overlook rubber hoses. Any signs of fuel-hose dry rot should be replaced immediately; countless engine fires happen every year due to a failed piece of $5 hose.
- Next, check the throttle linkage to make sure it’s moving freely and not binding up. This is a good time to clean the carburetor or throttle body if you feel it’s needed. Make sure you have a fresh tank of gas or gas that was treated with stabilizer before it was put away for the winter.
Step 4: Start ‘Er Up (but don’t go anywhere….)
- It’s time to start your car or truck. You want to get the car up to normal operating temperature, high enough for the thermostat to open and get hot antifreeze flowing through the radiator and heater core. This will help burn off any moisture or condensation that has built up inside the engine.
- Once you’ve warmed the car up, now would be a good time to check the transmission level if you have an automatic transmission and add fluid if needed. Then shut the car off and let it cool down.
- Re-check all hoses and lines to make sure there’s no leaking.
- Check the differential fluid and add fluid if necessary.
Step 5: Tires and Chassis
- What shape are your tires in? Look for dry rotting, uneven wear, and check for proper air pressure. Do the tires need to be rotated?
- Suspension and steering can be checked somewhat before driving. You will want to lube the chassis, check for play in the steering wheel that goes beyond what’s normal, and move the front wheel by hand back and forth to determine if there’s any play in the wheel bearings or tie rods.
- Finally, make sure all lug nuts are torqued to spec.
Step 6: Check the Brakes
- A car that won’t go is bad—but a car that won’t stop is a lot worse! For disc brakes, check the thickness of the brake pads. You should be able to see this without disassembling anything.
- Most drum brakes are self-adjusting and adjust when you hit the brakes while going in reverse. If they’re not self-adjusting, pull off the drum and adjust them accordingly.
- Check for brake fluid leaks at all four wheels and check each brake line all the way up to the master cylinder. Bad brake lines, bad hoses, bad calipers, and bad wheel cylinders are commonplace on old cars and need to be checked often and replaced immediately if warranted.
- Check the brake pedal to make sure it feels normal. You don’t want it to be too spongy or so stiff it barely moves. Either extreme indicates you have a brake problem; it could be a leak in the system, air in the line, a blown wheel cylinder or caliper, a collapsed brake hose, or a frozen caliper or wheel cylinder.
Step 7: The Test Drive
- You’re ready to hit the road for a test drive. If everything checks out, drive it home, clean it up, and get ready to have a great time all season long.
For informational use only. Not applicable to all situations.