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So, you’ve bought your first classic car! Great… but who’s going to look after it. Why not yourself, starting off by carrying out a minor service?

One of the numerous attractions of classic car ownership is the satisfaction of maintaining it yourself. In contrast to today’s look-but-don’t-touch moderns, most oldies built before the 1990s can be maintained at the kerb with the minimum of tools and knowledge allowing a ‘newbe’ to carry out minor repairs and services. This means the owner can save money while also gaining experience for bigger jobs – perhaps a restoration one day?

Handsome savings can be made by performing certain hardly rocket science maintenance jobs at home, such as a minor service. Costing not much more than a round of drinks in materials (depending where you sup, of course!-ed), it’s an extremely satisfying and sensible Saturday morning job, especially if you’ve just purchased your classic and want to ascertain its general condition. Don’t worry, if you take your time and work methodically you’re unlikely to drop a big enough clanger scraping the car!

Arm yourself with a service book or workshop manual first of all. Haynes is the most famous and long standing so there’s bound to be one for your vehicle and you may find one at an autojumble for just a few pounds. These are comprehensive enough for the majority of tasks although the best tomes come from the car makers which are intended for workshop staff.

And don’t overlook social media and U Tube for visual guidance.

Depending on your of classic, an effective basic toolkit should comprise of:

  • A decent spanner, screwdriver and socket set, including spark plug socket
  • A selection of ball pein hammers
  • Oil filter wrench
  • Oil pan bucket
  • Grease gun
  • WD-40 or similar

Other essential tools and equipment must include quality ramps and axle stands along with a stout jack – never rely on the fl imsy wheel changing item that nestles in the boot.

Facts on fluids

Moderns may be designed to run for 20,000 miles before lifting a spanner – so they say, although many mechanics beg to differ! – but in contrast the average oldie may demand attention every 3000 miles. And that’s no bad thing because with little used classics that can mean it may be a years before you carry out any maintenance! In fact, it’s best to discard the makers’ recommendations all together and look at twice yearly service intervals with one being major pit stop. It may sound like an overkill but a stitch in time and all that… bearing in mind that your car has lasted much longer than the maker ever intended!

One of the most important and straightforward as well as satisfying jobs is to change the engine’s oil and fifilter annually at the very least, even if your car covers a low mileage. A general rule is to stick to the same viscosity of oil that was recommended by the maker but bear in mind that lubricants have changed dramatically in the ensuing decades.

Enhancements such as using a fully-synthetic lube in an engine designed for oils thicker than a 15W/40 viscosity, can be either a complete waste of money, or might even result in engine damage. If in doubt use a dedicated classic engine oil that’s available from a variety of oil companies. It is also prudent to allow the engine to ‘spin’ on the starter motor, rather than start (by disconnecting a coil lead) after an oil change, so to prime the oil filter before starting up and possibly temporarily starve the bearings of lubricant. If it’s a spin-on canister, also fill it with oil. With the engine running, check for leaks around the filter and drain plug.

As the antifreeze’s anti-corrosion and cold protection properties also diminish with time the cooling system should be drained and refilled every two years if possible. Mind what you buy though; modern, long-life Organic Acid Technology (OAT) antifreezes, intended for post-1995 engines, tend to damage older seals and gaskets meaning that they should be avoided unless the car was factory-filled with such coolant types from new. Do not exceed a 50/50 concentration whatever you use and if possible use de-ionised (distilled) water, which will prevent the risk of lime-scale furring-up the engine’s ‘arteries’.

Alternatively, you might wish to fill the system with Evans Waterless Coolant. We’ve used it in a variety of engines and it’s great and is money (say £100) well spent for worry-free motoring because it can’t boil like water. Finally, check the condition of all the hoses, looking for leaks and ageing, the latter identified by bulging at their clips plus the state of the radiator cap’s seal (and spring).

Although official schedules tend to limit transmission oil checks to toppingup only (easy done using the squeezy oil packs), it is a good idea to drain and renew the lubricant once in a while. Magnetic inserts tend to be fit ted to the drain plugs and attract metal swarf, which need occasional wiping. Apart from verifying the viscosity, some modern transmission oil blends can attack certain metals used within classic car gearboxes, therefore be doubly sure that any new lube is compatible – consult a marque specialist if in doubt.

Running gear rules

As moisture enters the brakes’ hydraulic circuit(s) via both the reservoir and the rubber components, it lowers the boiling point of the brake fluid. Ideally it requires flushing through every two years, even if the car is stored. The risk of incurring not only internal corrosion but also of the brakes effectiveness, even failing completely, rises considerably, if neglected. This instruction applies only for cars where DOT 3, 4 or 5.1 fluid is used and not for DOT 5 (silicon) brake flu ids. Never use brake fluid in Citroëns that require dedicated green LHM fluid for their suspension and/or brakes, which turns yellow, when it requires changing.

Ball joints, steering racks and king pins may also require greasing but do not forget exposed cables. Some pre-war cars (and this includes some 50’s/60’s BMC classics) require such laborious attention every 500 miles but, even when new every 3000-12,000 miles is the norm for other, newer classics. It shouldn’t be forgotten that lube starved components will wear much faster and won’t work so well.

Broadly-speaking, a, multi-purpose lithium-based grease can be used for most applications but seek the advice of your owners’ club, or specialist lubrication company that possesses a classic range, such as Castrol, Penrite, Morris Lubricants or Millers, for example if in doubt.

Play, in modern vehicle wheel bearings (you check this by push-pulling the tyre noting undue slack) tends to indicate a failing part. However, many classic cars are equipped with old fashioned adjustable ‘taper’ bearings, which need a degree of free play so don’t over-tighten them but do slap on some prescribed grease. Other than that it’s a straightforward visual check on the running gear, making note of tired, aged components, leaking dampers, corroding exhausts… that sort of thing. There. That wasn’t too difficult, was it?

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