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A Guide to get your Classics back on the Road

Wake me up before you Go-Go Published: 31st May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

A Guide to get your Classics back on the Road If your classic has been covered up during its lay-up (and it’s very wise to), carefully ease back the cover to avoid damaging the paint. In any event - and especially if the car has not been under cover - it is a good idea to wash off accumulated dust
A Guide to get your Classics back on the Road Before attempting to start the engine, check the coolant, water and fuel levels, and ensure that the battery is fully charged, also that the terminals are clean and tight. If fuel level is low, a gallon or two of fresh petrol revitalises the old stuff
A Guide to get your Classics back on the Road Make sure that the brake fluid level (also the clutch fluid, if applicable) is correct before starting and driving the vehicle. If the reservoirs are empty or low on fluid, track down the problem and rectify before using the car (failed seals?)
A Guide to get your Classics back on the Road Gently apply the brakes and release a few times before moving the car anywhere! Sometimes the brake cylinder pistons will be reluctant to move at first; make sure that the pedal feels responsive and that the brakes are operating properly
A Guide to get your Classics back on the Road To help conserve battery power and to assist the engine in starting after its long ‘rest’, it can be helpful to spray the high tension leads and distributor cap with a water repellent spray, after first wiping away any condensation
A Guide to get your Classics back on the Road A ‘boost’ starter battery pack is very useful if the car’s own battery is tired or simply had it, especially if the car is located away from a mains power supply. If the condition of the car’s battery is in doubt, renew it and then be worry free
A Guide to get your Classics back on the Road Check tyres for damage (side wall crazing), re-inflate to the correct pressures. If the car has been static in one spot for too long then they may have acquired ‘flat spots’, or may have cracked as a result
A Guide to get your Classics back on the Road The clutch driven plate may have seized onto the flywheel during the lay-up. First, gently operate the clutch pedal in/out a few times; if the clutch plate doesn’t free, you will need to try tougher tricks
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If your classic has been sleeping through the winter, now’s the time to wake it up and get it out on the road again. Kim Henson advises on the best and safest ways

These days many classic cars are laid up during the winter months, and there are a number of potential problems which can arise when the vehicle is taken out of hibernation in the spring. However, if a little time is taken to check the car and prepare it for use on the road again, trouble can be avoided and you can soon be enjoying driving it once more.


If you haven’t used your classic for a while, and particularly if you haven’t made a point of regularly running the engine during the layup period, then your first problem may well be persuading the motor to start. However, before even trying to start the engine, ensure that it hasn’t seized… If the car has a starting handle, insert this into its slot and carefully rotate the motor - this will also encourage oil to be distributed around the unit. If no handle is provided, then simply use a socket or ring spanner on the crankshaft pulley nut/bolt. If the engine has ‘lightly’ seized, DON’T force it or you may well break piston rings. Instead remove the spark plugs and run a little penetrating oil into each of the cylinders. Allow this to soak in, then GENTLY rock the car backwards and forwards with top gear engaged (on level ground only). Hopefully the motor will free. However if you do use penetrating oil (or diesel, or any other freeing agent), it is advisable to change the engine oil before using the car seriously. If the engine proves to be seriously seized, unfortunately a stripdown and examination of the unit is going to the only safe answer. Assuming that the engine turns freely, you need to check various other aspects before trying to start it. Ensuring that the spark plugs and contact points (where fitted) are clean and correctly adjusted is a good first move, and checking that the rotor arm, distributor cap and high tension leads are dry, clean and in good condition will also help. A squirt of water dispellent spray onto the distributor cap and leads will help to get rid of condensation, and may make the difference between a start and ‘no go’. For especially sleepy engines, you can also buy volatile aerosol products designed to spray into the carburettor intake, providing initial encouragement for the engine to burst into life. One of the most important factors in getting the engine running quickly is having a good healthy battery that’s fully charged. If you are in any doubt about the battery’s condition, get it checked (free of charge usually) at your local battery supplier. If it fails the ‘heavy load’ test, a new battery is the answer (Did look after it during the lay up by regularly charging it?). Sometimes a helping hand can be given in the form of a jump start using heavy-duty booster/jump leads connected to the good battery of another vehicle; preferably one equipped with an alternator, rather than a dynamo. Another option is to use a mains battery charger with a built in boost setting, enabling the engine to be cranked while the charger is still connected. Alternatively, if your car is garaged some distance from a mains electricity supply, one of the now widely available compact booster battery sets are very handy, and very useful. It may sound obvious, but check too that there’s enough fuel in the car’s tank; evaporation can occur over long periods, and in addition, modern unleaded fuel tends to deteriorate in time. A gallon or two of fresh petrol will help to ensure an immediate start.

Running Gear

Once you get the engine running, but before you attempt to move the car, you need to be sure that the brake system is operating. Start by checking the fluid level. It should be clean and up to the ‘full’ mark in the reservoir. If the level has dropped, find out why (probably a seal that’s failed) and rectify the problem before even venture out! If all seems well in this department, slowly apply the brake pedal and release, repeating this several times. Make sure that the pedal feels normal in operation. If it sinks to the floor, there’s a hydraulic problem that needs fixing (or a malfunction in the mechanical linkage), and if the pedal refuses to budge, one or more of the hydraulic cylinders have almost certainly seized. A stripdown and inspection of the system, plus the fitting of replacement cylinderswill be required to sort this out If your classic is bristling with grease points, and if you didn’t replenish them when the car was laid up, it is wise to attend to them before the car goes back on the road. It’s also wise to check the lubricant level(s) in
the transmission. Always inspect the tyres very carefully, especially if they have been carrying the weight of the car during its time off the road. Ensure that they are still sound, with no evidence of perishing or cracking, and that the pressures are correct. They will usually have lost some pressure during the months of inaction, so use a foot pump (or
battery-powered compressor) to restore the pressures to the correct values. Another common tyre problem is that ‘flat spots’ can develop where the car has been standing on its tyres (some are affected more than others by this phenomenon). Normally these flat spots disappear after a few miles of driving, but in the meantime they can causestrange vibrations through the car. If the problem continues, seek advice from a tyre supplier; in extreme cases you may require new tyres to be safe.

Clutch Seizure?

Sometimes the clutch driven plate can seize onto the flywheel, so it will then be impossible to declutch, in order to engage a gear. There are several methods which can be used to encourage the clutch plate to free; try to avoid the more brutal ones (which risk causing expensive mechanical damage). The first step is to gently pump the pedal up and down several times, then to try again to declutch. If this doesn’t work, fully warm the motor by allowing it to run for perhaps half an hour. The heat from the engine will percolate through to the clutch, and can help to free it. If not, and if you have sufficient obstacle-free level tarmac, engage first gear, release the handbrake and crank the engine into life using the starter motor. The car will move forward, of course. When the car is moving slowly, brake firmly and operate the clutch pedal at the same time. Hopefully the driven plate will be freed by this action. If after several attempts you are still in trouble, alas the safest option is to remove the gearbox and physically detach the clutch plate from
the flywheel; you may need to install a new clutch assembly if the driven plate is damaged. Some owners have freed seized clutches by holding the clutch pedal down and ‘force-engaging’ a gear. While this method can work, equally there is a high risk of damaging the gearbox, propeller shaft and/or drive shafts, so it is not to be recommended.


If your car has accumulated layers of dust during its hibernation, wash it off using plenty of water/car wash agent, then rinse off using clean water, finally drying the paint and brightwork using a chamois leather (or leather substitute). Examine thevehicle for damage to the paintwork,including ‘cobwebbing’ and obvious rust, and rectify asrequired. Removal of localised rust, then touching in damaged sections with an anti-rust primer, finishing with further primer and top coats, will prevent further deterioration. Applying a quality car polish to all the paint and chromework will help preserve it, as well as enhancing the car’s appearance. If the brightwork has deteriorated, careful application of nonabrasive polish or the use of a vinegar-impregnated soft cloth should be tried before resorting to more aggressive methods (abrasive polishes can damage the surface of the bright trim).


Interior trim may require a good clean using a good upholstery cleaner; aerosol sprays designed for specific types of trim – for example vinyl, cloth and leather - are available and can work well. If your classic has leather upholstery, applying hide food will help to maintain/restore the leather’s suppleness.


  • Legalities
  • Before driving your classic after a lengthy period off the road, make sure that the car is legally ready, and that your documentation is up to date. In particular, ensure that
    the MoT hasn’t expired (if so, you need to have the car re-tested before you can use it), and that the car has a current road tax disc. If your car is the subject of ‘SORN’ (‘Statutory Off Road Notification’), it needs to be taken ‘out of SORN’ and re-taxed before it can be used on the road (apart from taking it to and from a pre-booked MoT test). For details of how to do this, see our separate ‘box’ on the subject.


    Fully checking your classic before returning it to regular use will usually only take an hour or two, and will give you peace of mind as well as ensuring that your car is fit for the road.


    For assistance with photography for this feature, grateful thanks to Jason Barnes. (And the dots? Well, remember Wham’s cover for that 1980s single?)

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