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Recommissioning Published: 30th May 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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Now's the time most of us want to use our classics after a winter lay off. Here’s how your car ready for some summer fun

If you tucked up your classic properly late last year, then waking it up from its hibernation is a mere formality. Sadly life is rarely that simple; penny to a pound the clutch and brakes will be stuck on, it won’t start and you won’t be full of the joys of spring! Here’s how to recommission your classic safely.

Power play

If you haven’t used your classic for a while, and didn’t made a point of regularly running the engine during the lay-up period, then your first problem may well be persuading the motor to start. Don’t just jump in with a fully charged battery and turn the key! Before even trying to start the engine, ensure that it hasn’t seized. If there’s a starting handle, use it to carefully rotate the motor beforehand - if no handle is provided, then use a socket or ring spanner on the crankshaft instead – again slowly does it.

If the engine has ‘lightly’ seized whatever you do DON’T force it or you may well break some piston rings. Instead, remove the spark plugs and run a little penetrating (or diesel) oil into each of the cylinders. Allow this to soak in, before GENTLY rocking the car backwards and forwards with top gear engaged. Hopefully the motor will free up and be fine.

If you had to use penetrating oil (diesel fuel, or any other freeing agent), it is advisable to change the engine oil. If the engine proves to be ‘seriously’ seized, then alas a stripdown is the only safe answer.

Assuming that the engine turns freely see that the spark plugs and contact points (where fitted) are clean and correctly adjusted; checking that the rotor arm, distributor cap and high tension leads are dry, clean and in good condition also helps, as does a squirt of WD-40 (or similar) onto the distributor cap and leads to get rid of any condensation.

For deep sleep engines, you can also buy aerosols designed to spray into the carburettor intake, to provide some initial encouragement.

It may sound oh so 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 works wonders to get things firing.

Running right

Once the engine is up and running (in a well ventilated garage) let it warm up in its own good time.

Before you attempt to move the car, you need to be certain that the brake system is okay. Start by checking the fluid level; if it has dropped, rectify the problem before driving. 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 the pedal 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 meaning that a total stripdown and inspection of the brake system, plus the fitting of replacement cylinders (in axle sets to be safe) will now be required.

If your classic has grease points galore, and if you didn’t replenish them when the car was laid up, attend to them now.

Inspect the tyres, especially if they have been carrying the weight of the car during its time off the road. Ensure that they are still sound and round, with no evidence of perishing or cracking, and that the pressures are correct. ‘Flat spots’ can develop where the car has been standing on its tyres (some are affected more than others by this phenomenon).

Normally such flat spots should disappear after a few miles of gentle driving, but in the meantime they will cause vibrations through the car. If the problem continues, seek advice from a tyre supplier; in extreme cases you may require new tyres!

Clutch capers

Now, if you had done your laying up properly and kept the clutch pedal depressed, or regularly pumped the pedal, they’ll be no problems – but not always! Sometimes the driven plate can seize onto the flywheel, thus making it impossible to declutch in order to engage gear.

Happily there are several methods which can be used to free the clutch plate; the first is to gently pump the pedal up and down several times, then to try the clutch. If this doesn’t work simply fully warm the engine by letting it idle as the heat generated will hopefully percolate through to the clutch plate and so help to free it.

If not, and if you have sufficient safe space, engage first gear, release the handbrake and crank the engine into life on the key using the starter to get the car going.

The car will move off, of course and when it is moving on its own, brake firmly and operate the clutch pedal at the same time. Hopefully the driven plate will be freed by this quite brutal but quite safe action.

If after several attempts you are still in trouble, then the safest if most tedious option is to remove the gearbox and physically detach the clutch plate from the flywheel. Of course, common sense says you might as well install a new clutch assembly while you’re at it!

Some owners have successfully freed seized clutches by simply 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 we don’t recommend it. A final, less brutal dodge is to raise the driven wheels, start the engine in a high gear, give it some wellie and then slam the brakes on!

Body blues

Unless it’s been undercover, an accumulation of layers of dust will have formed – wash it off using plenty of water. Examine the body for damage to the paintwork, including ‘cobwebbing’ and obvious rust, and rectify as required.

Even if you polished the vehicle before laying it up, another layer of polish will help preserve it, as well. If the brightwork has deteriorated, use a non-abrasive polish for starters.

Make it legal

Before driving off make sure that the vehicle is totally legal (lights, washers, wipers, horn and so on) with all the documentation correct. In particular, ensure that the MoT hasn’t expired (if so, you need to have the car re-tested before you can use it). 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). It’s much easier to keep it mobile all year long… so try that next year?

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