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A new season is almost upon us, so Dave Richards advises on the best way to prepare your classic for the coming year and pass your personal MoT test

Are you a last-minute Charlie? Or well prepared in running your classic? We all need some help to ensure we get the most from our classics, so this guide is to advise any enthusiast of the simple checks needed to ensure a reliable MoT pass, first time, every time plus ensures your vehicle is ready for the road after a winter lay off.

Let’s Start With The Basics

Start with the simple things which can trip even the experienced up. Your horn should work with a clear note. Some faults are hard to trace, especially when a horn ring is the operating switch. It’s perfectly ok to wire in an auxiliary switch to work the horn if your horn ring on the steering wheel is iffy. It should be of the sprung variety so the horn doesn’t stay on.

Your wipers should work adequately when the switch is operated, and the tester will also look at the condition of the blades on the windscreen. They’re an easy and cheap fix, and seeing as wipers on older cars aren’t often as good as those on a modern, perhaps it is safer to just replace the blades at the start of the classic season.

Your windscreen should not have damage bigger than can be contained in a 10mm circle within the driver’s wiper arc, and up to 40mm in the passenger wiper arc. Windscreens should also not have stickers and other things obscuring the view in the wiper-swept area.

More modern classics might also have SRS/airbag systems and antilock brakes. The warning lamps signalling a fault logged in the car’s memory should be clear, meaning the lamp cycles through its checks and then extinguishes. If your car has a lamp on, you’ll need to interrogate the car using specialised diagnostic equipment. If there are forums for your classic online, search there to discover if there are any obvious checks and repairs you can do first – an 18 year old BMW 528i when its traction control lamp came on was an easy fix using this method. It always pays to look online.

Top Tip

Wipers and windscreens are another item easily sorted by any diligent owner

Lights

Are all your lamps working properly? It is a simple test to walk around the car and check sidelamps front and rear, number plate illumination and headlamps both dipped and main. The tester will tap your lamps once they are on during the test, to ensure they don’t flicker. You can do the same.

The tell-tale for the main beam should work when it is selected. Back on dip beam, the rear fog lamp should also be checked in the same way, and the warning lamp on the dash should also work.

Indicators can be checked simply too, by observing them – if they are flashing too fast, or slow, you may either have a bulb gone or need a new flasher unit. The turn signals shouldn’t make any of the other lamps go dim or flash incorrectly when operated – faults such as these can be caused by bad earths. Brake lamps can be tested by getting a friend to sit in the car and operate the footbrake.

Again the operation of the lamps must not affect any other lamp. Reversing lamps are fitted to many more modern classics. If all your other lights are working, any diligent owner will want these to also work even if they are not officially part of the test. You may not be able to check the beam adjustment.

But a good soak of the adjusting screws in some penetrating oil each day for a week before the test should make it easier for the tester to adjust them and net that pass.

Top Tip

Any self-respecting car enthusiast wouldn’t present a car for MoT with a bulb out. Would they?

Body & Chasis

Before you worry about corrosion, there are other things an MoT tester will be looking at on your car before it gains that MoT pass.

The seat belts should have undamaged webbing and latch properly. Inertia belts should lock too, to ensure your safety. Replacing seatbelts on classics can be done easily as they are so simple and readily available.

The doors, bonnet and boot should all open and shut properly with latches and catches secure and handles inside and outside the car working. The fuel cap should seal adequately too and will be checked. You can repair any of these items before you take the car to the test.

Other bodywork parts should be secure and not exhibit any jagged edges, for instance on wheel arches and wings. But temporary repairs to a good standard using GRP and body filler will be accepted for the purposes of gaining that VT20 pass certificate.

Checking for corrosion may seem more specialised but the requirements are simple. Any area within 30cm of a suspension attachment, chassis, brake, seatbelt or towbar should exhibit no rust that ‘gives’ when pressed or becomes a hole when tapped with the CAT hammer or to be precise Corrosion Assessment Tool. It is little used now by testers, but some classics in poorer condition may see it in use. Sills and chassis members under the car should be solid – after all, if the worst happens and the car is involved in a collision you want the best protection possible! And structural repairs should be undertaken by seam welding or similar gauge metal.

Top Tip

Present your car for test scrupulously clean. Making the tester’s inspection job more pleasant with a clean car will get him or her more on your side and ‘sway’ their overall assessment

Tyres

Many classics cover few miles annually which means that its tyres are more likely to need replacing because of age rather than wear because the rubber degrades over time.

You can check your tread depths easily enough with a cheap depth gauge. The minimum is 1.6mm tread, but for safety’s sake more than 2mm is desirable. You should also be checking for surface cracks which can reveal the tyre is deteriorating with age. A few in the sidewall might be accceptable. But if you have cracking within the tread pattern that’s a sure sign the tyres are beyond their best.

And while tyres can be expensive to replace as a set, they are your only contact with the road surface. It might be appealing to buy new, old stock tyres at an autojumble, or secondhand tyres from your local tyre bay. Yet there’s nothing quite like putting a whole set of new tyres on a car to transform its steering, ride quality and general ‘feel’. A real treat – for you and your car - if you can afford to do it.

Top Tip

While you’re inspecting your tyres, set their pressures – you’ll be surprised how much they’ve lost during the winter lay-up

Emissions

Pre-1974 cars are only subject to a visual smoke test. Even so, ensure you have enough oil and coolant in the engine so it doesn’t overheat or disgrace itself during the test. Post-1974 cars are subject to emissions testing and should therefore have had a recent cambelt change – if you can’t prove it, then the tester is within his rights to refuse a test as the engine has to be revved at fairly high revs for a period.

Top Tip

Put in a clean air filter, then take the car out for a good long fast run – 20 miles on the motorway at 70mph – immediately before arriving at the testing station to ‘purge’ the engine

Number Plates

These must be legal and not deteriorated. ‘German style’ fonts are not allowed, nor is black and silver plates on post- 1974 cars, and illegal spacing is now a failure item.

Top Tip

Fit reflective plates for the winter period, then revert to your period plates for the brighter evenings in the summer

Brakes

The tester will be inspecting all your car’s brake componentry from underneath and around the car, looking to see if the master cylinder is weeping under pressure, whether the metal brake pipes are corroded and that the flexible lines in good order. Also the brake pad thickness will be assessed (if visible) and only once all of that is checked visually will the car be put on the brake rollers (or driven up the road to use the good old ‘Tapley Meter’) to check the brake’s efficiency.

Basically, footbrake efficiency is measured by taking the known weight of the car, and then seeing if the force each wheel brake gives (when added together) add up to 50 per cent or more of that weight.

For classics with single-circuit brakes the handbrake is deemed to be a secondary brake, so must give 25 per cent efficiency. For cars with dual circuit brakes the handbrake is a tertiary brake, so must give 16 per cent efficiency. If you’re used to driving a variety of cars, you’ll basically know if your brakes are adequate for the car. Most commonly, it is the handbrake that can give trouble, particularly on automatics that are left in park without applying the handbrake, and on cars with separate handbrake shoes built into a rear disc set-up, as found on many BMWs and Mercedes. If you get the handbrake up to snuff before heading to the test station, that’s one more thing off the to-do list before the start of the season anyway.

Top Tip

Remove all your personal possessions from the car before test, to make it lighter and more likely to pass the brake test. Three wheels or more that ‘lock-up’ on the brake rollers mean an automatic pass. Getting your car tested while it’s raining can make this more likely to happen

There are many items on your car you can check yourself before your MoT test date. Many owners are diligent and maintain their cars well. I keep a notepad in the glovebox with my running to-do list of jobs to complete on my classics. They’re split into different categories too: Urgent, to complete as soon as possible, Important, to complete at service time, and ‘Would-be-nice’ – which is the ‘get around to it sometime’ category. However you maintain and repair your car, keeping on top of these safety-critical MoT items is the least any of us can do to keep up road safety standards and ensure that our classics aren’t deteriorating.

By carrying out your own MoT before the test means that you’ll know that your classic is ready for the roads in 2015!



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