With spring upon us, many classic car owners are preparing their cars for the road following winter storage. The chill of winter is fading away and many drivers start planning road trips. And for the recent classic car owners, weather like this is one reason you decided to become the owner of the car of your dreams. But whether you’re a veteran to the ownership game or a newbie, preparing your car for road trips is a good idea and helps make the experience that much better. Why worry about the reliability of your car while on the road? Or worse yet, trying to figure out how to repair a broken car when you should be enjoying the drive.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Your classic car is just not going to be as reliable as a modern day Ford, Chevy or BMW. Classic cars are decades old using technology developed before you were born. And if the car you choose to drive isn’t restored, you’re not benefitting from any of today’s restoration techniques or hardware.
But that’s part of the charm of driving a classic. There is a little uncertainty mixed in with the fun of owning anything classic, whether it be a pre-war vintage or a 60s era muscle car.
With that in mind, let’s consider a few things to look out for as you plan a spring or summer trip.
First step: A tune-up
It wouldn’t hurt to start your preparations by doing a simple tune-up. Change the oil and filter, then check the spark plugs. If the plugs were changed recently or prior to the car being stored for the winter, checking gaps should be sufficient. Obviously, any suspicious carbon or oil deposits on the plugs means a problem needs to be taken care of before hitting the road. Easy things to check are clogged air filters or a problem with the fuel system. Oil on the plug is a little more serious so checking for oil leaking past valve guides or piston rings is a good bet.
Look for worn rubber
Next, take a look at all of the gaskets, seals and belts. Anything looking worn or cracked needs to be replaced. You don’t need a worst case scenario where you’re replacing a broken belt on the side of the road or in a hotel parking lot.
Check the tires and the spare
Take a look at your tires next. Always try to keep tires at the correct air pressure to minimize wear. If a car was stored through the winter months, check the tires for flat spots which can happen when a car sits in the same place for an extended period of time. Replace any tires that look worn or cracked. And last but not least, make sure you check the air pressure of the spare tire. A flat spare does nothing for you when you need it.
Make sure you can stop
The most important thing your car needs to do is stop. Yes, even more important than getting it moving. And for obvious reasons.
So let’s make some quick checks. First, make sure the fluid level in the master cylinder is at the correct level. Then check under the car and at each wheel for leaking brake fluid. New classic or vintage car owners may not know when brake pads were changed or brake lines replaced. This is time well spent to avoid any stopping problems during your travels.
Keep it running cool
Keeping your car’s engine running cool is crucial, especially if your road trip includes any summer desert driving. Hot days will quickly test a car’s cooling system. If you feel it’s necessary, you can flush the cooling system, replacing it with fresh fluid. Also check the radiator fins for debris and the radiator cap for a tight fit.
The road test
One final note while you prepare your car for the road. If you have time, take it on a long road test, driving both city streets and highway roads. The idea here is to get the car in as many road conditions as possible prior to your trip. This way you have the opportunity to see how the car operates with everything at the proper temperature. The test drive may present you with unseen gremlins that can be corrected prior to your trip.
The road you take makes a difference
A route that includes hills and the potential for unfavorable weather can make a road trip more difficult in a classic car. An underpowered vintage car will struggle with elevation changes, not to mention keeping up with modern day traffic on interstate highways.
Although, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t consider historically significant roadways as part of your trip. Route 66 sounds like a cliché but why not add it to your list of highways to try?
Others to consider are the Pacific Coast Highway in California, the Tail of the Dragon, which begins on the Tennessee/ North Carolina state line, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which passes through both Virginia and North Carolina.
Give yourself some leeway when heading for your next destination. There’s nothing wrong with taking your time and enjoying the drive, especially in a classic.