With winter limiting the fun to be had on the road, now is a perfect time to tackle project cars. Where do you start? By addressing issues that could end up damaging your vehicle or increasing your risk of an accident. Here’s what you should look at first before getting your classic back on the road.
Tires and Coolant: Your First Priorities
Even if it will be a while before you get your classic running, you’ll want to be able to move it safely. Any tire more than a few years old is probably dry rotted and waiting to come apart. Check the date code on the tire. The first two digits are the week of manufacture, and the last two are the year. If there are just three numbers, the tire was made before 2000 and is almost certainly dry rotted.
What kind of tires should you get for your classic? Classic reproduction tires give your car an authentic look, but they’re not good for much outside of driving to shows. If you want to drive your vehicle for fun, buy modern tires. The improvement in ride quality, wear and handling between modern radials and old bias ply tires is huge.
How can you get a modern tire that fits a classic rim? Before 1972, tires were sized in inches for both wheel size and tire width, while the aspect ratio was always 80%. Today, we use millimeters for width and a range of aspect ratios. To convert inches to centimeters, multiply the tire’s width measurement by 25.4. If the car originally had a 6-inch wide tire, you’d need a modern tire that’s close to having a 152.4 mm width. Alternatively, you can get classic reproduction wheels that look correct but use common modern sizes, making it easy to buy new tires.
Old coolant can freeze, and it won’t protect the engine from corrosion. Replacing or draining the coolant now will prevent engine and radiator damage when temperatures dip.
Rubber and Fluids
If it’s a liquid or it’s made of rubber, it will go bad with age.
Rotted fuel lines are a major safety hazard. Standard neoprene hose can handle pressures used to supply fuel to carburetors, but you may need nylon hose or custom hose pieces for fuel injected engines. While you’re at it, inspect steel fuel lines for signs of crimping and rust. Spending a few dollars now may save you from dealing with a major fire.
Like hoses, oil degrades with age. Over time, it can absorb moisture from the air, while acids left over from combustion will eat away at the engine. If the vehicle has sat for a long time, change the oil before working on it.
Even when treated with a stabilizer, modern gasoline goes stale very quickly. Engines with carburetors can have ignition problems in as little as a month with regular fuel, and as little as three months with treated fuel. If it’s going to be a while before you run the engine, you’re better off leaving the fuel system empty.
Gas purchased within the last 6 months can safely be used in modern engines. Otherwise, you’re better off disposing of fuel at a hazardous waste site. Live in Waukesha County? The government office maintains a list of hazardous waste sites where you can drop off old gasoline.
Old brake hoses can flake internally, creating a one-way valve. When fluid goes toward the caliper or wheel cylinder, the flake is pushed down, letting fluid pass. When the fluid heads back to the master cylinder, the flake will lift, blocking the passage. This can cause brakes to lock up.
Older systems have just one master system reservoir. If there’s a leak in the hydraulic system, the entire braking system fails.
Modern DOT 3 fluid can replace older glycol-based fluid. Using silicone-based DOT 5 may cause leaks in older cars. Many classic British braking systems use castor oil. This oil should be replaced with a compatible classic formulation brake fluid.
You never know who owned it, and how much care they took to keep the car running. Fortunately, wiring systems on classic cars are a lot simpler than modern vehicles. If the engine has a carburetor and a mechanical ignition system, the only wiring is for the lights, ignition, radio and charging system. Look over the wiring, making sure old connections aren’t able to short on the body.
Protect Your Investment by Getting Repairs Done Right
After spending time and money on a project car, an accident can be devastating. If this happens, bring your classic to Merton Auto Body. Our staff of ASE-certified technicians have the auto body repair techniques and tools to get your classic looking and driving like new after an accident. We proudly serve customers across Waukesha County and the Lake Country area, including Pewaukee, Delafield and Oconomowoc.