Is Your Collector Car Ready to Hit the Road?
The Importance of Preparation
In the early days of motoring, "reliability tours" were organized to test the dependability of vehicles. Today, owners of vintage vehicles take pride in owning a dependable vehicle that can make it back from a lengthy run without breaking down. To do this a vehicle must be well maintained.
Electrical problems, vapor lock, overheating, brake failure and flat tires are typical problems collectors encounter on a tour. Usually, some drivers have car problems while others do not. Why? Because some take the time to prepare their vehicle for touring, while others do not.
Preparation is important. No one wants to be stranded by the side of the road. Breakdowns cost money. In addition to towing and repair bills, parts flying loose, boiling coolant or spilled brake fluid can damage a car. If you need to have replacement parts shipped to you overnight, while on tour, it can add greatly to your expenses. Worst of all, if an on-the-road parts failure causes an accident, it can hurt you financially â€“ and physically.
Preparing for a tour is more important now than it was years ago. Less help is available once you get started. The convenience store has replaced the old filling station as the place to stop when traveling. Such stores will sell you gas and oil and maybe even air for your tires, but you won't find a trained mechanic behind the counter.
Touring in a "Touring"
Picking the right car to drive is part of your preparation. If you own several cars, one may be best for touring and it may not be that 1920s Model T Touring your Uncle left you. It depends. If you're traveling to the national meet of the Model T Club, you'll want to get that car ready for a long, slow ride. On the other hand, if you're heading for Hershey, your 1940s limousine will provide a faster, safer and more secure mode of travel.
Car selection counts. If you're worried about gas prices, don't take the '58 Impala convertible with its Tri-Power 348-cid V-8. However, if you're going to the Late Great Chevy convention, a gas-sipping Nash Metropolitan just won't do.
With a choice in cars, you'll want to think about the number of people traveling with you, the amount of luggage you'll need, the type of engine and transmission the car has, the rear-axle gearing, what kind of weather you're likely to encounter, whether the roads will be hilly or flat, if the car has a trunk and who's going to drive. If your wife is sharing the driving and doesn't know how to use a manual transmission, take the 1950s car with Hydra-Matic Drive. On a long tour, accessories like a radio and heater may come in handy. In some cases, driving a smaller car with better fuel economy may be a consideration.
When that shiny old car is sitting in your garage, it may be hard to "pump yourself up" to prep it for travel. It doesn't look like it's going to break down and you may think spending Sunday afternoon watching that big NASCAR race on the tube would be more fun. Don't get side-tracked! Remember, any problem you fix before hitting the road is going to save you a lot of hassle and money.
Tires and Wheels
Trip preparation starts from the tires up. Use a small, high-intensity flashlight to inspect all tires for cuts, breaks, crazing and damage. The valve stems should show no signs of leakage, breakage or rotting. A tire pressure gauge will help you check for proper inflation. Use a thread-depth gauge to check for excessive tire wear. Make sure your spare tire has sufficient air in it.
Carefully go over the wheels looking for bends, breaks and rust; especially at the rim edges and the bolt holes. Check the tightness of wire wheel spokes. Are all of the wheel lug nuts tight? Be sure that all of your tire-changing tools are in the car and in good shape. Test the operation of the jack before leaving home. Have your wheel balance checked professionally once a year.
Brakes and Shakes
Stopping is more important than going, so check the hydraulic braking system. Start under the hood by checking the fluid level in the master cylinder. Top it off with the proper type of fluid. Check to make sure the air vent in the master cylinder isn't clogged. Check the inside of each tire, at the bottom, for telltale brake fluid drips that indicate a leaky wheel cylinder.
Inside the car, step on the brake pedal. It should be firm and not "give" under pressure. Apply and release the parking brake and be sure it keeps the car from rolling. With the parking brake released, jack each corner of the car and spin the wheel to check for frozen brake drums. Pull the brake drum off and check all parts, then replace the drum and adjust brakes. Re-pack the wheel-bearing grease every 3-5 years. Make sure that the brake lights work properly.
A vehicle is only as strong as its foundation, so check the chassis and frame. Does the car sit level or lean to one side? Does the rear bumper drag? Inspect for rusty, damaged, bent or broken frame or chassis parts. Broken or "splayed" leaves in the rear spring pack indicate a problem. Check shocks (especially lever-action type) for fluid leaks. When you push down on the bumper does the car keep bouncing? That's a sign you need new shocks.
Look for open bolt holes or missing rubber bushings. Visually inspect the motor mounts for fractures or missing bits of rubber. Make sure the steering parts aren't loose or bent. Check the exhaust system for broken parts, too much rust or too much noise. Have front-wheel alignment professionally checked yearly.
Start inspecting the vehicle from the front. On a '30s car, check the headlight buckets for exposed wires. All electrical and vacuum hose connections in the engine bay should be clean and tight. Check battery condition, Are the battery cables tight and clean? At the least, you should do a minor engine tune-up, servicing the points and spark plugs, etc. Check around the carburetor and fuel pump for fuel leakage. Re-torque all fasteners and make sure the heat-riser valve is free. Lube the starter and generator bearings if oil cups are provided.
Cooling System Checks
It is very important to avoid overheating. It can warp a cylinder head or crack an engine block. Shine your flashlight through the radiator fins to make sure they aren't clogged with debris, which reduces airflow. Test the radiator cap and thermostat. Flush the cooling system and refill it with new coolant. Check the condition of belts and hoses. If the water pump has grease fitting, lubricate it.
Check the sides of the vehicle from front to rear. Make sure the headlights, parking lights, taillights and directional signals are all working. If the car doesn't have directionals, add them. Make sure all rearview mirrors are properly adjusted. Door hardware should be secure and adjusted correctly. All window glass should be clean, clear and crack-free. On open cars, check the fit of the top and side curtains. Fix loose snap-the-dot fasteners.
Tighten all access panels and wiring looms hidden under the fenders. Check below door sills for fluid leaks, loose brackets, hanging wires. All side trim moldings should be secure so that they won't fly off. If the car has rear fender skirts, test the mountings. Re-torque all fasteners on the engine and the body.
The Inside Story
Inside the car, make sure the seats are secured to the floor and that the seat-frame-adjuster mechanism works. If safety belts are installed, they should be attached to the vehicle's frame, not to the seat frame or floor (especially in cars with a wooden floor). Check for a worn accelerator pedal that comes off the mounting studs while driving. That can cause a sticking accelerator. Worn pedal rod bushings can lead to a sloppy or sticking brake pedal.
All interior bulbs should be working. Check for electrical shorts under the dash or headliner (seen often in prewar cars). Check the accuracy of all gauges and repair if necessary. You don't want to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Test all roll-up or push-out windows and be sure they have safety glass. Check for proper operation of all under-seat heaters and air vents.
While not an absolute necessity to get there and back, most collectors will want to wash their '57 Chevy before hitting the road. A good cleaning also insures that you'll be able to see through the windshield glass on a bright day.
Preparing for a trip means having a vehicle properly lubricated. The shop manual or owner's manual for your car will tell you what types of lubricants to use and where and when to check them. Simply changing the engine oil and filter on a routine schedule isn't enough. You'll also want to check the lubricant levels in the transmission, rear axle, steering gearbox and power steering pump. Your old car may have provisions for regular lubrication of the U-joints, steering linkage, springs, clutch release bearing, distributor cam, speedometer cable and vacuum wiper motor, as well as some other parts mentioned earlier in this pamphlet.
Test Drive the Vehicle
A lengthy and challenging test drive is absolutely necessary to make sure your vehicle is prepared for trips and tours. The Classic Car Club of America recommends that its members set one full day aside for a test drive, travel at least 100 miles and maintain 55 mph at least 30 percent of the time. While that may sound a bit "over the top," there are sound reasons behind this advice. You can't really test a vehicle until it reaches normal operating temperature and certain electrical parts won't act up until heat in the engine bay affects them.
This is why auto manufacturers have engine-durability laboratories where they run power plants at driving speed until they break. Testing the engines under simulated "real-world" conditions is the only way to get an accurate assessment. For old-car owners, the long test drive is as close as it gets to a durability lab. It is the best way to prove that your vehicle has been well maintained and can go anywhere without breaking down.
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