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Maintenance - Mechanical

By Jeff Zurschmeide

Your investment in your restoration is substantial, but the strange fact is that many restored cars are not cared for as they really should be. Specifically, because most restoration projects are not driven very often or very far, owners neglect mechanical maintenance. After all, you’ve only put 500 miles on the car since the resto, right?

Well, the fact is that just like people, cars do better when they get regular exercise. Even leaving your car in storage takes a toll on parts. You need to warm up a car regularly to dispel condensing water and keep a coat of oil on the mechanical parts. Plus, if you’re using natural oils they will develop acids over time, and those acids need to be flushed. That’s why the oil change interval is 3,000 miles or every 6 months.

You need a mechanical maintenance regimen appropriate to your car and your driving habits. The following is a seasonally-based mechanical maintenance schedule. I organize my maintenance schedule this way because my restored cars are used about 1,000 to 2,000 miles of driving each year in about 10 trips. A trip is usually about 20-50 miles, but there are one or two trips up to 600 miles long. The cars are garaged the rest of the time, including a long winter hiatus. This maintenance calendar begins with winter storage:

Prepare for winter storage:

· Wash and clean the car.

· Change the motor oil and filter.

· Test and ensure the engine coolant is a 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water.

· Check and ensure that all tires are properly inflated. Overinflating a little bit (10 pounds) is OK if the tires tend to lose air over time.

· Fill the fuel tank and add fuel stabilizer. Run the car long enough to circulate stabilized fuel to the carburetor.

· Disconnect the battery and place a high-quality battery tender on the car.

· Make sure the parking brake is not set, and the car is in gear

· Add moth balls or other pest repellents.

Remove the car from winter storage:

· Remove moth balls and pest repellents

· Lubricate the chassis.

· Ensure the battery is well-charged and reconnect it.

· Spray anti-corrosive on battery connections.

· Check the tire inflation and set pressures for driving. Don’t forget the spare!

· Check the wheel lug nuts for tightness.

· Check all fluid levels, including brake and clutch hydraulic fluid as appropriate.

· Check the ignition timing and dwell.

· Check generator/alternator charging output.

· Drive the car and run the heater and heater fan.

After using up the winter tank of stabilized gasoline:

· Adjust the brakes.

· Adjust the clutch (if necessary).

· Adjust the valve lash.

· Refill with fresh gasoline.

Before each tour or rally:

· Check tire inflation.

· Check the wheel lug nuts.

· Check all fluid levels.

Before the first long tour or rally:

· Flush brake and clutch hydraulic fluid.

· Check tire inflation.

· Check and tighten wheel bearings.

· Check and adjust carburetor tuning.

· Check all spares and trunk supplies.

About Mid-Season:

· Rotate the tires.

· Change the oil and filter.

· Check the ignition timing and dwell.

· Replace spark plugs, if necessary.

You may find that a monthly/quarterly/annual calendar, or a mileage-based maintenance calendar works better for you. What is important is that you develop a schedule so that you do not forget to attend to important mechanical maintenance. Otherwise it is far too easy to believe “I just checked that recently” when you have let 5 years go by between chassis lubrication or valve lash adjustment.

Classic cars simply take more maintenance than modern cars, and they have no facility to automatically tell you when something is out of adjustment. Diligent maintenance pays off in enjoyment, and neglect can easily leave you sitting by the side of the road waiting for a tow truck.

Dos and Don'ts
Thumb up  DO
  • Follow the maintenance instructions in the original owner’s manual
  • Use modern synthetic oil products that minimize wear
  • Make a maintenance calendar to remind yourself
  • Remember that older cars just take more tinkering than new ones

Thumb down  DON’T
  • Don’t neglect maintenance even if you haven’t driven the car
  • Don’t forget to maintain the parts you can’t easily see
  • Don’t hesitate to find a lift for chassis lubrication
The Popular Restorations Feature Car
Author photo

1946 Packard: Mechanical maintenance



The Packard has only 9000 miles on it since its restoration. So far, maintenance has been minimal with only brake and lubrication changes and replacing the points and plugs once to cure an engine miss. That is, with the exception of the transmission and driveshaft. In both cases there were repairs that needed to be done to improve on the original factory design. With those taken care of, the car drives nicely, with plenty of power while being very quiet -- as a Packard should be!



Doan Vintage Solutions

By Jeff Zurschmeide

Jeff Doan
9765 SW Frewing St.
Tigard, OR, 97223
(503) 598-8590

PR: What’s your theory on post-restoration mechanical maintenance?

JD: I subscribe to the 5-50-500 school of thought. That means you get your restoration done and spin it around the block a few times and bring it in and check everything. There is no substitute for putting a wrench on things and checking them. Then you do it again at 50 miles and again at 500 miles. By that time, everything should be dialed in and stay together. I think it’s a great philosophy.

PR: What do you do about suspension and chassis lubrication?

JD: The car should have been thoroughly lubricated when it was assembled, and you should follow the regular scheduled maintenance. There are people who put show cars together dry to avoid any grease becoming visible. But eventually, even a show car gets driven and if you put it together dry you’ll have to take it apart again. I always put cars together thinking that I’ll be the next guy who has to take it apart again.

PR: What about synthetic oils for break-in?

JD: There are applications for synthetics. When I was working in a race shop, we’d break in engines on a dyno, and we discovered that we had to do the break-in with conventional oil because the synthetics lubricate so well that parts won’t seat. So we would break in the engine on conventional oil, then drain it off and put synthetic in the engine when we installed it in the car. But for a street car, I wouldn’t change to a synthetic oil for 2500 miles or so.

PR: Anything else to know about break-in procedures?

JD: I think a big mistake that a lot of people make is that they get to the point where they start up the engine, and they start it and let it idle. Cams and lifters require a dynamic break-in ­- you need to run them at about 2500 RPM for about 15 or 20 minutes. You might wake the neighbors, but that’s what you’ve gotta do. Keep an eye on the gauges, and if it gets hot, then shut it down, but don’t drop it down to an idle. Also, you need to be aware of the modern oil issue and the lack of zinc additives. I like Valvoline racing oil because it still has the ZDDP in it.

PR: Many restored cars only see 1,000 miles a year -what about brake maintenance?

JD: For cars that don’t get driven, modern silicone fluid is OK, but if you go out and run a rally you’ll regret it. It’s better to use Castrol GT LMA.

PR: Any other advice?

JD: Always get the best products for maintaining your car. You’ll never regret buying the best.

Click on any item below for more details at Amazon.com

Andrew Noakes
The Classic Car Book: The Essential Guide to Buying,Owning,Enjoying and Maintaining a Classic
Haynes Publishing, Hardcover, 2006-06-14
This extensively illustrated book provides the reader with all the information needed to choose, run and maintain a practical classic car, whether the owner is fanatical about preserving originality, or wishes to modernize a classic to improve reliability and practicality.

Harvey White Jr.
How to Keep Your Muscle Car Alive
Motorbooks, Paperback, 2009-04-04
Drawing on decades of experience, Harvey White lays out the steps for keeping a muscle car alive, day after day, year after year. His book shows how an owner with a modicum of mechanical ability can do the basic repairs and maintenance to keep a muscle car on the road.

Jim Richardson
Classic Car Restorer's Handbook: Restoration Tips and Techniques for Owners and Restorers of Classic and Collectible Automobiles
HP Trade, Paperback, 1994-11-01

This book covers a lot of ground in comparatively few pages, and while it has step-by-step procedures, the steps are often large. This book is a good choice if you want to understand the restoration process and all the pieces you’ll touch. However, it’s not sufficient to be your main guide to the restoration process.

L. Porter
The Classic Car Restoration Guide: The Complete Illustrated Step-by-Step Manual
Haynes Publishing, Hardcover, 1994-04-30
This book offers some excellent pre-purchase checklists, and spends much of its space on bodywork and interior restoration, but rather less on mechanical items. The book was written in Britain for a British audience, so some elements may be less applicable to an American restoration, such as the section on getting a car through a Ministry of Transportation inspection. The book’s focus is almost exclusively on classic British cars.

Michael E. Gray
Auto Upkeep: Basic Car Care
Rolling Hills Publishing, Paperback, 2003-07
From choosing an insurance policy to performing basic maintenance and repair, Auto Upkeep presents the information you need in an easy-to-follow format with detailed pictures and drawings. An accompanying CD provides review questions and hands-on activities to help you apply concepts from the text.

STA-BIL 22214 Fuel Stabilizer - 32 Fl oz.
Gold Eagle STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer keeps fuel fresh for quick easy starts after storage. It removes water to prevent corrosion and cleanses carburetors and fuel injectors. This product also protects engine from gum, varnish, rust and corrosion and prolongs the life of any engine. This 32 ounce quick measure easy pour bottle treats up to 80 gallons of fuel.
External Links

If you are thinking about using oil additives as part of your maintenance program, be sure to read this article at CarBibles.com.

Samarins.com has a nice illustrated section titled How to Maintain a Car.

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