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Vintage and Classic Car Care
Normal Care | Winter Storage | Extended Storage | Spring Start-Up
Start-Up After Extended Storage | Auto Parts Vendors | Car Restoration Supplies

Virtually from the day your car left the factory, it began to deteriorate. The Sun began the process of drying out and fading your roof covering, upholstery, and carpet. And teamed up with pollution, the oxidation process also started to take its toll on your shiny new paint. If you lived near the ocean, salt water droplets in the air started to attack your factory rustproofing. In colder climates, where salt and chemicals are frequently used on roads, your car was under attack top and bottom, as the forward motion of your car literally sandblasted the underside with salt and chemicals.

Sounds depressing, doesn't it? Automobile manufacturers have come a long way over the years to improve the durability of auto bodies and paint. Does anyone remember the 1965 Ford ad, "Ford Motor Company is putting salt on a bird's tail"? The ad stated that day in and day out, gallons of salt water drenched top, bottom and sides of a 1965 Thunderbird. Ford wanted to prove how good its rustproofing was. Well, maybe it was great for 1965, but a lot of Thunderbirds from that year have given way to the devastating effects of rust. The car manufacturers aren't solely responsible for preventing rust. The car owner has an obligation as well. But where do you start?

Automotive Mileposts has gathered a few tips from the experts to help you maintain your vintage car in top condition. There are always differing opinions as to what is "correct", but we feel the common sense tips listed here will contribute to the overall durability and your enjoyment of your car.

Normal Care

(Car driven regularly)

1. Drive your car. Letting it sit for extended periods of time is not good for it. Seals dry up, tires develop flat spots, gasoline goes bad, and lubricants break down. If you must store your car for extended periods (longer than six months), there is a lengthy list of things you must do to protect your investment. Contact a professional and follow their advice on what steps to take for long term storage, or follow the recommendations below. For shorter periods, try to drive your car every couple of weeks. Start it, let it warm up a little, and drive slowly the first few miles until it is completely warmed up. Even driving it around the block for 30 minutes or so will allow all of the fluids to circulate, your oil filter can remove any sediment or sludge that may have started to develop in the engine, etc. Check the tailpipe outlet to ensure it is hot, this will burn off any moisture in your exhaust system. If you have air conditioning turn it on (if the temperature is above freezing), and let it run for a few minutes. This helps to maintain it in top condition. Power windows should be raised and lowered too. This helps keep the lubricant in the window tracks and channels pliable. Be sure to check your taillights before you enter a public street. You don't want your car totalled because of a bad switch and an inattentive driver behind you. Many of the older cars we see on the road, beautifully restored, don't have brake lights! Get them fixed before you drive your car.

2. Disconnect your battery while your car isn't in regular use. Older electrical systems sometimes inexplicably develop problems, and you don't want your wiring to burn up—or worse—because you aren't aware of a problem. Inexpensive cut-off devices can be easily installed on battery cable connections that isolate the battery from the car's wiring. This also serves to protect the vehicle from theft. There are differing opinions as to whether or not batteries should be left on chargers. We believe they last longer, and perform better, when they are not continually left charging. Check them frequently, and charge as necessary, but don't overdo it.

3. If you live in a humid area, place products that absorb moisture in the luggage compartment, as well as inside your car. This will prevent moisture from taking hold on your fabrics and trim, eliminate that stale smell inside, and reduce the possibility of rust forming under carpeting and mats. (1964-1966 Thunderbird owners take heed: the deck lid seals on these cars were never very effective at keeping moisture out. Make sure your luggage compartment stays dry.) In addition, many personal luxury cars utilize rubber drain tubes in the luggage compartment to drain water from the rear vent system to the underside of the car. These tubes often crack with age and will drain water directly into the trunk if left unattended. Be sure to check yours, as this is a major reason for rust. Cars to check include all 1964-1971 Ford Thunderbirds, 1969-1971 Continental Mark IIIs, and 1966-1970 Oldsmobile Toronados.

4. Make sure your car is clean, inside and out, vinyl and leather treatments have been applied to soft trim, and a protective coating has been applied to interior and exterior chrome and paint. Don't forget those expensive tires and weatherstripping, either. They need preservatives applied regularly to slow down the process of drying and cracking. [Advertisement: We are care care! Autogeek.net offers the best car care products, fast shipping and excellent customer service!]

5.Change your oil, oil filter, and coolant right before storage. MILEPOSTS Garage has an article on the proper way to change oil in the Technical Tips Series—see How to Change Your Oil for details. Also, keep the gas tank full, as a full tank reduces the possibility of condensation forming. Today's gasolines have a short "shelf" life, so plan on using that tank of gas within a few months. Refilling at least 4 times per year assures fresh gas in your tank, and minimizes fuel related problems. Use a fuel stabilizer additive, available at any auto parts store. This will help to maintain fresh gas in your tank. If you are exercising your car regularly, as we recommend, you should not have too many problems with fuel. Fuel problems usually develop in cars that sit for extended periods without being driven, which allows the gas to become gummy, and can cause a multitude of fuel system and engine problems. The moral here is: don't let gas remain in your tank for long periods of time, the problems and expense this can cause far outweigh the time and money spent to keep fresh gas in the tank.
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Winter Storage

(Car not driven or started for up to six months)

1. Clean the nooks and crannies. In addition to the normal cleaning of your car, winter storage requires additional preparation. Be sure that all body drain holes are cleared, paying special attention to drain openings in areas of the car body prone to rust. Clean the underside of fender wells, especially areas where road debris can accumulate and trap moisture. Allow several days for your car to completely dry out before placing it in storage, as trapped water can cause a lot of damage over the Winter months.

2. Change the oil and the oil filter. This seems like a basic, but bears mentioning. The combustion process causes acids to form, your oil and oil filter are your defense against the harmful damage these acids can cause over time. Bearing surfaces are soft, and the acids can eat away these surfaces if allowed to remain in the engine.

3. Coat the cylinder walls with a teaspoon of oil per cylinder, then crank the engine with the choke blocked open and the high tension wire disconnected from the coil. This step aids in preventing rust formation in the engine. Or even better, use a Fogging Oil, which is sprayed into the carburetor of a running engine and is specially designed to displace moisture and coat internal surfaces of the engine to prevent rust build up during storage. Boat owners do this annually when they prepare their boats for the winter months.

4. Drain the fuel system. You don't want six month old or older gas clogging things up in the Spring, so don't give it the chance to create problems. It's surprising how many people develop operational problems with their car, and will go to great time and expense changing spark plugs, wires, rebuilding and/or adjusting the carburetor, etc., when the cause of the problem in many cases is poor fuel.Use extreme caution when performing any aspect of car maintenance that deals with the fuel system. Fuel vapor is extremely explosive, and vapors can be present long after the fuel itself is removed. Make sure there is good ventilation, and no possibility of open flame or spark in the work area.

5. Drain the cooling system. This includes the engine block, and leave the radiator cap off to allow the system to dry out. Be sure to cover the cap opening with a wire mesh screen or similar material to keep bugs and rodents out.

6. Remove the battery from the car. Take it completely out, clean the exterior casing with baking soda and water to remove any acid on the surface (make sure the battery caps, if equipped, are tight before you do this!) Also clean the area under and around the battery in the engine compartment with the baking soda and water. Be sure to check below the battery tray, too. Battery acid is corrosive, and will not be a friend to your paint job. Store your battery on wood 2x4's. We can't verify this, but we've had reports that storing a battery on a dirt floor or concrete slab will cause the battery to discharge due to moisture.

7. Put your vehicle on jack stands. This removes the weight of the car from your tires and suspension system. For most cars, it is preferred to use the frame for this rather than an axle or suspension component. However, some unibody cars (especially convertibles) may flex when doing this. Use your own judgement here.

8. Beware of uninvited guests. These include bugs, rodents, and moisture. Cover your carburetor and tailpipes with plastic bags secured with rubber bands to keep them out*. Never store your car outdoors, or over an earth floor. To do so invites chassis rust, a fatal affliction. It also doesn't hurt to place a thick plastic drop cloth or vapor barrier on the ground under the vehicle, even if it's parked on a concrete slab. This prevents moisture from seeping up through the concrete floor, and protects the floor itself while draining fluids from the vehicle. Make sure the building you are storing your car in has proper attic ventilation as well.

*Drive your car long enough to ensure any moisture in the exhaust system has burned off before covering with tailpipes with plastic. Trapped moisture in the exhaust system can cause it to rust from the inside out over time. If in doubt, place steel wool in the tailpipe opening instead, rodents normally don't bother it.

9. Leave deck lid, hood, and a couple of windows ajar. This allows free air circulation, limiting any moisture problems. In addition to the products you always have on hand to absorb moisture, add a few mothballs (go easy here, and always place them in a container, never allow them to touch the car itself). If you can't tolerate the smell of moth balls, try a deodorant bar soap, like Irish Spring. Cut the bar up into small slivers, and place them in open containers inside your car, under the hood, in the trunk, and on the ground around the car. Some people recommend spreading dryer fabric softener sheets inside and around the car instead, the scent is easier to tolerate when airing out the car next Spring. A rodent trap or two might also save your electrical wiring from becoming a meal.

10. Cover your car. It is recommended you use a lightweight car cover that allows air circulation. Never use plastic of any kind, or a heavy tarp that can trap moisture. All you want to accomplish with this step is prevent dust and dirt from reaching your car, and protect the finish.

These steps may seem intensive, but it is better to prevent problems from occurring in the first place, and you can relax in the knowledge that your vintage car is properly protected and will be better prepared for cruising in the Spring.
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Extended Storage

(Longer than six months)


This is still being researched and written, please check back again.

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Spring Start-Up

(Car driven occasionally during Winter)

If you have been exercising your vehicle regularly during the Winter months, as we advised you to do, this should be a fairly simple process. Start at step number one below. If you haven't been exercising your vehicle, you will find additional tasks are required. You will need to start at step number four. Click here to begin at step number four.

1. Change the oil. Yes, we know you just did that last Fall, but it is now six months old. Oil breaks down during this time, and the hotter Spring and Summer temperatures place additional burdens on your engine and its oil. You must have fresh oil and a new filter in place to protect your engine. We also recommend prefilling the oil filter with oil before installing it. This reduces the amount of time it takes your oil pump to fill the filter and pressurize the lubrication system. Do not "rev" your engine until it is fully pressurized and warmed up. This is a critical time for your engine, and thousands of miles of service are lost when it is operated at any speed higher than a low idle during this period.

2. Check everything. Make sure all of your fluids (cooling system, power steering, brake system, rear differential, transmission, etc.) are at correct levels, ensuring that you are checking them properly. (Some transmissions require that the selector be placed in neutral or shifted through the gears first for a correct reading.) Check tire pressures (don't forget the spare!), inspect exterior lights (especially brake lights and turn signals), turn on accessories to make sure everything is working properly. You will be using your car more during the coming months, so it's best to fix the little things now, instead of putting them off for later.

3. Look underneath your car before you have driven it very much. Is there any sign of fluid or dampness? Do you see oily deposits on brake lines, hoses, or fittings? It is normal for moisture to be present on the ground under the engine compartment if you have been running the air conditioner, and some moisture may be trapped in your exhaust system, which might drip from the end of the exhaust pipe. It is not normal for your brake lines, hoses, or fittings, etc., to appear oily. This could be the sign of trouble, and should be repaired before the car is driven. Brake hoses must be in good condition. If unsure, replace them - do not take a chance with brake hoses!

Also check your radiator hoses and clamps, fan belts, battery cable connections, etc. If your battery is the type with caps that allow you to add water, use only distilled water. Now is a good time to check your spark plug wires, air filter, power top fluid levels, and anything else that might require topping off.

At this point, your car should be in pretty good shape to get you through the season without incident. The steps below are for vehicles that haven't been started at all during the Winter, and don't really apply to cars that have been started during this time.

4. Charge the battery to make sure it has a full charge. A slow charge works best.

5. Remove the covers you installed last Fall over your carburetor, tailpipe, and radiator cap opening to keep out uninvited guests.

6. Fill cooling system with proper mixture of coolant and water, and add fresh gas to the fuel tank.

7. Change your oil and filter. Yes, again. (Skip this step if you began at step number one.) Do you know what it costs to rebuild an engine? That clean oil you put in last Fall has begun to break down during the last six months, and all of the sludge and contaminants are laying in the bottom of your oil pan. Many oil pickup tubes pull oil from the bottom of the oil pan. Do you want that crud in your engine? No, you do not. You might try sticking your finger or another object into the oil drain plug hole to see if there is a mucky layer on the bottom of the pan. If there is, now is the time to drop the pan and scrape all that goo out. This means you'll need a new oil pan gasket.

With that done, fill the new oil filter with oil, install it and then fill up the engine with oil.

8. Squirt oil into the cylinders through the spark plug openings. With the spark plugs still out, remove the high tension wire from the coil and crank the engine a few turns. Wait a few minutes, then crank again. Wait. Crank again. Repeat this process a few more times. This allows some lubrication to reach the areas of the engine that are dry before the combustion process forces them into action, and it allows the fuel pump to begin pulling some fuel into the lines. Install the spark plugs and the high tension wire.

9. Pour fresh gasoline into the carburetor. If you can, fill the bowls but try not to flood it. Install the air cleaner housing, air filter, and install the air cleaner lid. Never try to start an engine with the air cleaner assembly removed. This is how fires start. Please play it safe.

10. Start the engine. Hopefully, this will be an easy process. If engine doesn't start, go back and check the basics: is it getting fuel? Is there a spark at the plugs? If you prepared the car properly for storage, you shouldn't have too much trouble. Be sure to let the engine run at the lowest idle possible for a few minutes so the oil has a chance to circulate to all moving parts. Very important: do not "rev" the engine until it is fully warmed up.

Take it easy the first few miles, until your car has fully warmed up, and the lubricants in the engine, transmission, steering, and rear axle have had a chance to circulate. Make sure to recheck everything after the first drive, just to make sure no new leaks have developed during storage, as this is when leaks usually begin.

Now you can go back and complete steps two and three above, and you're ready for the next few months of enjoying your vintage car. After all, that's what it's all about!
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Start-Up After Extended Storage


This is still being researched and written, please check back again.

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Automotive Mileposts has provided this page as a guide to maintaining your vintage car. Since cars and conditions vary greatly, make sure you use your own good judgement when working on your vehicle. Under certain conditions, some of the steps above might need to be altered for best results. When in doubt, it is always best to consult a professional you trust for their best advice.

Do you have a suggestion you would like to contribute? Submit your classic car care suggestion. We'll review it and add it to the list if it's something that will be helpful to other enthusiasts, and give you credit for suggesting it!
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