Picture the scene: The sun is shining and you're ready to cruise. But wait, what's that smell?!
It may well be the smell of your beloved classic car going up in flames for want of a little maintenance before hitting the road. Yikes!
In this post I'll explain why a poorly maintained car is basically a death trap and what you need to be doing about it.
Engine fires are not fun. But they're sadly all too common on cars that aren't driven daily, such as classic cars and motor homes, because they're less likely to be regularly maintained.
Owners of these vehicles can (mistakenly!) believe that if they're only using their car a couple of times a year the parts will never wear out on it. Here's a guide to all the things you should be checking if you're getting your car out for the first time in a while.
When you come to get out your car the first thing you need to do is check underneath for any leaks. If you find any you need to figure out what it is (fuel? Coolant? Engine oil?) And where it's coming from. As I explain in another post, even small leaks can turn into much bigger issues if you don't investigate.
Next, check the battery terminals as they can fur up if there's a slow draw and may need cleaning up with sandpaper (WARNING: battery acid is highly corrosive and you'll need to take caution, always wear gloves!)
If you have a battery charger it's a good idea to use it before you start up the engine as cold conditions and lack of use can discharge your battery.
A good way to know if you've got a weak battery is to switch on the ignition and try your headlights- do they work? Are they nice and bright? If not you're probably looking at a dead battery.
It's best to store your car with a full tank of fuel to prevent condensation as any water in the fuel will stop the engine running properly and, in really bad cases, entirely.
If you didn't store your car with a full tank of fuel you might need to replace the fuel, or at least fill the tank up before starting the car.
In cases where the car has been left stood for a really really long time consider changing the fuel entirely before even trying to start it as bad fuel can block your injectors and stop the vehicle from starting.
4) Engine Oil and Filter
The oil in your engine keeps it lubricated, clean and cool. That's why if your car's been stood for a while it's always a good idea to change the oil and filter- especially before a long journey as old, dirty oil will clog the engine, wearing it out quicker and eventually killing it.
At the very least, check your dipstick before starting the car. Does your oil look dirty? Petrol cars should not have black oil (this is normal on diesels though), does it look or feel gritty? (Wear gloves to test this!) and is the level too low or high? In all of these cases it's better to play it safe and change the oil than risk breaking your engine.
You might find my Car DIY tutorial on changing your engine oil useful for this task.
5) Fuel Pipes
All the rubber hoses on your car will perish over time and depending on the quality of hose this can be sooner than you'd think. Even if you didn't find any leaks at the beginning, check all the fuel hoses on your car for splits, cracks or any kind of disintegration, especially in the engine bay as a leak in there will almost definitely cause a fire.
Because of a combination of knackered fuel hoses, dodgy electrics and the high content of magnesium in the engine block old aircooled engines in classic VWs are especially prone to fires.
So how can you avoid this fate? Well you should start by replacing braided fuel hoses with reinforced twin wall rubber ones. Braided hoses are one of the biggest fire hazards - because of the braiding you can't tell that the rubber underneath has rotted away and the only way to tell is to squeeze them to see if they're damp.
You should also consider having a fire extinguisher fitted in your engine bay. These special extinguishers cost around £200 and are designed to go off when they reach a certain temperature so in the event of a fire the vehicle will have a better chance of survival.
Check your tyres for any bulges, cracks or punctures and remember to check the spare too if you don't want to be caught out on a summer road trip in the event of a flat.
Old tyres, even ones with plenty of tread, will harden and perish with age which could lead to a dangerous blowout. Check the tyre pressures too as it's very likely the tyres will have gone down just from being stood.
The brakes can easily seize up on a vehicle that's been stood for while meaning either the car will refuse to move at all or once you start driving it the brakes won't work as well as they should.
Whip off the wheels and check the brakes, give them a clean up if needed and check the brake pipes for any signs of corrosion, as well as the brake hoses for perishing or leaks.
Check the brake fluid level: if it's low but you didn't find any leaks on the pipes it could indicate that your brake pads are worn down excessively or there's a leak in your clutch hydraulic system.
Don't forget to test the handbrake, the car should have been stored with the handbrake off to avoid the brakes seizing on.
Check all your bulbs are in good working order, my DIY tutorial on changing a headlight bulb may be useful (although maybe not as classic cars can be different) and keep a spare bulb kit in the car just in case.
9) Emergency Kit
Summer means long road trips (for us anyway) so make sure you've got provisions stashed in the case of an emergency.
In my post "5 Tools to Transform your (Car Related) Life" I mention a few items that have made my car life much easier and would be good to have in the event of a breakdown.
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