5 April 2016

Top ten shortcuts to safety, reliability and better gas mileage

If you just purchased a new-to-you vintage car, or if your current vehicle needs some light upgrades but you just don’t know where to start, here is some good news! These are ten common, easy-enough enhancements that will inspire confidence and get you on the road!

Tires make the world go ‘round.

Since tires provide traction and allow your vehicle to accelerate, brake and turn efficiently, it only makes sense that worn or underinflated tires and bad alignment might reduce fuel economy. At worst, you might also be causing expensive suspension damage. Air pressure fluctuates with temperature changes, so check your tire pressure monthly for optimum handling and gas mileage. If the car seems a bit shaky driving down the road it is also well worth checking the alignment.

Re-kindle those spark plugs.

It’s where the combustion begins: Spark plugs ignite the air/fuel mixture flowing through your engine’s combustion chambers. Keeping them new and fresh results in a happier engine that will run cleaner, more efficiently and produce more power.

Clear the air.

Air filters scrub the air feeding the engine. If the filter is clogged, it may reduce gas mileage and overall performance. Additionally, decreased airflow may foul spark plugs creating misfires, rough idles and starting problems.

We need oxygen to breathe.

In addition to filters, most cars produced after 1980 have oxygen sensors that monitor exhaust flow before and after the catalytic converter. The sensor measures whether a car is running rich or lean based upon the amount of oxygen passing through the sensor. A faulty sensor could cause over-consumption of fuel and a poorly running engine. Sensors should be replaced on vehicles with more than 100,000 miles regardless of symptoms.

Three cheers to massive air flow.

The mass airflow sensor is another important piece of the puzzle, even though it is commonly overlooked. It measures the engine’s air flow and sends that information to the engine’s computer, which then regulates fuel injection, the ignition system and transmission shifting. When it gets dirty or becomes faulty, it can cause a multitude of issues such as an engine that is difficult to start, engine stalling after startup, hesitation or jerkiness during acceleration and unusually lean or rich idling.

Update those gauges.

In older cars, the basic gauge cluster tends to become inaccurate which can cause overheating or charging issues to go unnoticed, and before you know it, you could be stranded. Replacing the old cluster will help you identify potential problems early due to an improved systems-monitoring ability. But if changing out the stock cluster is a hassle, adding new temperature and charging gauges in a hidden location will keep any worries at bay.

Electrify your ignition.

Most cars from the mid-1970s and older came with a points ignition system that requires regular cleaning and adjustment of the electrical contacts to insure smooth startup and run time. Over time, the contacts can corrode and deteriorate, so to make sure your ride doesn’t leave you behind, switch to an electronic ignition system for more reliability, quicker startups and better gas mileage.

Your car is your biggest fan.

Getting stuck in traffic on a warm day is kryptonite for mechanical fans, but fear no more. There are several bolt-on electric fan options for nearly every vehicle, and this fix is easier and less expensive than you may think. Contrary to mechanical fans, which rely on engine speed to cool the engine, electric fans cool the engine based on a pre-determined temperature. So no matter whether you’re sitting in traffic or taking a long road trip the fan will always help maintain an engine’s optimum operating temperature. Another plus: It also frees up horsepower lost in driving the mechanical system’s belt.

Convert the front drums to disc brakes.

This is one of the best safety investments you will make, especially if you have plans to get more horsepower out of your ride. Disc brakes are also low maintenance, finding parts is easier, and they are a bit easier to service than those old drums.

And while you’re in there, switch to a Dual Master Cylinder.

Older cars built before the ‘60s were blessed with a single master cylinder, and if a leak developed in the system or brake lines became damaged, the brakes could fail completely. Dual master cylinders separate the operation of the front brakes from the rear, so if one malfunctions, at least you have the other to stop the car.

Good luck and share your modding stories and photos with us!

14 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Tor Shekerjian Caroga Lake, NY April 6, 2016 at 20:07
    Thank you for the thoughtful tips. I strongly encourage anyone considering switching from drum to disc brakes, to ensure that the front end, the frame rails, and their attendant components can handle the now extreme braking forces created with disc brakes. And remember, a well maintained original, of which you can be proud, requires us to think farther ahead than our "smart cars" require us today. So as I do, engage in your driving when you're out driving your vintage machine, and turn off all the "noise" you've allowed into your life. For certain, turn on some music, if your machine is equipped. You'll enjoy the trip more and actually notice where you are going.
  • 2
    jeff raywood mi April 6, 2016 at 20:30
    71 Avanti II. L48 Corvette 5.7 liter. Would the electric fan and electronic ignition be worth the extra outlay? I believe my gauges are pretty accurate.
  • 3
    warren sjoberg Milaca, MN April 6, 2016 at 21:01
    I drive a '36 Ford tudor, mechanical brakes with modern floaters I made from '54 Ford parts, it has fantastic brakes, no leaks, they don't fail and are smooth as silk, best brakes of all my old cars.
  • 4
    wayne dvorak lockport,il. April 6, 2016 at 21:14
    I have a 1949 Ford club coupe and would like to covert to front disks and dual master cylinder. I'm also seeking a color wiring schematiic. Any help would be appreciated.
  • 5
    Philip Tron Moorhead, MN April 6, 2016 at 21:39
    To minimize fuel cost/mile (forget $/gallon) if possible switch to non-ethanol premium. If you upgraded to an electronic ignition, your spark will advance in response to the higher octane, making more power. Ethanol blends have less BTU value than "real gas" so your engine will have more power with non-ethanol. I live in MN, and ethanol is mandated by state law. I buy all my gas across the river in ND.
  • 6
    jack NC / VA April 7, 2016 at 14:17
    For stations or C stores all over the US that sell non ethanol gas go to Pure-gas.org . No ethanol gas really does give you more miles per gallon and is better for any engine but vital for engines in vintage cars. If you don't believe it ask the guy who takes care of your lawnmower or boat motor.
  • 7
    Rod Garnett Dartmouth/Halifax, Nova Scotia April 7, 2016 at 14:34
    Do you have a man or business in my area that could help me locate a place and parts to get the brakes and master cylinder work done. Perhaps a Ford antique club My car is a 1956 Meteor Rideau. It is very similar to a Ford Fairlane.
  • 8
    Walter Garrison NW GA April 7, 2016 at 14:48
    What in the world is the point of buying and enjoying a vintage automobile if you are going to modify the daylights out of it to make it a modern equivalent? If you want or need electronic ignition, extra gauges, disc brakes, etc. then for goodness sake by a modern/contemporary car! I am amazed that Hagerty, of all organizations, would advocate ruining a classic/vintage auto like this! Hello?
  • 9
    Malik Z. Ga. April 7, 2016 at 06:16
    These are very good basic automotive maintenance car tips that I have done for the past few years.
  • 10
    RebeccaD Traverse City, MI April 7, 2016 at 06:53
    This is a great article for a novice owner such as myself. I am taking this list to the mechanic this spring. Thanks, Tara.
  • 11
    Gordon E Palestine, OH April 7, 2016 at 10:33
    Tyres, plugs, & air filters are all good tips, but my Ford Fairlane 500 is a "67. I am not going to adulterate an all-original classic with non-standard engine management gismos that are highly questionable even in modern vehicles.
  • 12
    apl USA April 7, 2016 at 23:16
    Dual-master cylinders became mandatory in 1967, so almost all pre-1967 cars & trucks have a Single-master cylinder.
  • 13
    Tony New Hampshire April 9, 2016 at 11:09
    I was told that if you want to update anything do it, but save all the original parts.
  • 14
    wsrodgers Alabama April 12, 2016 at 16:29
    Old contact ignition points can be replaced with an electronic device that works with older coils and spark wiring. Conserves original appearance as the electronic device is under the distributor cap. Dependability is greatly improved and requires no maintaining..

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