16 March 2017

Spring start-up: Tips for getting your classic back on the road

You grumbled when Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, even though you realize a startled groundhog really can’t predict an extended winter. You waited up all night on Feb. 28, just to see if March would come in like a lion or a lamb. For classic car owners in northern climes, the long wait for spring can be excruciating. The good news is, it’s almost here. Take advantage of the time you have left by prepping your car before its first drive. You’ll both be better for it.

Start with your battery. If it’s been on a trickle charger all winter, disconnect it from the charger and reconnect the battery. If you simply removed the battery and stored it in a warmer spot for the winter, time to charge it up.

Check your fluids. Start with a walk-around and examine the floor beneath the car. Drips are common and expected; puddles are not. A fresh oil change is recommended since water or other fluids may have found their way in your crankcase. While you’re at it, replace the oil filter. Also check your other fluids — brakes, coolant, transmission, windshield washer. Do they look dirty? Are they at the recommended level? Smell your transmission fluid. If it smells burnt, change it. Generally speaking, if you can’t remember the last time you drained and flushed any particular fluid, it’s probably time to do it again. As for gasoline, you should be good to go if you put Stabil in the tank before storing your car. If not, you might consider adding a water-absorbing product or — if you’re really worried about it — just drain the tank.

Check your belts and hoses for cracks and decay. Since rubber breaks down over time, examine the condition of your tires, too. Make sure they’re inflated to the correct air pressure. And don’t forget the spare.

Water can not only damage your engine, but it can cause brake problems, as well. If your car has been sitting for a while, consider bleeding your brakes. They should feel firm when you push the pedal.

By this point, you should already know if any mice spent a comfortable winter in or around your engine. Also check inside the passenger compartment, especially under the seats and in the glove box. And one last thing — check the headlights, turn signals and brake lights, which may require the help of a friend.

It’s finally time to start your car. If you’re just testing the engine, make sure an exit door is open enough to allow exhaust to escape. If the weather allows for a drive, make that first one fairly short — after a warm-up, a half hour or so should put the car through its proper paces. And before you take drive No. 2, do the ol’ walk-around again. No major leaks? Tires look good? Let ’er rip, and enjoy a safe driving season.

12 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Mike Scott Berkshires of Massachusetts March 22, 2017 at 18:18
    Many manufacturers recommend that brake fluid be replaced every 2 years, so if it's been 2 years or more since you've changed it, don't just bleed the brakes, flush the system with new fluid.
  • 2
    RJ West MI March 22, 2017 at 19:13
    Do not just 'consider' bleeding your brakes. Give them a good flush once a year, using at least a full bottle of fluid - freshly opened fluid, of course.
  • 3
    Mike Tucson AZ March 22, 2017 at 19:52
    You are kidding, right? Why do you take your cars off the road in the first place? Oh, thats right, I did live 23 years in NY!
  • 4
    Mike NY March 22, 2017 at 21:32
    Sound advice. Take car of that old classic before rolling down the road. Happy motoring.
  • 5
    Jerry Romeo, Mi March 23, 2017 at 13:17
    Stabil is not a good product to use for winter storage. It works by forming a barrier on top of the gasoline to keep moisture out. If the car is moved or even wiggled the barrier is broken and becomes useless. There are other products out there that are better. I have found Startron to be better for storage plus it also absorbs moisture. Just my opinion, but, I have it to work better.
  • 6
    kevin Brantford March 23, 2017 at 05:08
    I usually Start my camaro in the winter to keep fluids and battery charged, I like hearing the roar of the engine too.
  • 7
    Rob O'Dare Flonton, On., Canada March 23, 2017 at 08:19
    I'm chomping at the bit waiting to get my '28 old school pickup out on the road. It's been hibernating all winter. Luckily I've a '55 first series Chev panel truck that I worked on to keep me busy. Almost time now!!!????
  • 8
    Larry Trenton March 23, 2017 at 20:45
    Good overview. SS Velle still under covers. But won't be long. Some heavy showers and clean roads good to go. Enjoy the summer ride all.
  • 9
    Fred MI March 23, 2017 at 21:25
    Startron? Any one else using it in pump gasoline? Sounds interesting. Who sells it?
  • 10
    Dan Sudbury, Ontario March 23, 2017 at 11:33
    Good springtime advice - common sense stuff, but great for getting the juices flowing! Still have a bit of snow blocking the garage door here in the near north, but any day now....
  • 11
    Ian Healey Ridgeway ON March 25, 2017 at 11:53
    Possible overkill, but removing spark plugs and shooting a blast of WD40 into each bore before cranking can't do any harm. Cranking with plugs out and ignition defeated might help get some oil onto cam lobes before starting. (Hoping for good battery!)
  • 12
    TONY East Hartford Ct March 27, 2017 at 09:48
    Last year one of my Lincoln MK VIII's 4.6 32 valve,s, showed 1/2 qt low on oil. I let it idle for 20-30 min and took it for a little 1 mile ride going slowly. Pulled it in and it was 1/2 qt low on oil. No leaks and was full when put away for winter. I've learned that these large heads, sitting for awhile, can store oil in the nooks and crannies. Went for a 5 mile ride on the freeway, and when I returned, the oil was on the full mark.

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