Pre-Drive Maintenance


It’s a given that our collector cars demand more attention than our daily drivers. After all, we’ll jump in our dailies time and again without even thinking about oil and coolant levels, tire pressure or the electrical system, while we’ll painstakingly go over every inch of our “babies” even before backing out of the driveway.

Recently, nearly 10,000 enthusiasts shared their pre-drive maintenance routines as part of the 2004 Hagerty Protection Network survey. Here’s what they do before taking their classics for a cruise:

Check the Oil – Almost 90 percent of respondents do this before heading out, making this their pick as the most important under-hood check. An engine can’t function sans oil without causing serious damage. With the engine off, check the oil level on the dipstick and add accordingly, keeping an eye out for rapidly decreasing levels. If you notice this, a foamy consistency or a strong gasoline smell, keep your car at home and call your mechanic.

Check the Tires  – About 84 percent of those who took the survey check their tires before every drive, which is wise because tire pressure and wear affects ride, handling and performance. Plus it’s best to check pressure while the tires are cold (tire pressure rises as you drive). Buy a good tire gauge and keep it in your glove box. Check your tire pressure against the manufacturer’s suggested pressure, and inflate or deflate accordingly. Also check the tread for flat spots, thin spots and signs of unusual wear.

Check Coolant Levels Antifreeze alters the normal freezing and boiling point of the water in the radiator, allowing your car to operate in cold temperatures and keeping it from overheating, too. Because of the protection it offers the engine, 70 percent of respondents check coolant levels before driving. It is mandatory that you never open the radiator of a car that has just been running – the fluid within is under high pressure and often hotter than boiling water. Check the coolant level, making sure it’s still a rich green color, and watching out for rapidly decreasing levels – this could indicate a leak and necessitate a visit to the shop.

Check the Lights – For safety’s sake, it’s important to see and be seen when you’re cruising in your classic, therefore approximately 68 percent of those who took the survey check their car’s lights before heading out. Examine headlights (both high and low beams), brake lights and reverse lights, replacing any spent bulbs before hitting the road.

Check the Electrical System – Thirty-nine percent of respondents check their car’s electrical system as part of their pre-drive maintenance routine. The battery and alternator/generator work together; if either is malfunctioning it’ll tax the other, causing potential damage. To check the charging system, use a voltmeter across the battery terminals. A lower voltage reading could mean a partially charged battery, defective or non-functioning charging system or even a high load on the system. Also, check the battery connectors for signs of corrosion and make sure all wires are well-insulated and routed away from moving parts and areas of excessive heat.

Change the Oil – While almost all of those survey participants check the oil before driving, 33 percent change their oil before hitting the road. The frequency with which you need to do this is dictated by how you drive. It is recommended that you change your oil every three months or 3,000 miles. If you mainly take short trips around town, you might want to operate on the more frequent side of this schedule because your engine probably rarely gets hot enough to burn contaminants out of the oil. If you’re a distance driver, you can probably go a bit longer between changes.

Check the Fuel LinesA leaky fuel line could leave you stranded or worse, start a fire, so almost 45 percent of respondents check their fuel lines before driving. Check the lines and connections for signs of wear, corrosion or leaking. If any of these is detected, a trip to your mechanic is warranted.

Watch for more Network Hobby survey results coming in future articles.


  • 1
  • /
  • 3
Read next Up next: Anti-Theft Measures: What Our Hobby Survey Revealed