7 steps to get your classic car ready for spring
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7 steps to get your classic car ready for spring

by Rick Drewry February 27, 2024

Spring has sprung! That means it’s time to start thinking about getting your classic cars and trucks ready for the season.

Now don’t go running for the garage to fire up your engine just yet. Your car’s been waiting out the weather for up to five months. That’s a lot of time for bad things to happen. It’s critical that you give yourself plenty of time to get your vehicle dialed in before your wheels hit the pavement.

To get ready to get rolling, follow our maintenance checklist to make sure your ride is running right.

Step 1: Start with the basics

  • Check the oil—is it at the proper level? How does the oil look? Hint: it should be a golden honey color. If it looks milky, you have moisture; if it’s black, your oil is due for a change.
  • Check the antifreeze. Make sure the radiator is full and, if you have an overflow can, it’s also filled properly. A pre-mixed 50/50 bottle of antifreeze and water is a convenient way to top things off. If you’re changing the antifreeze, save a bit of money by buying full-strength antifreeze and diluting it yourself with distilled water.
  • Check and adjust belts and hoses. Inspect your belts for dry rot and wear, and adjust them to the proper tension. If you’re nearly maxing out the adjustment to get the belt tight, it’s time for a new one. Check hoses for dry rot and leaking. Make sure all clamps are tight on the radiator and heater hoses. Also, make sure the thermostat housing and heater hose fitting into the intake manifold and water pump aren’t leaking.

Step 2: Get back to wirework

  • Check all the wiring in the engine compartment. Old wiring can become brittle and break or corrode.
  • Loose wiring is a fire waiting to happen. Make sure it stays clear of the exhaust and any sharp edges on the frame or body; zip ties and electrical tape work well for this.
  • Check the battery and fill it to the required level with distilled water if it’s low. Clean the battery terminals if they need it. Make sure the battery is fully charged and ready.

Step 3: Focus on the fuel system

  • Check all fuel lines and hoses leading from the tank to the carburetor or throttle body. Look for leaks, corrosion, and dry rotting. And don’t forget the rubber hoses—any signs of fuel-hose dry rot should be replaced immediately. Countless engine fires happen every year thanks to a failed piece of $5 hose.
  • Make sure the throttle linkage is moving freely and not binding up. (This is also a good time to clean the carburetor or throttle body.) Make sure you have a fresh tank of gas or gas that was treated with stabilizer before you put it away for the winter.

Step 4: Start ‘er up  (but don’t go anywhere….)

  • It’s time to start your car or truck. You want to get the car up to normal operating temperature, high enough for the thermostat to open and get hot antifreeze flowing through the radiator and heater core. This will help burn off any moisture or condensation that’s built up inside the engine.
  • Once you’ve warmed the car up, now would be a good time to check the transmission level if you have an automatic transmission, and add fluid if needed. Then shut the car off and let it cool down.
  • Re-check all hoses and lines for leaks.
  • Check differential fluid and add some if necessary.

Step 5: Kick the tires

  • What shape are your tires in? Look for dry rotting and uneven wear, and check for proper air pressure. Is it time for a rotation?
  • Suspension and steering can be checked somewhat before driving. Lube the chassis; check for play in steering that goes beyond what’s normal; and move the front wheel back and forth by hand to see if there’s any play in the wheel bearings or tie rods.
  • Finally, make sure all lug nuts are torqued to spec.

Step 6: Give it stopping power

  • A car that won’t go is bad—but a car that won’t stop is a lot worse. For disc brakes, check the thickness of the brake pads. You should be able to see this without disassembling anything.
  • Most drum brakes are self-adjusting and adjust when you hit the brakes while going in reverse. If they’re not self-adjusting, pull off the drum and adjust them accordingly.
  • Check for brake fluid leaks at all four wheels and check each brake line all the way up to the master cylinder. Bad brake lines, bad hoses, bad calipers, and bad wheel cylinders are commonplace on old cars; they need to be checked often and replaced immediately.
  • Make sure the brake pedal feels normal; you don’t want it too spongy or too stiff. Either extreme indicates a brake problem. It could be a leak in the system, air in the line, a blown wheel cylinder or caliper, a collapsed brake hose, or a frozen caliper or wheel cylinder.

Step 7: The test drive

  • You’re ready to hit the road for a test drive! If everything checks out, clean it up and get ready to have a great time all season long.

For informational use only. Not applicable to all situations.

Rick Drewry

Rick Drewry is a Senior Claims Specialist, Collector Vehicle & Motorcycle, at American Modern Insurance Group. He has been passionate about collector cars since he was a kid. He has owned and restored collector cars for 30 years.