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Common Problems with Vintage Cars

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 22 Apr 2015 | comments*Discuss
Common Problems With Vintage Cars

When owning a vintage car, one thing you can count on is the fact that you will have to regularly maintain your car to keep it running smoothly. In fact, sometimes it may feel like a never-ending battle!

Most problems will be due to age and general wear and tear, such as the suspension becoming tired or a leaky soft-top. Engines, piston rings, distributors and fuse boxes will also suffer the effects of continual usage and time. This article covers a few particular and common problems with vintage cars that need that little bit of extra attention.

Rust and Corrosion In Vintage Cars

Most vintage cars are not used on a daily basis and will undergo a period of inactivity, when 'laid up'. One of the common car problems a vintage car owner will dread to come across is corrosion. Any internal or external part of the car that is constructed from metal is at risk and this includes the panels and bodywork joints, the petrol system, battery, the chassis, the engine, the gearbox and the cooling system.

Rusting occurs on iron and steel that is continually exposed to wet or damp conditions and oxygen. Road salts can also be responsible for speeding up the process that leads to rusting. There are a few preventative measures that can be taken to try and delay the onset of rusting and corrosion. Firstly, it is much better to store a vintage car under a roof in a garage or lock-up, particularly over winter. When washing a car, it is best to wash on a reasonably warm, sunny day and allow it to air dry for a few hours. Spraying the underneath of the car will also remove any dirt that could potentially trap moisture and contain salts and cause a car problem with rust or corrosion. Waxing the vintage car after it has dried creates a protective barrier to stop any water or air getting to any potential rust "weak spots". Rust-resistant waxes and paints are also readily available and highly recommended.

Wiring On A Vintage Car

The electrical wiring on a vintage car could be considered as perhaps the most common and irksome car electrical problem. In order to re-wire a whole car, it should be noted that there is a likelihood that there will be a degree of dismantling to be done.

Badly maintained electrical wiring poses a potential fire hazard. The most common place for a fire to start in a vintage car is behind the instrument panel, as this is where there tends to be a mass of wiring. Owners should pay particular attention to this area and regularly check for any signs of deterioration or corrosion and repair accordingly.

Another area to check regularly is under the mudguards. Any wires that pass through here should be enclosed in PVC and ideally encased in a metal tube for extra protection. In some models of vintage car, there will be external wiring to the headlamps - if possible it is best to try and hide or partially cover the wiring here.

In most cases the original wiring of a vintage car was done meticulously, however the materials used were inferior to the standard of materials that can be purchased today. So it is likely that any original wiring and insulation will have undergone a substantial amount of corrosion or decay, especially any insulation that has been continually exposed to heat. It is best to try and keep wiring insulation away from the exhaust and engine systems, as these will excel the speed of deterioration.


A vintage car that has been laid or simply not run for a while might have persistent problems with the battery. It is vital to routinely maintain the battery otherwise it will quickly corrode. This is because dirt particles serve as little electrical conductors and cause the electrical surface to leak. In turn, the main connecting lugs can quickly corrode if they are not properly greased. In the event of finding a small amount of corrosion during routine maintenance, the lugs can always be disconnected, washed off with a little hot water and scrubbing brush. Once they have dried they can be reconnected - a little HMP grease will protect them from any further corrosion.

You may find your car battery keeps going flat despite frequent use. The problem might be due to overcharging of the battery or perhaps lie with the dynamo (the alternator's predecessor). Overcharging the battery can also cause overheating of the dynamo as a car electrical problem. To check that the dynamo is in a good condition, both the field fuse and contacts should be clean. Never run the engine with the battery leads disconnected unless the field fuse has been removed, as this can damage both the dynamo and other electrical equipment in the car.

Remember that the key to keeping your vintage car motoring along for years to come is regular maintenance and a good, dry garage or storage space.

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I have a 1931 morris minor which has been restored 20 years ago. I went out for a run last week and next day, the engine has no compression, the engine is completely slack..Roger
Rog - 22-Apr-15 @ 12:58 PM
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