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Regular Maintenance Checks for Your Vintage Car

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 15 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Vintage Care Maintenance Maintenance

Whether acquiring or expanding on your knowledge of vintage car maintenance it is always worth having a routine checklist of potential problem areas. The costs involved for ongoing professional maintenance of a vintage car can be considerable. Knowing what problems to look for and taking preventative action is imperative if the car is to be kept running both smoothly, and for the owner’s benefit, economically.

This article looks at some key areas that you can focus on when carrying out a routine maintenance check. To carry out a thorough inspection, it is best if the car is given a good clean. This will make checking for any rust patches, problems with bolts or any other mechanism easier to spot and treat.

Front Axel

It is best to check the tightness of any bolts that fasten the axle to the springs, as they can often become loose. You should also check that the axle is aligned properly with respect to the springs, as sometimes it can shift out of place as a result of travelling over rough ground. Check kingpins and wheel hub bearings by trying to rock the wheel back and forth. Any excessive play could indicate a problem that will need further investigation. If you are satisfied that everything is as it should be, then it is a good time to apply lubrication grease, which is normally done via a grease nipple.

Finally check that the wheel alignment is correct. This may vary from car to car, but in order to prevent ‘wheel wobble’ and other such unwanted oscillations, the proper specified toe-in angle should be set.

Steering Gear

Don’t overlook any problems with your steering mechanism – you must be able to depend on it. First start with a visual inspection looking for any obvious signs of cracks, bends or corrosion, particularly in the steering arms. Next check for play in the steering box and along the length of the drop arm shaft and adjust if at all possible. Grip the steering wheel, then pull and push. Any end-play should be minimal. Check that the steering box is topped up with a heavy grade oil or grease as needed.

Rear Axle

As on the front axle, a good place to start is by checking that all bolts are fastened securely and that the mounting of the axle to the springs is correctly aligned. It is a good idea to check that the axle is straight and the rear wheel hubs are running true. You can do this by jacking up the rear of the car and running the engine with a bottom gear selected. Visually check that the wheels do not appear to be tilting in and out, as they revolve. It’s a good idea to perform an oil change every 5,000 or so miles. Whilst doing so examine the old oil for any fragments of metal, which could be symptomatic of an impending problem.

Breaking System

Much like the steering gear, your breaking system is of critical importance. Even if you do not notice problems when driving, it’s good practice to examine the entire system for problems every six months.

Start by jacking up all four wheels and check to see that they all turn freely. If there is resistance then it could indicate rubbing breaks. It’s a good idea to remove all wheels and break drums as a matter of course. This will at least enable you to clean away inevitable break debris material, and allow for a closer examination. In addition, take the opportunity to lubricate any linkage connections and clevis pins, but be mindful not to allow lubricant to foul the breaking surfaces. Get someone to operate the breaks and, whilst they’re doing so, check that the break shoes return to their fully open position when the break is released. Any sticking is symptomatic of wear in the system.

Check the breaking surfaces for excessive wear. If the break drum surface is badly worn then it will need a new liner inserting, or in some cases a new replacement break drum will need to be sourced.


The most noticeable problems with the engine will normally make themselves apparent audibly. Any rough running at idle could indicate that the carburettor(s) and ignition timing may need adjusting. Constant tapping noises are probably a result of mal-adjusted or worn tappets. Any louder knocking sounds from deep within the engine should be taken seriously, as it could indicate that major bearing failure is imminent.

If any blue smoke is present in the exhaust gasses, then it could be due to oil being burnt within the engine. This my be due to worn bearings, worn cylinders or failing piston rings, allowing oil into the combustion chamber. Excessive smoke can also indicate an incorrect fuel / air mixture which will require adjustment at the carburettor.

Engine oil should be changed regularly as a matter of course. Due to the low tolerances common to almost all vintage engines, a heavy grade engine oil should be used. Use of too a fine grade oil, designed for modern engines, will result in insufficient lubrication and therefore excessive engine wear. It’s also a good idea to check the old oil for bits of metal, which may have come from bearings.

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