Winter is hard on cars, especially northern winters’ sand, salt, grime, and extreme cold, and that’s just for the daily drivers. Classic cars, too, suffer in Winter, but for entirely different reasons, especially boredom. Well, no, not really – classic cars don’t get bored – but they do suffer the neglect of not running for months on end, which can cause damage, seen and unseen. After sitting for a season, perhaps more, any car, classic cars, especially, need special care to get them up and running for Summer cruising and car shows.

Modern maintenance programs are usually something along the lines of x-thousand miles or x months. Classic cars almost never run up enough mileage to hit the mileage marker, but that doesn’t mean it’s good to go. Left unused, ethanol-blended fuel can separate, diesel can cloud or bloom, and brake fluid can become saturated. Exposed rubber, such as wiper blades, tires, drive belts, coolant hoses, and oil seals can dry out and crack, leading to major problems.

Spring is the perfect time to get your classic car ready for the season, starting with a full maintenance service, soup to nuts, oil change to spark plugs.

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Cooling System

The main problem here is corrosion, which a normally-heated cooling system would easily prevent. However, unused, even a slight leak or loose seal might allow air into the system, where it can oxidize and cause problems. Similarly, unused bearings, such as those in drive belt pulleys or hydrostatic clutch fans, might dry out and oxidize, leading to noisy operation and premature failure.

Part of your Spring Maintenance Program should include a full engine coolant flush. This will remove oxidizing agents and distribute fresh anti-corrosive additives in the new coolant.

Brake Fluid

Even in a “sealed system,” hygroscopic brake fluid can still absorb water, especially in a damp or poorly-ventilated garage. “Wet” brake fluid boils at lower temperatures than the brakes can reach, especially if you plan on a little showing off. If this happens, spongy brakes might lead to unsafe driving conditions.

Before driving this Summer, force a bottle of fresh brake fluid through the system to wash out water-laden fluid and restore braking safety.

Drive Belts

Sitting in one position for long might force a “set” in the drive belt, a permanent bend. Belt dressing might help, but it might be too late to prevent slipping, squeaking, and cracking.

One way to prevent this damage might be to remove the belts during storage. Still, a new set of drive belts is inexpensive insurance against premature belt failure and disagreeable noises at the car show.


You might be able to get away with simply disconnecting the negative battery terminal when putting your classic car into storage, but batteries naturally self-discharge over time. Discharging can lead to other problems, such as weak starting and poor charge-holding.

The best way to prevent these problems is to put your battery on a flat charger all season and make sure the battery is clean and dry. Otherwise, you might need to replace it and double-check alternator output.


Finally, like other maintenance items, time, not mileage, is your tires’ greatest enemy. Tires generally only last 5 to 10 years, but signs of aging can begin as early as 4 years. Today’s tires are usually stamped with a production date code, so you can check the age of your tires.

No matter how much tread is remaining on your tires, if your tires have been in service over 5 years, inspect them with a critical eye. Of course, you should replace any tire with less than 2/32” tread depth, but you should also replace any tire that’s showing signs of aging, such as cracks or bulging. Note that tire dressing might only help the exterior appearance, but unseen cracks can still be extremely dangerous on the road.

Summer is coming! Is your classic car ready? Before you wash and wax and detail, make sure the rest of your ride is up to the task.

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