Classic Car Maintenance

Your old car needs your help in order to perform it's best and hold it's value. Classic car maintenance includes cleaning, proper oil changes, engine tune-up, correct coolant and coolant level, and tire maintenance.

Classic Car Maintenance


Washing and waxing the exterior protects paint as well as hold a shine. The leather, vinyl, and plastic inside your car also need to be cleaned and protected.

Keep Your Engine In Tune

Along with clean oil and proper coolant, classic car maintenance includes keeping your engine well-tuned. A "tune-up" refers to engine wear items, such as spark plugs, ignition wires, distributor cap and rotor. Air and gas filters are usually changed at this time as well.

Check and Change Engine Oil Regularly

Inside your engine, there's metal parts moving against other metal parts. Without good lubrication, they'll quickly wear out. This is why all internal combustion engines need to be well-lubricated.

Read: Best Oil For Classic Cars

Engine oil deteriorates over time and use. After a certain point, it loses certain lubricating qualities. This causes friction, which increases mechanical wear, and allows carbon deposits and sludge to build up. All car manufacturers recommend changing engine oil at regular intervals. If you don't remember when you changed engine oil last, check the dipstick.

Battery Care

Check the connections, and check fluid level if it's a non-sealed battery. Top off with water if necessary, and allow to stand awhile before charging.

Constant-Current Battery Chargers

Constant-current chargers are often called smart-chargers, because they can vary the charging voltage to keep current constant. The phrase 'battery tender' is a brand name, and they are one of the more popular battery maintenance devices.

battery tender charger

Shop: Battery Tender Charger

Tire Maintenance

For the those who drive their classic car once a month or less, here's an easy way to keep your tires from flat-spotting. Every couple of weeks, put the transmission in neutral and roll the car a forward (or backward) a foot or two. Doing this on a regular basis will keep also keep your brake calipers from developing problems.

Tires That Sit For A Long Time

Tires may develop flat spots in as little as 30 days. After several months of sitting in the same place, those flat spots may not go away after driving. If keeping the tires off the ground is impractical, simply roll the car forward or back one or two feet every few weeks.

Cleaning Your Tires and Wheels

Spraying shiny dressing compounds on your sidewalls is not recommended by tire manufacturers. Many tire and wheel cleaners contain harsh acids, alkalis and/or detergents that can damage wheels and paint.

Cleaning car tires should be done with a brush and soapy water. Use non-petroleum based products that are safe for tires (as well as environmentally friendly).

Tire Maintenance For Classic Cars

Read: Classic Car Tires

If you really want that old school look, you need bias-ply tires.

bias-ply tire

Read: Bias Ply Tires

Tire Inflation

Tire inflation affects ride, handling, braking and fuel economy. Every car manufacturer designs the handling characteristics of their vehicles around the weight of the vehicle, so the load range, height and aspect ratio of the tires all factor into the performance and stability of the vehicle.

The maximum pressure stamped on the side of the tire is not what you inflate it to (that's what the tire is capable of safely handling). Check the owners manual or driver's door-jamb sticker for the correct air pressure you should inflate your classic car tires to.

Tires naturally lose one or two pounds of air every month or so. Air pressure should be checked when tires are cold. When tires are warm, readings are at least 2-3 pounds higher. After a long trip in hot weather, cold inflation readings may be taken after a minimum of three hours.

Do I Need To Rotate My Tires?

On your daily driver, yes you do (unless you enjoy buying tires sooner than you need to). Rotation helps extend the life of your tires, and tire manufacturers recommend rotating every six to eight thousand miles. However, in a classic car's life, that could be three or four years.

Storing Tires

If the tires are mounted on rims, stack them horizontally and cover them. Loose tires should be stored upright and then covered. If your tires have whitewall or raised-white letters, store them with the whitewalls or letters facing each other. Otherwise, black rubber could stain them.

Classic Car Maintenance

Engine Cooling

Heat is the enemy of internal combustion engines. By nature, the air/fuel mixture igniting inside your engine produces a lot of heat. It is the function of the cooling system to keep the engine temperature at a safe level. Plain and simple, overheating causes engine failure.

The two most common types of engine cooling in old cars are air-cooled and water-cooled. Some engines (air or water cooled) may also have an oil cooler. Cooling is required to remove excessive heat.

Check Engine Coolant

Coolant is a mix of anti-freeze and water that's used in the radiator. Coolant and Anti-freeze are one and the same. Any problem with a cooling system can cause the engine to overheat, which could result in damage to the motor. One common problem is lack of coolant, usually caused by leaks. Since leaks are common in old car engines, it's important to keep your engine coolant level full.

If you notice the engine temperature rising above normal, have your car checked out before the engine overheats. Remember never to open your coolant system when the engine is hot. Engine coolant is under pressure!

Keeping your classic car outside subjects them to sun damage, bird droppings, tree sap, dirt and dust. Without a car cover, your paint can get damaged quickly. Sometimes when I'm working on a project in the garage, one of my old cars may stay outside for several weeks. But when it is outside, it's always under a cover.

car cover for outdoors

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Long-Term Storage

When an old car is placed in long-term storage (over a year), it should be jacked up and blocked (either jack stands or cinder blocks will work here) so the weight of the vehicle is not sitting on the tires. Covering the tires from sunlight will also help.

Read: Daily Driver Maintenance