The Seven Commandments of Maintaining a Classic Auto
Keep it hot, oiled and run it often
Contrary to what Cameron Frye’s old man would have you believe, maintaining a classic car doesn’t involve keeping it indoors and wiping it down with a diaper every day.
No. You want to treat your prized whip like you treat your libido: keep the fluids in check and run it as often as you can.
That’s what we learned when we spoke with Andy Coyle, owner of Laguna Classic Cars, where he oversees a lot of about 30-40 classic rides. All of his beauts are pre-1970s and in mint condition. If you have a classic car, he’s the guy to ask how to keep it shipshape.
On the single most important thing you can do…
“Make sure you have fluids in the car. Oil. Water. Brake fluid,” says Coyle. “The car will not run without oil and water. It needs a lubricant and a water to keep it cool so it doesn’t overheat. Make sure the car gets its heat cycles, meaning keep it up to temperature and the car gets to cooling and itself.” That also means keeping a close eye on the gauges and swapping things out regularly.
On the importance of driving it…
“The other thing is to run the car: use it at least once a month. The number one issue with old cars is they’re not used regularly. Drive it, put the car through its paces. Turn the wheels and the gears and engage the tires. What damages cars is sitting still: all of those seals and rubber components dry up if they’re not used. Then leaks develop. You can slow down the aging process of a car by just using it at least once a month, ideally twice. Get it up and hot for at least a half hour. That will blow out any dampness and condensation and will be the single best thing you can do other than have oil and water in it.”
Aside from the obvious: the hell’s the point of owning one of the best machines ever made if you’re not gonna let it do it what it was built to do?
On the tools that should be in every classic car owner’s garage…
“Bucket, soft rag, and an automotive wash soap and finish,” says Coyle. In other words: keep it simple. “Soft towels afterwards, just to maintain the body. It’s important that it’s car wash formula. Dish soap will take the wax off of the car and damage it.” Coyle likes Mothers out of Orange County: “They make particularly good products for chrome and wheels. Meguiar’s makes great products too.”
On the storage conditions you should strive to maintain…
“The biggest single thing is to not to park the car on dirt or gravel, because that’ll allow moisture into the car from underneath and accelerate the degradation of the car.” On a similar note: make sure the surface your chariot does sit on has good drainage.
Second most important: keeping her out of direct sunlight. “The sun ages a car really fast, especially the paint. And it will bake the interior, causing the fabrics to change color, and the vinyl and plastics to become brittle and break. The sun, especially in California, is hard on a car.”
Three: avoid extreme cold. “It’ll bring in moisture that’ll rust the car, and the locks will get damp and freeze. Wipers will freeze to the windshield, too. Running the car will help prevent this, as will keeping it in a good garage. Use a soft broom to clean snow off of your car.”
On how often to clean her…
“Keep the car as clean as possible, especially in a cold state where the roads have been salted. That salt corrodes the paint and metal. The cleaner you keep the car, the longer it’ll last.” And not just the exterior: mind the undercarriage and sitting space, as well. “Wash the wheel wells out. Vacuum the interior to prevent dampness from forming. If you have dirt in the carpets, it’ll retain dampness and will go beneath the floor and start the rust process under the car.”
On maintaining a good shine…
“Wax it as much as you can. Detailers can revive the paint, but if your paint is in good condition all you need to do after you wash is dry and add a good wax like Meguiar’s or Mothers.” If the paint is at all degraded, you may need to call and expert for a sandwash. “They take water and very fine sand paper and take the edges off and buff it with different strength grit. That should only be done by someone experienced.”
On where to go about finding a good detailer…
Whatever you do, do not under any circumstances go to someone who’s never worked on classic cars. “They can literally take the paint off of your car with the edges of the buffer.”
Coyle’s suggestion: “Ask around at car shows … A good guy will take three or four hours on a whole car, depending on what you’re doing, and it’ll be about $150. It’s money well spent. You might have to do that once every two to three years, but if you maintain your car you won’t really need to do that. It’s amazing how fast you can get a car that looks like it needs a paint job to be pretty presentable.”
All images via Laguna Classic Cars