It is a well known fact that classic cars require a lot more maintenance than an up to date model. Even if your old car has a full MOT it is always best to give it a thorough checking over to make sure everything is as it should be. This comprehensive guide will offer advice on how to maintain your old car so that it can become a reliable daily run around.

Cars which have not seen regular use are often are less worn out mechanically than newer models. However, you will find that classic cars will need more servicing in order to get them up to scratch and make them reliable. If you are driving a classic car for the first time, be patient, they can take a few attempts to get used to. Always leave extra time for your journey, as they usually travel at a slower pace and you always run the risk of a breakdown.

Braking distances are much longer with most classic cars, so you need to ensure you are always reading the road ahead, further than you would in a modern car. Heating systems were rarely fitted in classic cars and if they were they are known for being notoriously bad; if it is a frosty morning you should be prepared to scrape ice off the windows manually.

You might find when driving that you get harassed by others driving close to your bumper but you should ignore this behaviour and drive within your old cars safe limits. A lot of classic cars have dainty indicators which stick out from their flanks, not all drivers will notice you are indicating so you should always make sure the driver behind has noticed and slowed down.


Photo courtesy of PortoBay Events 

Maintenance Guide: An Overview

Classic car shows are the best places to see a range of old cars of all makes and years. For a classic car fanatic, it’s fantastic to see all of these beautiful cars in one place. If you are the proud owner of an old car then you will know how important it is to maintain it properly.


Maintenance Tips:

  • First and foremost, driving your car regularly is key to keeping it in good condition. You should never leave an old car to sit for long periods of time, they have to be driven. Tyres, seals and lubricants will break or dry out if you leave classic cars sitting un-driven. Aim to drive once or twice a month to keep it up and running.
  • Before driving, it is important to warm the car up before you hit the open road.
  • To protect the paintwork, and keep it in good condition you will need to wash it. If you allow dirt and dust to build up it will start to destroy the exterior. Do wax the car occasionally also, but remember too much wax can damage the paintwork.
  • Change the oil regularly, and always have plenty of petrol in the tank. Check with your local auto parts store for a fuel stabiliser, as this will help protect your engine.
  • Protect your classic from the weather. Try to ensure that the car is protected from the elements. If you do not have a garage, then make sure you have a car cover. However, the cover should be light, to ensure your car has room to breathe. If the car cover is too heavy you will start to notice that moisture will become trapped, and mildew will develop.
  • If your car is rare you should collect classic car parts as and when you see them. This will make repairs easier when you have to make them.

1949 meteor engine

Photo courtesy of Dave_7

MOT Preparation

For some classic car owners, MOT time is an annual worry. But there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do some basic restoration beforehand, to get your motor in the best shape. A lot of the preparation required to get through the MOT is common sense, and very simple.


  • To start with the simple bits, check the number plates are not cracked or obstructed. Similarly, do they have the correct sized lettering and are they in the right style? Cars that were built before 1/1/1973 are allowed black and silver plates.
  • The VIN plate must be in place, readable and match with that on your logbook.
  • Ensure the horn is fully working and emit an adequately loud sound. The wipers must work, and the blades should be in good condition. Parts like this are often readily available should you require them.
  • Make sure all your lights are working, including hazards, reverse, indicators, brake, headlights and number plate lamps. If they don’t, check all the bulbs and earth connections to see if this is the problem (it often is on classic cars). Again, these parts are readily available should you need replacements.
  • Door latches should work from both inside and outside the car, and the bonnet catch should be in good working condition.
  • The biggest worry for any classic car owner when it comes to the MOT is the body. If you have recently had a full car restoration then this shouldn’t be a problem. But for other owners, make sure there are no holes in the bodywork; surface roast will probably be OK. There should be no jagged edges and any contact points for suspension or steering should be in good condition, with no signs of rust.
  • On separate chassis classic cars, there should be no gap between this and the bodywork. Monocoque cars get their strength from the sills, and these should be in excellent condition. The inner wings and bulkheads need to be rust free also.
  • For brakes and clutch systems, check the fluid levels and system for leaks, binding brakes, slipping brakes and any signs that hoses are fouling the bodywork. You will need to source and buy the correct replacement parts if need be.
  • Emissions aren’t usually a problem for old cars, but leaking or rusty exhausts will be, so change it if necessary. Any signs of smoke when off choke will probably mean an MOT failure.
  • Check the steering and suspension for any signs of damage. Ay clunking or other untoward sounds are a bad sign. A bounce test on each corner should highlight any problems.
  • Wheels and tyres should be in good condition. All the tyres should have minimum 1.6mm of tread, and show no signs of cuts or perishing. You also need to consider whether the tyres you have are fit for purpose. Skinny cross-ply tyres on a powerful classic car are obviously not the best choice.
  • Windscreen chips or cracks could fail a classic car MOT if they fall within the driver’s line of sight.
  • Seatbelts should not be torn or frayed and must fasten/unfasten correctly.
How to maintain a classic carPhoto courtesy of Erik Nomm

Rust Remedies

Car rust is one of the biggest destroyers of most classic or vintage cars. If your car has not been well maintained it can easily become a victim of rust, often beyond repair. By making sure that restoration cars are kept properly, and by paying a good level of care and attention, you can treat rust before it gets out of hand.

Depending on the material and age of your model, rust can form in any number of places. Look out for bubbling in the paintwork. This is a sign of rust and can get out of hand pretty quickly. When car rust is allowed to seep into the core of the car and its structure, it is unfortunately only a matter of time before it disintegrates and is beyond help.

Car Storage

One of the most efficient ways to prevent rust from forming is is to store it properly. You may think that a dry garage is the perfect place. However, it is stuffy and has no ventilation, you may find it is a breeding ground for car rust. The ideal place to store your old car is in a dry garage that has sufficient ventilation.

Plastic covers (even breathable ones) cause more harm than good, as they trap moisture underneath, which creates rust. If your only option is to keep the car outside, you should pay extra attention to the screen seals. If these allow water leakages, this could be catastrophic for the sills, door pillars and floor plans.


  • Begin by using a scrubbing pad, like you would use in the kitchen. This should take off surface rust and stop it from spreading.
  • Mix one teaspoon of lemon juice with a tablespoon of salt into a paste. Apply this to the rust stains on your car. The citric acid helps get rid of the problem. Wipe it off after a few minutes.
  • You could also use naval jelly. This is a substance that is stronger than lemon juice. The phosphoric acid in it dissolves the rust. The instructions should be followed carefully though, as it can do harm if left on for too long.
  • Commercial rust removers are also available to buy for restoration cars. Each one will treat a vintage car differently so it is again important to apply as instructed.
1959 chevrolet bel airPhoto courtesy of George Thomas 


Older cars may require certain security measures to be put in place, in order to be accepted by car insurance companies. Some insurers require you to park in a garage at night. This is the ideal situation for classic cars. However, this is obviously not feasible for everyone. See the following advice on car security for tips on keep old cars safe.



If your car is parked in a driveway, try to ensure that there is some lighting in the area. Thieves or vandals may be put off if they know they can be seen in the light. Old cars are targeted by thieves as they know that their car security may not be as advanced as modern cars.

You may consider installing a removable or folding security post so that your car cannot physically be removed by anyone else. If not, gates could also be a possibility. If you have another car which is more modern, you should park this in front so that it hides the classic from view.

Car Alarms

No matter how well maintained old cars are, there is no doubting the fundamental security issues. Without modern intervention, classic cars are at more risk of being easily broken into. Car alarms are a proven deterrent to thieves and will decrease the chance of criminals making off with your vehicle. If you do decide to go down the advisable car alarms route, remember to check the best way to install it on your particular car. Older cars may be positive earth or may have certain voltages that need specific adaptations first so that they can be compatible with modern electrics. Good alarm systems will incorporate an immobiliser for extra protection.

Steering Wheels

Car security in the form of steering bars and locks will deter criminals, but can easily be hacksawed off by determined thieves. A newer alternative is to fit a tracking device in your car so that you know just where it has been taken to. Certain classic cars may benefit from quick-removing steering wheels, which leave the car very hard to drive away or be towed.


An easy way of maintaining effective car security is to remove anything valuable from the car. Even if you think it is something that nobody else would want, you still may find yourself a victim of a car break-in.

grand old 2cv

Photo courtesy of Bahi

Winter Preparation

Many people who keep classic cars prefer not to use them during the winter months. This can be a great idea as the salt on the roads, combined with the wet weather and the frosts mean that you face a battle against the elements. There are a few things you can do before you put your car away for storage, to keep it in good condition for when the spring comes around.

  • If you intend to store over the winter, you may want to consider changing the oil beforehand. This will ensure that there are no contaminants that are undesired. If it is old, change the oil filter as well, these are readily available from classic car parts shops. If it is dirty, you may wish to change the brake fluid too, although this is less of an issue, especially on restoration cars.
  • Disconnect the battery before you put them into storage, it will go flat when left for a long time anyway, so it makes sense to disconnect it.
  • If possible, jack them up and leave them on blocks. Take the wheels off and let some of the air out. Store these parts somewhere dry and out of the worst of the cold. If you can’t take them off, put roughly 10 psi extra air into the tires.
  • A car cover is one of the most effective tools you can buy for winter, especially if you haven’t got the opportunity to keep it inside. Car covers are excellent for classic cars as they keep them away from the worst of the elements. Keep a window slightly open that are under car covers, to keep the air moving inside.
  • If you have the luxury, one of the best places to store classic cars in the winter is in a weather tight garage. This will ensure that they stay in perfect condition.
  • Regardless of whether you intend to store your car over the winter or keep using it, make sure you give it a thorough clean and keep doing so when driving in winter. Salt and grime on the roads will attack, so make sure you regularly clean them, especially the wheels and the underside.
  • If running classic cars through the winter, make sure that you keep any parts in good condition. Keep the window washer topped up with washer fluid; make sure the coolant system has plenty of anti-freeze in it and all the oil levels are topped up as necessary.

classic car winter

Photo courtesy of Michiel S




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