Hours of sweat pouring work go into keeping up classic cars. But every ounce is worth it once you get it out onto the open road. Still, getting it to that point takes a lot of TLC (and on going TLC!), especially if you live in a climate where your car is sitting in the garage all winter long.
Despite our best efforts in winterizing, or just fixing her up for her first ride in months or even years, there is work to be done on a routine basis to keep her running and ready for the road. And we know how great that feeling can be when you do, so we sat down with our tech to get some of his tips for getting her back up and running, even after a long time sitting.
1) Test your battery
Testing your battery seems basic, right? Don’t take it for granted! Not only does your battery store and distribute the power to get your car started, but it also sends necessary current to all the electrical systems in your car. In general, you should be testing the battery’s strength each year, if not every 6 months depending on the use and age of the car. After 4-5 years, it’s probably about time to start considering replacement. To test the strength of your battery, start by running a load test. This can be done easily with a load tester. Some testers can also check out the starter system. With these testers, you will want to see the battery sitting at about 12V – 12.5V with the car off for 12V systems. When it’s running, it should jump to 13.5V – 14V. If it’s not getting up to that level, you’ll want to take a close look at your alternator.
Then, look for any terminal corrosion. If you find trouble spots, it’s best to neutralize and clean off the terminals as soon as possible before it gets out of hand and your terminals are completely damaged, needing replacement. To neutralize and clean off terminal corrosion, you can use a basic battery brush and terminal cleaner. Or, if you want a kit with all the supplies, try out a battery protection kit with all the essentials to get you started.
2) Alternator check
When the alternator is operating properly, it will bump up the voltage and take some load off the battery. So, if you’re able to get your car started but it won’t stay powered when you let off the ignition, you may have an issue with the alternator not pushing out enough current. To find out, begin with an output test. A good habit to get into is to check the alternator whenever you’re checking your battery. The output test you’ll want to perform is also a basic load test. You can use a multimeter to check the voltage being produced. Again, you’ll want your car to be at about 13.5V – 14V.
3) Starter draw test
When you turn that key, the starter will engage the flywheel and get your engine started up if everything is functioning properly. As expected, this initial start up requires a lot of current draw from the starter. If the starter is drawing too much current, it can be hard on the battery and wear it down. So, if you’re checking out the battery and the alternator, it’s worth taking a quick look at your starter by performing a starter draw test which is similar to what you’d do for the alternator. In fact, you can sometime use the same tester.
4) Check on connections and clean them up!
You know how critical the electrical systems in your vehicle are. One shorted circuit can cause some major headaches and even dangers. It’s important to give special care and attention to these systems that create this electrical nervous system. To begin, go through your different systems and identify any loose connections or connections that are beginning to corrode. Even though minimal corrosion may not look too bad initially, it can get out of hand fast if you’re not keeping an eye on it. In just 6 months’ time you could have a real mess on your hands and have to repair or replace parts of your wiring. To avoid this, it’s best to neutralize and clean up any corrosion you may find (like we talked about in #1). If some connections are too far gone, or even questionable, we recommend getting them replaced as soon as possible.
Once you’ve checked your connections and they’re all tight and corrosion free, examine your connection insulation and loom. How is your heat shrink holding up? Is your loom fairing ok? Make sure there’s no frayed or cracked areas.
As you’re going through and checking your loom and insulation, start keeping an eye out for any incorrectly routed wiring. Once you’ve finished your loom and insulation check, it’s best to circle back and do a thorough check for the wiring system set up. Also, be sure to take note of any wiring that may be dangerously exposed to moving parts, heat, or road debris. If you find any of this, be sure to re-route the wiring and secure it to a safe part of the vehicle.
5) Tighten up and replace belts
Unlike newer vehicles with serpentine belts, most classic cars are going to have multiple belts and pulleys that need checking. With these classic cars, there’s often a single belt to drive the alternator in order to produce a charge to the battery. However, while this belt is particularly critical, all of your belts need to be in good condition to avoid any issues or dangers when you take the car out on the road.
Begin checking for cracked, glazed, oiled, peeled, or split belts. If one is starting to look questionable, it probably is and you should consider replacing as soon as possible before taking her out. Once you’ve done a check of the belt condition, go to the pulleys and tighten up any belts that are stretched out so they are tight. To do this with multiple belts, it’s common that you’ll need to loosen up a bolt or two, tension the pulley for that specific belt and tighten up the bolts again. If you happen to have a serpentine belt, you’re in luck! Most tensioners will be spring loaded and automatically adjust for you over time. As you’re tightening up the belts, it’s important to notice the pulleys themselves. If there’s any wobbling in the pulleys, the bearings may be going.
6) Identify parasitic draws
Parasitic draws can be a real headache. Draining current from the battery when the vehicle is off, these draws are a major cause of vehicles not starting. These draws can be much less noticeable than simply leaving a cabin light on, though. Often times with collector cars, the cause can be things like underhood lights, glove box lights, trunk lights, and any added accessories like radios and phone chargers. Often these types of parasitic draws are due to a faulty pin switch that has gone bad. So, make sure to do a quick check of the switches wired to your accessories and lights to make sure they are functioning properly, and that there’s not anything else that could cause parasitic draws!
With going through these checks on a routine basis (and especially when you are getting your car ready for the first ride after a long time sitting), you should be in good shape. It’s a never-ending labor of love, to be sure!
Questions? Our Technical Support Specialists are available and ready to help. Give us a call at 1.800.654.4757.