Maintaining and storing a classic car

When you own a classic car, you can't rely on your vehicle's display screens and warning lights to tell you when the tire pressure is low or if you need an oil change. Properly caring for and storing your vehicle is key to keeping its value intact and your car running smoothly. Knowing what classic car maintenance to perform can help keep your vehicle on the road longer.

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Classic car maintenance tips

A classic car typically needs more care than a modern vehicle you can buy from the dealer. Here are some tips to help keep your classic humming along.

Use the correct type of gas

Basic unleaded might work for your everyday car, but ethanol-free gas is typically a better option for collector cars. Often called recreational gas, boats and RVs often use this fuel. Keep the tank at least half full to help prevent problems with the fuel pump.

Select the right oil

Preserving collector cars often requires using conventional, not synthetic, oil. You should choose an oil with the proper viscosity based on the vehicle you drive. So, before taking your car out for a spin, make sure the oil level is adequate. If it drops by a half quart or more, top it off and change the oil and oil filter at least once a year — even if you don't meet the manufacturer's mileage requirements for an oil change.

Check the brakes

Before getting too far from home, test the brakes to make sure they work properly. If they feel squishy, you may need to flush them. Check for leaks under your car to ensure you're not losing brake fluid. If it’s leaking, it's important to see a mechanic right away. You may need to replace a brake line or hose. If you're not sure how old the brake lines or hoses are, it's best to err on the side of caution and replace them. Finally, your brake fluid should look like apple juice. If it doesn't, you may need to replace it.

Check fluid levels

A crucial element of classic car maintenance is checking the fluid levels before heading out on the open road. Essential fluids include the oil, coolant, power-steering fluid, and windshield wiper fluid. Look at the transmission fluid after your drive — it's best to check it while the engine is warm.

Pay attention to odors

Unusual smells can signify something's amiss within your vehicle. If you smell gas, you probably have a leak that needs to be fixed before driving your car. Also, mice can sometimes make their way into vehicles through vents and hoses where they can die. If you think you have a dead mouse in your car but can't find it, it's best to get it checked out.

Inspect your tires

Inspecting the tread, tire pressure, and condition of the rubber on your tires can provide visual clues about whether it's safe to drive on them. However, checking the date code on the sidewalls is also important. In general, tires can safely last six to 10 years. If yours are old, consider replacing them, regardless of their condition.

Keep an eye on the battery

A battery with enough power is essential for preserving a collector car. Listen when you start your vehicle. If it takes a while to start, your battery may not have enough juice to power your vehicle efficiently, damaging the charging system.

What is the best vintage car storage space?

Vehicles don't like to sit, but there may be times when you need to store your classic car, especially if you live in an area with harsh winters. Taking the right precautions when storing your classic car can help preserve your vehicle and make it easier to get it running again when you're ready.

Before prepping it, you must decide where to store your classic car. The ideal scenario is to store the car on a concrete floor in a dry, climate-controlled garage with an air-filtered HVAC system. If that's not possible, be sure to choose a dry space. Avoid parking on dirt or grass because that allows moisture to collect on your vehicle's undercarriage, damaging it.

How to winterize a car for storage

No matter the car’s make and model, there are some steps you need to take before putting your vehicle in storage to help maintain your classic car's value and keep it in tip-top shape. Check out these classic car storage tips to get it ready for its long winter nap.

Wash it

Handwashing and waxing your classic is a must before storing it. Removing dirt, grime, and road debris and sealing it with a coat of wax will help protect the paint while it is in storage. Be sure to rinse off any remaining salt or dirt from the undercarriage. Remove food, trash, and crumbs and vacuum the interior to avoid attracting bugs and other critters. Leave small boxes of baking soda inside the car and trunk to deodorize it.

Prep the storage surface

Wash the concrete where you're storing your classic car with a degreasing cleaner. Place a plastic vapor barrier on top of the concrete to prevent moisture from the ground from getting into the vehicle's undercarriage, which can cause rust. Seal the edges of the plastic to the concrete and put a cloth or canvas on top of the plastic.

Prevent pests

Place mouse/rat poison bait stations around and underneath the car. If you don't want to use poison, you can set traps outside the vehicle, but you'll need to check them regularly. Many classic car owners use dryer sheets to prevent pests, but our friends at Hagerty don't recommend using them in your car's interior because the scent may harm it. Instead, stick with using them on the exterior (e.g., under the hood, on top of tires, and over the end of exhaust tips). You can also put steel wool in the exhaust pipes and the air cleaner snorkel to prevent rodents from entering the vehicle.

Check fluids

Checking the fluids before storing a classic car can help ensure it's ready to run when you wake it up in the spring. Changing your classic's oil and filter can help prevent engine damage while it's sitting in storage. Make sure to run the engine afterward to circulate the new oil. Replace the antifreeze and top off the windshield wiper fluid to prevent freezing. Fill up the gas tank with recreational fuel and treat it with a stabilizer to prevent it from deteriorating for up to 12 months.

Attach a battery tender

Using a battery tender will keep the radio and clock settings and help ensure the battery starts the next time you put the key in the ignition. You can unhook the battery cables if you don't have a battery tender, but don't use a trickle charger — they are a potential fire hazard.

Prep tires, parking brake and exterior

Overinflating your tires before putting your car in storage can help prevent flat spots from forming during the winter. Brake pads, rotors or drums can rust together when you keep the parking brake on. Instead, use a tire chock to keep your car in place. Finally, when you've completed the rest of your preparation, place a car cover on the exterior. A cover will help to keep spills, dust, and falling objects from damaging the paint on your vehicle while it's in storage.

Storing a classic car for more than six months may require additional precautions, such as putting your vehicle on jack stands, draining some of the fluids, and oil flogging the engine.

Classic car insurance

Classic car insurance covers you for your vehicle's agreed value and specifications, such as usage, storage, and more. Consider keeping your insurance when your vehicle is in storage. Comprehensive coverage will protect you if there's a fire, the weight of the snow collapses the roof, or your car is stolen. Progressive's classic car insurance by Hagerty considers winter storage for the annual premium. Hagerty's mission is to keep your vintage car ready for the road. Their policy includes more specialized insurance coverage for your classic car. Learn how classic car insurance works and how it can protect your prized possession when you take it out for a spin.

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