Classic car care & maintenance 101

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.

Wash your classic the right way

If you're driving your classic occasionally, then a wash every few weeks is a good idea. If you're driving it in cold weather, then you should wash it once a week to keep road salt and other contaminants from ruining your finish. Handwashing with a microfiber cloth is the ideal bath for a classic car to protect any delicate components and to ensure you get every spot. Get even more tips on how to wash a classic car the right way.

Stay ahead of rust and corrosion

Keeping your car in a warm, dry garage can go a long way to keeping rust at bay. You should pay particular attention to the wheel arches and undercarriage as well since dirt and road salt tend to accumulate in those areas. A garden hose should be enough to clean the gunk off — just avoid using a power washer as it could strip off any protective coating.

Take it for a spin

You should drive your classic at least once a month so the tires, belts, and other components don't wear out from lack of use. And besides, you bought the car to have fun with it, so taking it for a spin every now and then is a good thing.

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.

Take a look at our guide to storing a classic car for more tips. You may also find these tips on starting a classic car that's been in storage useful for when you're ready to hit the road again.

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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