TI – 04 : Lessons in Driving a Classic Car on Today’s Roads

There is no substitute for proper maintenance, and our cars need more frequent attention than a‘modern’. In particular, the lubrication points need attention every 1,000 miles, and it makes adifference to the car’s handling and the wear on joints if this is neglected. We should observe theinstructions in the owner’s manual and handbook.

Before take-off, the pilot does a walk-around the plane, checking for visible faults and problems.The captain or first officer of the jumbo jet which took you on holiday this year, all do the same.If it’s worth their time to do it, so should we. How long is it since you last drove it? Pop apressure gauge on the tyres, feel the treads for nails you might have picked up, check the oil andwater. Take ownership.

It’s not only airline pilots: the DVSA regulations insist that every HGV driver taking charge of atruck conducts a walk-around check before driving, and the guidance on this has just been updated (20th September 2019). If you’d like to view it and see how much can apply to our walk-aroundon a classic car, it’s at https://movingon.blog.gov.uk/2019/09/20/helping-you-carry-out-effective-daily-walkaround-checks/ . This has in large part been revised with the aim of reducing the numberof bridge-strikes by tall vehicles (2000 in 2018, costing £23 million to repair; and the figure has been rising steadily over the last 10 years.) The walk-around check won’t see the bridge looming up, but it will increase the driver’s awareness of his/her responsibility to conduct the vehicle safely. The results of the check are written down. If, like me, you have stopped putting your car through the increasingly-irrelevant MoT test, you will need some alternative way to show evidence that your car is roadworthy. I keep a notebook in which these walk-around checks are recorded, along with everything from refuelling (and mileage) to oil, water and brake fluid top-ups and tyre checks, plus the annual service record and comments.

Use your instruments to monitor the car’s behaviour as it starts, warms up, and runs throughoutthe trip. The temperature and oil pressure gauges will very likely react to problems before youcan hear them. Be aware of your car’s normal behaviour, in different conditions – hot or coldweather, long or steep hills; and watch for changes, departures from the usual, which could signalsome problem.

Remember to adjust your driving to suit the demands and capabilities of a classic car. You’re ondrum brakes, possibly cross-ply tyres, and no power assistance. You are driving a car with a tallsquare front end which carries a fierce metal spike on the nose as an emblem, so you carry anadditional responsibility not to skewer pedestrians or cyclists upon it, no matter how foolishlythey may behave. THINK, take your time, and stay focused. Allow plenty of braking distance.

Have contingency plans, and be prepared to use them in response to problems. For most of us, it’sprobably the AA or RAC.

Plan your journey to include suitable breaks. Nobody in 1950 would have set off expecting tocomplete a 200-mile-plus journey without a break. Just because we now have motorways, and ourpattern of life in modern cars has changed, we shouldn’t push our modern practices back onto our1948 car and expect it to cope. Stop for a leg-stretch, and as you get out of the car, place a hand on each wheel in turn to feel the temperatures. They should be warm, but not too hot to place your hand against. Take time for a cuppa; and whilst you do, and the car cools down, check that the oil and water are still what they should be. When you come to move away, check that you have not dropped more oil than your car usually leaves.

It’s a good idea, if you have a suitable person with you and the insurance covers it, to train themup on driving the easier stretches and to share the physical strain of driving. As we get older, wemight find we really need to share the load, and when that day comes it will be good to havesomeone around who has experience.

At the end of the run, do you keep a note of the miles, and where you went, and any concernswhich arose? We need some reliable way of recording this, to be aware of when the next serviceis due; and this applies especially to those cars which are less frequently driven. If it’s likely to besome while before the car is next used, you might want to take some precautions like chocking thewheels instead of leaving the handbrake on; but then we move into precautions for a winter layup. That deserves a separate topic all to itself; see the Globes for October 2012 and February2013.

FUEL. Normal unleaded at the moment (2022) is to E10 standard: it will contain up to 10% Ethanol (bio-fuel). The Government is committed to maintaining the ‘super’ grade to E5, 5%, as a heritage fuel. In modern engines neither fuel should cause any problem, but it causes engines to run hotter – on leaded petrol a healthy Renown’s temperature gauge would have been steady on 60o, but on E5 unleaded, 75o is normal. Esso Supreme in most areas of the country contains no ethanol at all.A further problem is that if ethanol-mix petrol is left to stand for a long time (like over winter) then it can separate out, and ethanol attracts water. This can cause rusting in your tank. It is a good idea always to fill with ‘supreme’ unleaded, because this will have less ethanol.

THE AGE OF YOUR TYRES (Data confirmed by FBHVC). Tyres are considered ‘new’ and if unused can be sold as ‘new’ for five years from the date of manufacture. With common tyre sizes fitted to modern cars which do average or higher mileage each year, this is not a problem – the tyres will wear thin long before the age of the rubber becomes a potential hazard. However, on our Razoredges it might be different. I do only about 2,000 miles a year; other members might do more, or less. We know of several cars in the Club which do only 200 – 500 miles a year if that. Their tyres might still have plenty of tread, but they could easily be twenty or more years old. (Owners of caravans and boat trailers face the same problem.)How can you tell the age of the tyre? There is a world-wide code which gives you the answer. On the side-wall of the tyre, close to the metal wheel rim, you will find a series of data panels after the letters DOT. The first panels will tell the manufacturer and the factory, and need not concern us; but the last panel is the week and year of manufacture.If the code has four digits, the tyre was made since the year 2000. That’s a good start.

This one was made in the 39th week of 2009; the tyre is 13 years old (at time of writing). A code of ( 0518 ) would indicate the fifth week of 2018, and so on. Tyres made before the year 2000 have only a 3-digit code, two digits showing the week, and the final digit the year of the decade. If the decade was the 1990s, there’s a triangle following the code number, like this one indicating the 13th week of 1999:

If there is NO little triangle, then there’s no way to tell whether the decade was the 80s, the 70s or earlier – but it doesn’t really matter, because if that is the case they are really too old to be considered safe for road use. No matter what the appearance and the tread depth, it’s time to reach for the cheque book. How old is still safe? There is no legal limit: it’s your responsibility to be safe. Especially if your tyres are more than 10 years old, sensible advice would be to have them periodically checked for wear, perishing, and any deformity of shape, cuts and damage to the tread or side walls, by a garage or tyre specialist. Remember that the inside wall of the tyre is vulnerable too, and will have had greater exposure to oil and exhaust heat – our exhaust pipe runs quite close to the inside of the rear wheel. Don’t forget to check the spare, which may have been reposing quietly inside that boot-lid since… Who knows?