By John Gunnell
Fall color tours are popular with old-car hobbyists. Many clubs are already planning a ride through the countryside during September or October, when the leaves are turning color in their area. Fans of such activities take pride in making it back from the color tour without a breakdown. Completing a color tour requires that the car they drive, though many years old, is well maintained.
Electrical problems, vapor lock, over-heating, brake failure and flat tires are typical problems that car collectors encounter when touring behind the wheel of a vintage vehicle. Often, some old cars have problems and others don’t. This is because some hobbyists prepare their vehicle for touring, while others do not.
Preparation is important. At a minimum, it is annoying to break down and be stranded by the side of the road. Breakdowns cost money, too. In addition to towing and repair bills, a pricey collector car can be damaged by flying parts, boiling coolant or spilled brake fluid. Finding replacement parts or tires while touring can be very expensive, if not impossible.
If an on-the-road parts failure causes an accident, it can hurt you financially — or physically. Old Cars Weekly recently reported an accident in which the wood spoke wheel on a Model T Ford collapsed, causing an accident that killed a 51-year-old women touring in the car.
Preparing for a tour is more important today than it was years ago, because less help is available once you get started. As we all know, the convenience store has replaced the old filling station as the place to stop when traveling. Such stores will be happy to sell you gas and oil — and maybe even air for your tires. However, you won’t find a trained mechanic behind the counter.
Touring in a ‘Touring’
The first step in preparing for a color tour is selecting the car you’ll drive. If you own only one car, the choice is simple. If you own several cars, one may be better suited for such use—and it may not be that 1920s touring car your great uncle left you. It really depends.
If you’re traveling to the national meet of the 1920s Touring Car Club, then you’ll definitely want to get that car ready for a long, slow ride. On the other hand, if you’re heading for Hershey, maybe your 1940 limousine will provide a faster, safer and more secure mode of travel.
If you have a choice in cars, you’ll want to think about the number of people traveling with you, the amount of luggage you‘ll need, the type of engine and transmission the car has, the rear-axle gearing, what kind of weather you’re likely to encounter, whether the roads will be hilly or flat, if the car has a trunk and who’s going to drive. If your wife will be sharing the driving chores and doesn’t know how to use a manual transmission, you’d better take the 1950s car with Hydra-Matic Drive. On a very long tour, accessories like a radio and heater may come in handy. In some cases, fuel economy may also be a consideration.
Your local ambulance service is required by law to inspect its vehicles every month. There is a standard checklist for this. Even though an ambulance is nearly new, every item must be checked. The reason is simple—a life is on the line. It’s really the same with your collector car. If you’re touring in it on the road, your life depends on the car being safe.
That’s why Old Cars Weekly is producing this series of checklists that you can use every time you prepare for a tour.
1 — Preparing a vehicle starts from the ground up, check tires and wheels:
[ ] Inspect tires for cuts, breaks, crazing and other damage
[ ] Check tires for correct inflation using tire gauge
[ ] Check tire valve stems for leakage, breakage or rotting
[ ] Check tire-thread depth with gauge
[ ] Have wheel balance checked professionally once a year
[ ] Check wheels for bends, breaks, rust; especially at rims and bolt holes
[ ] Check tightness of wire wheel spokes
[ ] Check tightness of wheel lug nuts
[ ] Check for spare tire and proper spare-tire inflation
[ ] Be sure tire-changing tools are in car and in good shape (test jack)
2 — Stopping is more important than going, check the brakes:
[ ] Step on pedal to make sure it’s firm and doesn’t “give” under pressure
[ ] Check inside of each tire, at bottom, for telltale brake fluid drip
[ ] Check application and release of emergency brake (no rolling)
[ ] Check fluid level in master cylinder; top off with proper fluid
[ ] Check to make sure vent in master cylinder is open
[ ] Release hand brake and spin all wheels to check for frozen brakes
[ ] Pull brake drum and check all parts; replace drum and adjust brakes
[ ] Re-pack wheel bearing grease at least every 3-5 years
[ ] Rebuild master cylinder and wheel cylinders every 5-10 years
[ ] Check to make sure that brake lights work properly
3 — A vehicle is as strong as its foundation, check chassis and frame
[ ] Check exhaust for broken parts, too much rust, too much noise
[ ] Check levelness of vehicle at all four corners and side to side
[ ] Check for rusty, damaged, bent or broken frame or chassis parts
[ ] Check for frame or chassis parts covered with fluid stains
[ ] Check for broken or “splayed” leaves in leaf spring packs
[ ] Check steering parts for looseness or obvious bends
[ ] Have front wheel alignment professionally checked yearly
[ ] Visually inspect motor mounts for fractures or missing rubber
[ ] Check shocks (especially lever-action type) for fluid leaks
[ ] Check all components for open bolt holes, missing rubber bushings
4 — It’s what’s up front that counts, radiator, engine lights
[ ] Check radiator with light for debris (clean if required), test cap
[ ] Test thermostat; flush and refill cooling system adding new coolant
[ ] Check drive belts and hoses; if water pump has grease fitting lubricate
[ ] Check engine bay for frayed wires; also any exposed headlight wires
[ ] Do minimum of minor engine tune-up servicing points and plugs, etc.
[ ] Check near carburetor and fuel pump for any signs of fuel leakage
[ ] Check all electrical and vacuum hose connections in engine bay
[ ] Re-torque all fasteners and check for free operation of heat riser valve
[ ] Check condition of battery; check for tight and clean battery cables
[ ] Lube starter and generator bearings if oil cups are provided
5 — Sides of vehicle, front to rear
[ ] Check operation of headlights, parking lights, tail lights, directionals
[ ] Check tightness of and proper setting of all rearview mirrors
[ ] Check door hinge security and adjustments; door striker adjustments
[ ] Check condition of all window glass and all door and window gaskets
[ ] Check fit of side curtains or soft top; fix loose snap-the-dot fasteners
[ ] Check under fenders to tighten all access panels and wiring looms
[ ] Check under door sills for fluid leaks, loose brackets, hanging wires
[ ] Check that all side trim moldings are held on securely and won’t fly off
[ ] Check for secure fit of rear fender skirt mountings, if applicable
[ ] Re-torque all fasteners and check for free operation of heat riser valve
6 — Interior workings – pedals, wiring, gauges
[ ] Check for worn accelerator pedal that comes off studs while driving
[ ] Check for worn pedal rod bushings causing sloppy or sticking pedal
[ ] Check to make sure all interior bulbs and dashboard bulbs are good
[ ] Check under-dash/courtesy light wiring shorts (seen in prewar cars)
[ ] Make sure seats are secure to floor or seat-frame-adjuster mechanism
[ ] Check accuracy of all gauges; repair if necessary (can affect safety)
[ ] Check to see if inside rearview mirror adjusts well and works properly
[ ] Check operation of all roll-up or push-out windows; safety glass in all?
[ ] Check for proper operation of all under-seat heaters and air vents
[ ] If seat belts are installed, they should be secured to frame, not floor
Set Time Aside to Do Your Checks
A vintage vehicle does not always “tell” you it’s ready to break. You have to be proactive if you’re planning to go touring. Instead of spending Sunday afternoon watching a NASCAR race or a football game, spend time preparing your car for the tour. Any problem you find and fix in your home garage is going to save you a lot of hassle and tons of money over getting it fixed on the road.