Touring Tips

Two words: road trip.

You’ve restored the car, and it looks great. Time to put some miles on it. Whether it’s a local affair or something a bit more organized, some sea trials can pay miles of dividends.

Step 1: Exercise and Conditioning

You wouldn’t run the Boston Marathon without some pre-race conditioning. Likewise, you should exercise your classic before leaving for a road trip. Call it a preevent workout for your machine.

Solution: Get out there and drive your car. Some people say that a 1000-mile drive is just like taking 50 separate 20-mile drives, but we disagree. While the math makes sense, those shorter drives are usually harder on a car than the longer ones. Make sure to take a few longer drives, too.

Step 2: Make It Rain-Proof

Do the wipers properly clean the windshield? Does the car still grip the road? Does the engine start just as well when wet? Does any moisture seep into the interior or trunk? Knowing these things in advance will give you time to fix them, or at least take ample precautions.

Step 3: The Big Checkup

Start with the safety items: tires, horn, brakes and suspension. If your tires are more than 5 years old, get new ones. And the horn has to blast loud and clear–every time you push the button.

The brake system should be completely solid and leak-free. The parking brake must secure the car and not stick. The suspension shouldn’t show any visual signs of wear or fatigue. Oh, and torque every nut and bolt in sight.

Clean and wipe away excess oil and grease. And while you’re at it, what’s the source of that leak? Can it be stopped or at least slowed before you hit the road? Is the exhaust loose, and how are the engine mounts? This is a proper time to change all fluids, bleed the brakes, and at least check the coolant.

Check all of the lights and other electrical equipment–especially the brake lights and turn signals. Are they bright enough to be clearly seen? If not, does cleaning the connections and grounds help? What about upgrading to brighter bulbs? Are the headlights properly aimed? And is now the time to upgrade to halogens?

Even if your car always runs well, it’s probably worth the time to go through the ignition and fuel systems to make sure they’re dialed in properly. Bonus points for a head torque and valve adjustment routine.

Step 4: Bath Time

Blast out the engine bay, wheel wells and chassis and deep-clean the carpet, seats and interior panels. We’re big fans of rain repellants like Rain-X. We even hit the mirrors, too. The side windows also deserve some attention, and those that wind down should receive some silicone spray to lubricate their tracks. Finish off the outside with a fresh coat of wax plus your favorite chrome polish and rubber treatment.

Step 5: Consider Upgrades

Maybe it’s time to make some upgrades before the trip. Would a right-side mirror help you navigate traffic, or does adding a third brake light make you feel a little more comfortable? Maybe a change from lap belts to a three-point setup makes sense, too. Time to replace collapsed foam and rebuild the seats? How about adding some tunes and a center armrest?

Step 6: Assemble Spares and Tools

Thanks to overnight shipping and national parts suppliers, you probably don’t need to carry every possible spare. Nonetheless, we still take a few items so we won’t have to spend any nights in a seedy motel if something goes wrong.

If you want complete coverage, try taking an alternator, fuel pump, distributor, water pump, throttle cable and alternator belt. Sometimes we add a set of hoses for our cooling system. Finally, add spares of any parts that may be considered weak links for the particular car you’re driving.

In addition to your parts and tools, also bring your contingency items: nuts, bolts, wire and tie wraps plus some electrical or duct tape. In addition to your cell phone, credit cards and roadside assistance plan, these parts should allow you to be your own MacGyver–or at least call him.

Step 7: Check Insurance

First, contact your insurance carrier to make sure you’re covered for your drive, especially if there’s a chance you’ll leave the country. Also ask if they have special options for long drives, like extended flatbed towing options.

The second insurance consideration involves assistance along the way. As you plan your route, look for club members or businesses that may be able to help if trouble occurs.

One last piece of insurance: a fire extinguisher. We usually get a halon-type unit that doesn’t make a mess when discharged. Ideally, it should be securely mounted in the interior and within easy reach of the driver. The next-best place is in the trunk; if going that route, make sure to tell your co-driver where it is.

Step 8: Pack for Success

Group your tools and spares in resealable plastic bags, then wrap them in rags or small towels before stuffing them into every nook and cranny. The bags keep the parts dry and contained, while the rags and towels are handy for cleanup. Plus, you can spread the rags on the ground if you need to lie down while making repairs.

Our final lesson on packing touches on a sensitive subject: weight. Your last big road trip in a classic car may have been about 20 years ago, and it’s possible you’ve gained a few pounds since then. Combined with possibly hundreds of pounds of tools and luggage, you may find the car sagging when fully loaded. The extra weight will most likely impact handling, too.

Step 9: Watch While You Drive

Once you’re on the road, pay special attention to the car. Keep your ears open and watch the gauges. If something starts to sound strange, pull off and investigate sooner rather than later.

Pay particular attention to the oil pressure and temperature gauges. Both should stay constant and in a safe range. Don’t be tempted to drive “just a few more miles” with an overheated engine or low oil pressure–you could be making a very expensive mistake.

When you make stops, walk around the car and look it over. Feel the wheels and make sure they’re all about the same temperature. A hot wheel can indicate a dragging brake. Check the fluids frequently–usually along with gas fill-ups–and generally make sure nothing is going wrong.

While we don’t want to make you paranoid, it’s worth paying a little extra attention to your car during the drive.

Step 10: Remember, This Is Fun

If all of this preparation and planning seems like work, maybe you’re thinking about things the wrong way. Most of us own a classic car for some form of entertainment. This kind of prep work should be part of that enjoyment.

Best of all, if you do things correctly, you can stretch a threeday trip into a week or more of car-related activities. Just remember, what matters isn’t where you’re going, but how you get there.

For more tips on enjoying your classic, check out Classic Motorsports. Subscribe now.

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Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
10/1/15 5:34 p.m.

I am taking the Mini on its first trip on Saturday. Should be about 200 miles!

Dusterbd13 UberDork
10/1/15 6:00 p.m.

Wife and I did 800 miles in three days about a month ago. In the 64 el Camino.

I strongly recommend doing a road trip in a classic car. It's a whole different frame of mind.

Gary Dork
10/1/15 6:37 p.m.

In reply to Dusterbd13:

Especially if it's a vehicle that you've had a personal hand in restoring or bringing back to life. That really validates your skills and commitment to the project. I really don't think there's any better personal satisfaction than that. (Well, maybe one other, but we won't discuss that here). Non-car people don't get it. But we sure do.

7/12/16 4:24 p.m.

I own a 78 911 Porsche that I restored 15 years ago including a complete dissambly of the engine. Every year I do a road trip from Atlanta to Hershey pa 1600 miles round trip. Prior to heading out i take a few days to check everything including the electric fuel pump and fuse connections. Also bring along tools necessary to disassemble just about any small item on the car short of engine removal. Spares include fuel pump, fuses, wire, short piece of fuel hose, clamps and some spare relays and bulbs. Only one time did i have an issue after my arrival in PA and had to do a fuel tank removal. Other then that never had an issue on the road. Doo carry towing insurance as a back up. Love doing the road trip and drupive the car whenever possible.

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