Tips On How To Stay Sane While Managing Your Classic Vehicle Collection
It can be incredibly difficult managing a multitude of vintage motorabilia. With eight classic rides and three modern daily drivers to maintain, one spends a copious amount of time lingering near lunacy. Something seems to always be breaking, maintenance intervals come due, wait times for parts, special tools, corrosion, a gremlin is always waiting to leave me in the lurch.
Now folks in fairer fortunes do not seem to sweat these things too much. They have people on staff to handle any variances from the fleet. Then there are penurious people such as myself who have only their cunning to protect them. My two hands and my tiny workshop are all that keeps our rides on the road. I have seen the edge of mental stability and soared off of it. Luckily I have found my way back and wish to share the knowledge. The following are a few ways that I manage my state of mind and my flotilla.
- Get The Factory Service Manual
This one does not really need much explaining. I do not recommend buying new unless you want to put those grease stains on the book yourself. Try to get them used for a couple bucks. If you are super cheap, many of the Specialists Forums have service manuals posted for free download.
- Join The Specialists Forums
There is an online specialists forum for almost any vehicle out there. They are an online chatroom where owners share their experiences with one particular vehicle. Many could tell you what every noise is and have all the factory part numbers memorized. Most are extremely helpful and ready to help with any questions. The forums are also a great place to share ideas and search for inspiration.
-Keep A Maintenance Parts List
It can be difficult to remember what oil your vehicle needs, the oil filter number, and when the last oil change was for one vehicle. Multiply that by 11 and the next thing you know, you are punching in 3422 (Bosch oil filter number for an MG Midget) at the checkout instead of you PIN number. Thankfully, some online retailers offer a way to save items needed to tackle the easy routine maintenance. I can make a list for each vehicle and save the products I need. When it comes time to change the oil in my Beetle, I go to my list and make the purchase. In two days, a box arrives on my steps packed with 15w-40 oil, a WIX 51010, and a set of valve cover gaskets. No running around to parts stores, no trying to explain to the person behind the counter what an MG is, no getting frustrated when the items are not in stock, no parts clerks playing keyboard mechanic. It is great and keeps me from jumping over the counter and beating someone with a Haynes manual again.
- Increase Routine Service Intervals
Changing oil and filters every 3,000 miles/ 3 months worked great half a century ago when oil had a single weight and filters were made from screen doors. However, modern advancements in the motoring world are leaps and bounds ahead of what Chevrolet did in 1961. By switching to full synthetic lubricants and high quality filtration, I have been able to have annual service intervals. I even had the safety of an annual service confirmed by sending oil samples out to Blackstone Laboratories. They will send you a test kit and analyse the oil for $28 USD. Even after a year, the oils still have a lot of life left in them. However, across the fleet, we are not adding a ton of miles. I think my daily driver only hits 7,000 annually. Many manufacturers today have oil change intervals above 7,500 miles. So for many, an annual oil change is feasible. Each service runs about $30 dollars and take me all of 30 minutes. This saves me a lot of time and money.
- Frequent Inspections
Now that I no longer do 132 oil changes a year, I have a little more free time. With this, I plan for any unexpected repairs. To keep on top of them, I inspect the vehicles on a regular basis. It takes less than an hour on each one. I get everything up on jack stands and give the whole ride a once over. I can usually catch an issue well before it becomes catastrophic. This way, I can get the needed parts ordered and set the time aside to complete the repairs before something decides to fail at the most inopportune time.
- Buy Once, Cry Once
Buying the cheapest part is often the most expensive. Yea, the $60 wheel hub with a one year warranty is cheaper than the $100 wheel hub with a 3 year warranty. It is not cheaper when the wheel studs sheer and the hub bearing starts grumbling when you are 800 miles from home. When you have to buy the tools to get the job done in the parking lot and you miss the pre-paid kayak trip to fix things, one ends up paying twice as much as the more expensive part. Now, expensive does not always mean better. I will always buy the cheaper part if it comes from a reputable manufacturer with great product support. Just be sure to do the homework and know you are getting a solid part.
- While You Are In There
If there is a job to be done that requires a lot of disassembly, it would do well to inspect other wear items that might be near by. For example, while replacing the the axles on our Subaru, I went ahead and replaced the ball joints while I had the steering knuckle off. Or, While doing brakes on the Corvair, I had to pull the rear axles and the front hubs to replace the wheel cylinders. While everything was apart, I repacked the hub bearings with fresh synthetic grease and replaced the universal joints on the rear axles. Tackling these items when you already have them apart will save you from future headaches and give you piece of mind.
Much to Whitney's dismay, I hoard parts. Mostly because I am not as organized as I could be. But it always comes in handy when you can go to the shelf and have the part you need. If you have the space, it is a good idea to have some hard to find parts handy. Snatch them up when you find them. It is also good to keep a few spares in the car so you wont be left stranded. An extra mechanical fuel pump in the trunk is great when the original pump quits in the hardware store parking lot. You just pop in the spare and save yourself the cost of a tow. Just be sure to have a good storage plan to keep the significant other appeased.
I try to accomplish one goal on a vehicle at a time. Sometimes it can be daunting when more than one ride seeks your attention. It would seem as though things will never get done when you are thinking about them all at once. When the focus is on a single task, it is easier to keep moving forward. As I write, the Yamaha needs the fuel petcock rebuilt, The Super Cub needs new front shocks, the Beetle needs the new wheels and tires installed, the Corvair needs the master cylinder rebuilt (because I did not do it while I was in there), the MX-5 needs rust repaired in the rear lower quarter panels, and my two long term projects the Dune Buggy and the BSA Lighting need more work than I can list. Scheduling one task at a time and seeing it to completion allows you to see progress being made and the job go much quicker.
- Stay Away From The Parts Stores
I hate going to the friendly local auto parts stores (FLAPS). All of my vehicles are quite obscure in my area and the stores rarely carry any parts in stock. The clerks act like they know more than you but ask why the Beetle has the steering wheel on the left side. The computer system always makes the clerks ask questions that do not matter. Why does it matter if the Subaru is an L.L. Bean edition to know what wiper blade is needed? My grievances with parts stores are many. If you are knowledgeable about your conveyances and their parts are few and far between, best to just order online and save yourself the trouble of putting on slacks and conversing with dullards.
- Have A Shop Buddy
I usually do a lot of my repairs in solitude. That way, when I make a mistake, there is no one to witness my self flagellation. But other times, it is good to have a helping hand or just someone to chat with. My protege Matthew tends to lurk when he has time off. Most of the time, one of my dogs is eager to be in the shop and hang about. It is fun to talk to them and take them on the test drives. I have also trained them to summon the neighbors should one of the cars fall on me.
As one can see, it is a lot of time and effort going into a fleet of vintage vehicles. I hope these tips are of some assistance. It can be a heavy work load at times. So only jump in if you relish in mechanical tediousness. For me, the work quiets my mind and keeps my nose clean.
In the end, I do it all for that sunny, weekend afternoon drive out into the countryside where all the stress and anxiety of the world disappear. The cool breeze blowing by as the sunlight glistens off the chrome bits. Just the empty road and the clatter of the engine as you rev through the turns.