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6 of the Most Common Vintage Car Problems - and How to Fix Them

6 of the Most Common Vintage Car Problems - and How to Fix Them

Dec 3rd 2021

So you have acquired your first vintage car and are ready to restore it. Maybe you inherited it or maybe you have been searching for your dream car for months. Or maybe your antique car is the much coveted “barn find.” Perhaps you are only wondering what you might be getting into before you purchase a vehicle you have your eye on.

Luckily, knowing what to expect in terms of the repairs you will need to make during the restoration process can be straightforward for the majority of cars. Many classic cars share the same mechanical and cosmetic problems because of their age and manufacturing processes that were at use when they were made.

As you get started restoring a vintage car - or making a decision on a purchase - these are the main issues you should look for and be ready to repair.

1. Engine Problems

Because replacing the engine in a classic car can be one of the most expensive parts of a restoration, it is worth having the engine checked by a mechanic before you buy it if you can. But your vintage car may also develop engine problems after you have been driving it for a while.

With the many moving parts in a car engine, any lack of lubrication, rust, or mistiming can cause the engine, and all of these are common issues with old engines. The technology and materials were not always as durable as those in modern engines. They also were not made to last for decades. The popular Ford Flathead V8, for instance, was made to be affordable, not to be driveable 50 years later.

Often your first indicator of an engine problem will be a noise, and that can help you narrow down what is wrong:

  • Engine Knock
  • Piston Noises
  • Valve Noises
  • Rod Noises

You may be able to fix the problem with a part replacement once you determine the issue, or the engine may need to be disassembled entirely or replaced. Since this can be time consuming and costly, knowing about engine problems before you begin restoration can help you figure out if fixing the car will be worth it.

If you have the original engine, it could cause ongoing problems even when it drives well most of the time. Aging engines often go through oil fast. The decades of wear on original engines (or the decades of rust acquired in a barn) cause engines to burn oil and leak at the rear main seal and other vulnerable points. If your classic car is leaking or burning oil, it may be causing more wear and tear to the engine every time you drive it.

It is a good idea to check the oil level with the dipstick each time you drive a vintage car, and keep motor oil on hand to add as needed. For cars that do not seem to be burning or leaking oil, we also recommend checking out our guide to troubleshooting excessive oil consumption problems.

2. Overheating All the Time

Coolant systems in vintage cars were relatively simple and not always effective, particular in pre-WWII classic cars. These vintage radiators are not necessarily adapted to today’s driving and aging radiators often start to have faulty parts.

Many radiator problems can be fixed with a simple DIY solution such as:

  • Adding Coolant
  • Replacing a Clogged Hose
  • Replacing the Radiator Fan
  • Replacing the Fan Belt

A rusted or leaking radiator may need to be replaced altogether.

3. Brakes Not Working

Brakes wear out in vintage cars just like any other vehicle. Checking and replacing the brakes if needed, or having a mechanic do it for you, is one of the first steps you want to take before you drive the car to be sure you can safely stop. If you are purchasing the car and planning to drive it home, be sure you can check the brakes before you do.

You will also need to monitor your brakes with periodic inspections. Antique cars do not have warning lights to let you know when there is a problem with your brakes, so you will want to check them from time to time and perform any maintenance as needed to avoid emergency problems on the road.

4. Electrical Wiring Issues

Your electrical system can consist of a battery, starter, ignition coil, relays, and wiring, all to start the car and power lights, gauges, and accessories. With so many different parts, it is reasonable to expect that something will need to be replaced on a vintage car.

One thing to consider when replacing electrical components on a pre-1950s auto is to upgrade the wiring harness from 6-volts to 12-volts. With a conversion kit from Vintage Auto Garage, this is a relatively simple process. It also makes it easier to manage maintenance in the future and install 12-volt accessories that can make your car more comfortable for daily driving.

5. Wheel Damage or Bubbling

The condition of your car and any restoration work you do may mean that there are problems to be addressed with the wheels. Having the wheels aligned and balanced after restoration work helps make the car more comfortable to drive and limits wear on tires. If you are driving with a set of vintage style tires, extending the lifespan of your wheels can help you save money in the long term.

Ongoing wheel problems or swerving can also be the fault of the suspension system in older vehicles.

6. Paint Damage

Unless you like the as-is look for your car, you probably also want your car to look as good as it drives after you have taken care of any mechanical issues. But time, weather, and road conditions are not good for paint. Even on the best cared for vehicles, the paint will eventually oxidize and get scratched and chipped.

How much work you will need to do on your vehicle’s paint will depend on what condition it is already in. A car that has been well cared for may only need regular waxing and cleaning. When cleaning, remember to:

  • Never use harsh cleaners as they can take off the paint’s sheen.
  • Avoid dusting with a wet cloth since the dust will act like sandpaper on your finish and chrome.
  • Use a car wash soap with pH balance and a soft sponge to wash your car.
  • Do not park in the sun whenever possible.

Damaged paint is going to need a little more work. This includes any paint that has already oxidized, been damaged by rust, or has unattractive chips. For these cars, an exterior paint restoration is often your best option. It also gives you the opportunity to have a car that looks the same way it did when it was first purchased, or lets you transform your car into a one of a kind hot rod.

Most vintage car restorers elect to have paint work done by a professional who already has the tools and experience to do the best possible job. You may choose to work with someone who specializes in vintage cars, or another paint you trust.

Vintage Car Parts for Your Restoration Project

Whether your car runs already, sort of runs, or does not run at all, you need the highest quality parts to keep it on the road. Vintage Auto Garage

Beyond our extensive inventory of vintage car parts for Ford, Chevy, Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac, Willys, and more, we also have the knowledge to help you find the right parts for your project. Our team at Vintage Auto is enthusiastic about restoring cars and has completed many of their own projects.

If you are new to vintage cars, our step by step guides can help you with many standard fixes and our helpful staff can make sure you are getting the parts you need. For pros, our inventory has everything you need. Browse today and call us whenever you need assistance.

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