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Vol. 4, No. 9
November 26, 2008

Driving Your Classic Car During Winter
by Automotive Mileposts Staff

Image: MILEPOSTS Garage

Classic cars were designed and built to be driven regularly. When they aren't, strange gremlins can appear seemingly out of nowhere to cause problems. Seals in the engine, transmission, and elsewhere can dry out, crack, and cause leaks. Components that worked just fine when the car was last driven become mysteriously non-functional. And sometimes unwanted visitors, seeking shelter or a home for the winter, can chew on electrical wiring or upholstery causing serious damage. One of the best ways to minimize the possibility of these things happening is to drive your classic car regularly, even during the winter months if you are fortunate enough to live in a part of the country where the weather isn't harsh from early October to late April.

It's impossible for many to drive their cars for several months of the year due to severe weather, the use of salt on the roads, etc., and in that case it's best to prepare the car for storage and keep an eye on it frequently to make sure everything is OK. But there are many areas where the weather may be cold, but that alone isn't a reason to not drive your classic. You should keep it off of slick and salted streets, because salt is not your car's friend and it's not worth taking the chance during bad weather, when so many drivers seem to have a lot of trouble keeping their cars in control, but on clear, cold days, when the roads are free of salt, you really should consider driving your classic car. Think of it as a brief period of light in an otherwise dark and gray season.

One of the best reasons for driving old cars once a month or so is to maintain a film of protective motor oil on internal engine surfaces. This film prevents oxidation and corrosion of internal engine parts by keeping air and corrosive agents away from them. If air can't reach the metal, it's protected. But after sitting for many weeks, this film no longer protects your engine, and damage can occur. So, starting the engine regularly helps to keep it in good shape. But, there's a catch. You must run the engine long enough for it to completely warm up to normal operating temperature, and then add about 20-30 minutes to that to allow time for it to burn off all the bad junk circulating in the oil.

One of the worst things you can do to a car is to drive it for just a few minutes at a time, without allowing it the opportunity to fully warm up. This type of operation encourages sludge buildup in the engine, and that is not a good thing. By making sure the engine is run long enough to fully circulate all the oil and burn off all the condensation caused by a cold engine when it's first started, you will save yourself many headaches and much expense down the road.

So, when you do plan on driving your classic, know that a few trips around the block at slow speeds won't cut it. Be easy on it when you first start it, but most cars don't require a long warm up period, and don't benefit from it either. Just start off nice and slow, no fast starts or stops, and allow the engine, transmission, and rear axle time to warm up. Remember, your rear axle has lubricant in it, and it's cold as well. After about 10-15 minutes, when your heater is producing lots of warm air, you can bump up the speed a little bit. Take it out on the highway after it's up to normal temperature and drive it a few miles. When you're certain it's fully warm, and when/if it's safe to do so, give it a little gas and blow out the cobwebs, as they say. (Be sure to not exceed posted speed don't want any tickets!)

Now that it's had a little exercise, you can store it away again for a few weeks, until the next opportunity presents itself for a drive. If you'll do this several times during the winter months, you may just discover that your classic car is ready to go when the cold winds of winter move to the north and the warmer breezes of spring give you spring fever, and increase your desire to get your classic out and enjoy the nice weather. You'll know that it hasn't been visited by unwelcome guests during the winter, and you might be surprised to find that some of those strange gremlins that have popped up in the past after long periods of storage disappear.

These cars were intended to be driven, and no one ever expected them to last as long as they have. Make sure the road ahead for you and your classic car is as trouble free as possible, by keeping up with recommended maintenance, and not being a neglectful owner. In short, drive it whenever you can! Life is too short to let your classic car sit for months at a time, and a drive will do wonders for both you and your car.

For information on maintenance and storage of classic cars, consult our Vintage and Classic Car Care page.

If you have advice, tips, technical ability, or just know a secret or two about old cars, and you'd like to contribute, click here and tell us about it. We'll help you write it, and give you the credit for it! It's the perfect way to help out your fellow enthusiasts in the old car hobby.
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