Owners of vintage or modern classic cars may want or need to drive their four-wheeled cultural treasure in the winter season. This need not be a problem, provided the vehicle has been prepared appropriately and its driver observes a few important points. The experts at TÜV SÜD ClassiC list what to watch out for.
Driving a classic or modern classic car in ice and snow need not be a problem if the right preparations have been made to the vehicle beforehand. Cars built in the past 50 to 60 years were always fit for driving in winter from the outset, so the only reason to keep them out of the cold is the idea of protecting and preserving them. But what happens if that beloved 1960s Beetle is the only car you have? Or if a motorbike fan has bought a modern classic car especially for the winter season when a motorbike is no longer practical? In these cases, the vintage vehicles have to show that they can handle cold and bad weather as easily as they did in their youth.
Equipment: In principle, the requirements for preparing an older car for the winter season differ little from those for more recent models. An ice scraper, snow broom, plenty of anti-freeze in the windscreen washer system and, of course, the right tyres all go without saying. In addition to the usual winter accessories, door lock de-icers are also recommended; after all, older cars still have ‘real’ locks instead of today's remote-controlled central locking systems.
Lubrication: Classic car engines are often still designed to take different types of oil in summer and winter. In this case, the changeover to the right lubrication must be completed before the first cold snap sets in. But choosing and buying winter oils can be a difficult task. “Monograde winter oils like SAE 10 are becoming hard to find”, warns Matthias Gerst, classic car expert at TÜV SÜD ClassiC. The SAE 30 monograde oil is still readily available, but its viscosity is far too high for winter use. The experts recommend consulting the car manual, which lists the approved oil types. “The oil must have the letter W in the type designation”, explains Gerst, listing 20W20 or 20W50 as examples. Modern multigrade oils like 5W30 are often too thin for older engines, and synthetic oils may actually damage gaskets in very old systems. Although modern classic cars present fewer problems in this respect as they were designed for multigrade oils, even here care must be taken in choosing lubrication. “Merely picking the right level of viscosity, such as 10W-30, is not enough. Additional designations such as A3 or B5 are also extremely important”, notes the TÜV SÜD expert. In simple terms, these designations provide information about the behaviour of the lubricating film. A3 is usually necessary for older petrol engines, and B3 or B4 for diesel cars. The wrong type can cause pistons to seize up!
Seal care: The older the car, the higher the risk that rubber seals will freeze – but this can be minimised by using the correct care in good time. Talcum powder applied in dry weather is an effective method. Accessory stores offer special care agents based on PTFE (polytetrafluorethylene), better known under trade names such as Teflon®. “It is important to keep the contact areas of door and bodywork seals clean. Dirt attracts moisture, which then freezes”, warns TÜV SÜD`s Matthias Gerst.
Rinsing: Corrosion protection has improved by leaps and bounds in the past decades – but today's road de-icing salts have also become harsher. Hardly ideal preconditions for using classic and modern classic cars in the winter, then. “Underbody and cavity seals must be in good order to prevent extensive rust problems”, advises the TÜV SÜD expert. In addition, regular thorough washes are even more important for classic cars than for their modern-day equivalents. Cleaning road salt from the underbody is particularly recommended. Don't scrimp on the car wash programme! Drying after a car wash prevents parts from freezing and reduces the danger of rust formation. Ensure that the car is properly waterproof before putting it through a car wash – otherwise careful hand washing is required. Especial caution should be exercised with convertibles.
Checking: However uninviting the process of checking oil and other engine fluids may seem to be in the cold, ice and snow, older cars require these checks frequently. Coolant levels are particularly important in vehicles with cooling systems that lack a reservoir. Never use pure water to top up coolant levels! The right admixture of anti-freeze, in a brand recommended by the vehicle manufacturer, is essential.
Charging: Modern classic cars often have fewer problems with batteries and on-board electronics than today's power-guzzling new vehicles. However, the situation is different for historic cars that only have a weak DC generator as a dynamo. These systems were built in an era where lights were used far less in driving and where idling in city traffic accounted for a far lower percentage of travel. In today's road conditions, classic car owners should recharge the battery every one to two months. Modern smart chargers that automatically switch off when the battery is fully charged are the best choice.
Drying: Heating systems have not always been as effective as they are today. Classic cars generally lack heat channels to the rear seats, and the upholstery does not dry out as quickly from the moisture that automatically accumulates in the interior – particularly on short trips. To counteract this problem, TÜV SÜD recommends taking the time to make regular long trips; allow the car to dry out in fine weather, opening the windows and removing foot mats to expose the floor underneath where possible.