Hibernating Classics

As much of our Northern Hemisphere thaws out after an epic winter, our longer days have us looking forward to getting the classic cars out of the garage.  To protect our investment and enhance our enjoyment of classic Minis, there are some maintenance items that should not be overlooked just because the cars "hibernate" for months at a time. There are some steps you can take as preventive measures, and some parts you might need if you didn't.  

Fuel System

Let's face it, modern gasoline is NOT made the way your engine wants it!  It is formulated to minimize its adverse effect on catalytic converters, and to placate the ethanol lobbyists who successfully passed laws forcing the industry to consume human food to make fuel additives.  The fact is, gasoline left in your carburetor and in rubber fuel hoses, and in the mostly 'vented' fuel tanks of classic cars can "go bad" in just a few weeks!  Anyone who's been around old cars knows that "old gas" smell.... and that it acts like old paint thinner and your engine simply will not run!  In addition, ethanol is very bad for rubber components... hoses and fuel pumps.

What can you do?  If possible, run the car out of gas... or at least empty the carbs. by disconnecting your fuel pump and run till it stalls.  This will keep your carburetors from gumming up over the winter, and will preserve your fuel pump and hoses.  Add a fuel preservative like "Stabil" to the fuel tank if it has gas left in it.  Bad fuel is the single biggest reason that cars "ran when parked" but won't now!  

Here are some fix-it parts to get rid of that bad gas smell:

To service most Mini carburetors:

Common Fuel Pumps:

Brake System

Most people probably don't realize that just about all brake master cylinders (not just Minis!) have 'vented' caps. This allows the brake fluid level to fluctuate without creating vacuum or pressure as the reservoir is able to 'breath'. Unfortunately, such breathing introduces moisture from the air into the brake fluid, eventually forming actual water droplets that hide in places like proportioning valves, brake calipers, and wheel cylinders.  Hard use of brakes "boils" this water from the extreme pressure, introducing bubbles and a 'spongy' pedal, but worse is that rust contaminates and muddies the brake fluid and begins to pit critical surfaces inside the master cylinder,  disk brake calipers, and wheel cylinders, made of cast iron for the most part.  

To minimize the chance of your brake system rusting from the inside, there are a few things you can do.... and not just when storing the car!  Always keep your brake fluid level topped up to minimize the air volume, and the resulting 'breathing' as the temperature and humidity fluctuate over the course of a single day, let alone a northern winter. Keep an eye on your brake fluid color for 'darkening' which indicates contamination and usually rust.  Many sources recommend changing brake fluid every two years, but use your judgement and look at the condition and color of the fluid.  A cold humid region will adversely affect brake fluid much worse that a warm and dry area.

Some considerations for storage... besides topping off the fluid, avoid setting the parking brake to prevent the brake shoes from sticking to the drums, particularly in humid areas.  Consider using some of the wheel dollies that prevent tire flat spots and make the car easy to move around.  Roll the car a foot or two every few weeks and look for brake fluid on the backing plates or the tire sidewalls. Make sure to use the latest spec brake fluid appropriate for your car, because we've all heard how rubber parts "aren't what they used to be" and wheel cylinders seem to spontaneously leak at an alarming rate in recent years.

If you do find mud in your master cylinder, or a leak running down your backing plate, or your brake pedal is seized or goes right to the floor in the springtime, here are some bits you might need:


To be continued...

Do you have suggestions? Questions? Chime in below.