Those of us in harsher climates witness the same routine every year – around October (or April for our readers down under) all of the exciting cars disappear from the roads. Wintertime and road salt that accompanies it is one of the most dreaded motorists’ nightmares. Consequently, many lock up their classics until the following spring, giving up the fun of driving and start using a dull commuter instead. But this does not need to be the case, you can drive your classic all year round. Even during the days when you only get 4 hours of sunlight and the road workers are extremely generous with the salt. The following tips will help you avoid driving a boring passionless car through these cold months.
Accept the inevitability of rust
The harsh truth is that the only way of truly preserving a car is not driving it and keeping it in an air-conditioned garage. Using a car, in wintertime or not, will require regular maintenance and repairs, that is given. We believe that cars are meant to be driven and strongly recommend you to indulge in the experiences they can provide. But if you cannot bear the idea of your car contracting rust cancer and you would rather lock it up, it is probably better to get a less valuable classic you can afford to run through the winter. Even the best rust-proofing methods can only delay the brown metal-eating disease from setting in for years or even decades, but the rust will find its way in some climates.
There are plenty of affordable exciting classic cars around that will not break your heart and bank once you notice the first signs of rust. The choice is plentiful, including Fiat X1/9s, Volvo 1800s or air-cooled VWs we covered earlier. The latter are renowned for their performance in snow due to most of their mass being over the rear wheels. Of course, one can opt for a more contemporary car offering old-school thrills, such as Mazda MX-5 or VW Golf GTI. These young-timers offer reliability of a modern car while delivering amounts of excitement usually offered by classic automobiles.
Luckily for us, the rust prevention industry has made some serious progress in recent years, long gone are the days when waxing and rubberized underside coating were the only options. Now, one can opt for clear wrap, hard ceramic coat and various oil-based underside treatments. Current offerings are superb at withstanding the beating winter throw at your car, regardless if it is snow, ice, salt or grit.
If you decide to leave the task of winter-proofing to professionals, ceramic body coating is perhaps the best thing you can get. It forms a hard layer over your paint, chemically bonding to the clear coat. Well applied ceramic treatment is supposed to last for 5 years, with proper maintenance, such as regular wash and occasional inspection. Sadly, applying it is not exactly a DIY affair – poorly done ceramic coating is tricky to remove and it hardens quite quickly.
Clear wrap, on the other hand, offers protection to the most vulnerable areas of the car’s body. It is essentially a screen protector on your car – it prevents rust by protecting paint coat from scratches and chips. The treatment has been around for a while now and the more expensive films are self-healing when heated and resistant to yellowing from environmental impact. Once again, this job is usually done by professionals to ensure the wrap has no bubbles or wrinkles and fits perfectly.
If you are on a tighter budget or prefer working on your car yourself, waxing and regular washing is still your best bet. Wax would keep most of the salt away from your car as well as protect it from the sanding effect of road grit. Best thing of all, it is really easy to apply it yourself if you enjoy tinkering with your car.
All of the aforementioned measures will ensure your classic’s body will look clean on the outside but will not protect from rust in other areas. The underside of your car can be protected with a designated coating. For years, the most popular approach was spraying on a thick layer of rubberized compound on the underside of your car to make it endure the salty and gritty months. However, it is not advisable to use this method on older cars, as it tends to trap moisture and debris inside. If the underside of your car has not received a thorough cleaning, oily coat might be a better solution against corrosion. Admittedly, it does not last as long and has to be reapplied more often.
Last step you can take in this tedious war against road salt and moisture is injecting cavities of your car with anti-rust treatment. Mind you, it might require some drilling to access cavities inside the doors and sills of your vehicle and it’s advised to leave this job to a specialist shop.
Regular winter washes might seem futile when fighting all of the road grime that appears to cover the car immediately after each wash, but they are necessary as a preventative measure. By washing your car regularly, you ensure that the corrosion inducing a mix of water, snow and salt does not stay on your vehicle for too long. Even the most advanced rust-prevention coating will only be effective in concert with regular washes. Make sure your car wash of choice covers the underside of your car as well to access all of the hidden grime and salt.
So far, all of the tips have been centred on fighting off the arch-nemesis that is rust. But there is more that goes into driving your car every day through the winter. Generally, there should not be much of an issue doing so in a well maintained classic. After all, these cars have been driven through all sorts of conditions when they were new and there is no reason why they should not be able to do it nowadays.
It goes without saying that you must take care of the usual stuff, including winter washing fluid and coolant with low freezing point. Useful winter motoring accessories also include window scrapers and lock de-icers. It is wise to ensure your battery is in tip-top condition so it starts your car every morning. This is especially relevant for cars that have dynamos instead of alternators as they do not produce as much current. Consequently, you might need to go for long drives to recharge your battery properly if your commute is especially short.
While body protection is important, traction and visibility should not be neglected. All of the rust-proofing in the world will be worthless if you are going to crash your car, thus it makes perfect sense to ensure proper grip and visibility during the cold season. Luckily, tire technology has evolved massively in recent decades, increasing your chances to stay out of trouble. As long as your car does not need some obscure size of tires, getting quality winter tires is an easy way to improve your classic’s handling and safety. Good visibility is crucial during long winter nights as well. Many old cars come with standard sealed beam headlights, as seen on all US-market pre-1984 cars as well as the original VW Beetles, BMW 2002s and many others. They were handy, as it was easy to get replacements for them but performed their main function of light emission rather poorly. Luckily, since these headlights are standardized, it is easy to get modern aftermarket replacements. They can be upgraded to much brighter H4 units, popular choices include those manufactured by Hella or Cibie. This can easily be the best restomod you will do to your car. If there are no modern aftermarket lighting options for your car, it is still important to keep your headlights clean for maximum efficiency.
If you have a hard time parting with your classic for winter months or modern cars just don’t do it for you, there are ways to tackle the issue. Modern technologies are now capable of providing rust protection that is second to none, as well as offering other means to make your winter driving easier. Just imagine cleaning snow off to uncover the exciting lines of your car rather than coming to a boring commuter every morning!
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