22 Essential Classic Car Maintenance Checks

Blog, Tips & Advice Guides

A man fixing his classic car.

Every classic car enthusiast knows that the secret to a successful driving season starts long before you hit the road.

Whether you’re taking your cherished classic for a Sunday drive or gearing up for a busy summer of shows, pre-season preparation is important.

There are several checks you may wish to do to ensure your classic car is compliant with modern safety standards and is mechanically safe.

We’ve pulled together a comprehensive checklist to get you on the road safely.

Basic visual inspection

Body and frame

Look for any signs of rust or damage. Use a flashlight to inspect undercarriage areas and wheel wells, where rust is likely to develop. Check for any structural damages that might have occurred during storage.


Windows and lights

Ensure all windows are free from cracks and the wipers are in good condition. Test all of your lights – headlights, taillights and turn signals – to make sure they are functioning properly and brightly. Check dashboard lights to ensure they function properly when the car starts and while running.

Tyre and brake inspection

Tyre pressure and tread

Use a tyre pressure gauge to ensure each tyre is inflated to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer. Check the tread depth using a tread depth gauge or the 20p test (if the outer band of the coin is obscured, your tread is above the legal limit).



Look at the brake pads through the spokes of the wheel to check for wear; they should not be worn down to less than 1/4 inch. Check the condition of brake lines and hoses for any signs of wear or leakage, which is critical for safety. Check the brake fluid level in the master cylinder and refill if below the lower mark.

Under the hood checks

Engine oil

Keep a close eye on your classic’s oil levels and quality. Regular checks ensure your engine stays well-lubricated for peak performance. Don’t forget timely oil changes to maintain that golden hue and protect your engine’s longevity. You could also feel the texture of the oil; grittiness indicates the presence of contaminants.


Coolant level

Regularly checking coolant levels and quality helps maintain engine temperature within safe limits. Inspect for wet spots around the radiator and hoses that might suggest a leak.


Belts and hoses

Check for wear and rot. Do this by squeezing the hoses with your fingers which should feel firm, and not overly soft. Replace any that shows signs of excessive wear.

Electrical systems and battery

Battery health

Ensure the battery is fully charged using a battery tester. Clean any corrosion from terminals and cable ends with a wire brush. For the truly vintage and historic models that have non-sealed, lead-acid batteries, check the battery water level and fill with distilled water if needs be. It’s worth nothing that many modern and classic cars use sealed batteries that do not require water to be added, so be sure to check which battery you have first.


Electrical system grounding

Poor grounding can cause various electrical failures, and ensuring all ground connections are clean and secure is vital.



Check the fuses in the fuse box to ensure they are not blown. Carry spare fuses that fit your car’s specifications, as old fuses can blow unexpectedly, especially under increased electrical loads.

Engine and exhaust system

Exhaust system inspection

Check for any leaks, rust, or damage. The condition of the exhaust system is crucial as it can affect the car’s performance and safety.


Engine performance check

While not something easily checked visually, a brief engine idle to listen for irregular noises or misfires can be beneficial. This can help catch issues like poor ignition timing or issues with fuel delivery systems typical in classic cars. You may want to consider taking your classic for a short drive (if possible) to check for any issues that may not be apparent during idle, before going on any longer drives.

Suspension, clutch and gearbox checks

Suspension and steering components

Inspect the condition of shock absorbers, springs, bushings, and ball joints. These components are critical for proper handling and safety, and they can wear out over time, especially in older classics.


Clutch and gearbox

It’s important to check the condition of the clutch and gearbox. Listen for any unusual noises or difficulties when shifting gears, which could indicate a need for adjustment or replacement.

Fluid levels and leaks

Transmission fluid

Similarly to how you’d check your engine oil level, check the transmission fluid by pulling out the dipstick and checking it’s at the right level.


Power steering and brake fluid

Check the levels in the respective reservoirs. They should be within the safe zones marked on the reservoirs. Top up if necessary, using the type of fluid specified in your car’s manual.


Differential and gearbox oils

This check is often overlooked, but is crucial for the proper functioning of the transmission system.

Interior and safety equipment

Seat belts

Safety first. Pull each belt out all the way and inspect for fraying, tears and elasticity. Test the buckle clicks in securely too.


Fire extinguisher

Ensure it is within the valid service period, is accessible and isn’t blocked by any items. Shale the extinguisher to prevent the powder from settling.

Legal requirements – insurance, road tax, MOTs and services


Be aware of when your classic car insurance is due for renewal. This is a good time to review the values of your vehicles, and with Heritage’s Free Agreed Value service you can lock in the insurance value of your classic(s).

Road tax

Ensure your vehicle road tax is up to date. Most people know that your vehicle is tax exempt once it’s older than 40 years old, but you must still declare your historic vehicle tax annually, or if your vehicle is off the road, then declaring it SORN is necessary.

MOTs and services

If your classic is over 40 years old, it doesn’t legally require an MOT or service, but it’s never a bad idea to get these done. This way, a professional can do the checks for you for peace of mind.

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