Road trips in old cars require tools, parts and planning

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four-part series we’ll be releasing in June to get you ready to take a road trip in your collectible vehicle.

Driving an old classic car on a long road trip is always a roll of the dice. No matter how well you take care of your classic and stay ahead of repairs and replacements, you know that anything can go wrong at any time, usually in the most remote location possible. It is, after all, an old car.

Broken fan belts, blown hoses, fried ignition points, dead batteries, these are some of the most common things that can go wrong. But really, you have to be ready for anything.

Twice on an all-terrain rally in which I participated, cars were shot down by fuel pump failures. Both were Corvettes, coincidentally, and both were restored and well prepared for the trip. Neither had a spare fuel pump or rebuild kit on board, and no failures occurred near an auto parts store.

Essential Replacement Fan Belts & Ignition Parts | Bob Golfen

I was driving my old Porsche 356 one day when the shift linkage decided to come loose causing me to pull over to the side of the road and shove my way through a repair. Coincidentally, I had with me the two 14 mm open-end wrenches that I needed for the repair. So I was able to drive home.

Another time part of the throttle linkage under the car broke at a connecting link. The repair was done by wrapping it with duct tape which I kept in the trunk. I drove home.

The lesson here is to be prepared with at least a rudimentary tool kit at all times, even while driving locally. But when you go on a longer trek of hundreds or even thousands of miles, you need to be mechanically self-sufficient with enough tools, spare parts, and other handy items to make simple repairs and get back on your way.

road trips, Happy trails: road trips in old cars require tools, parts and planning, ClassicCars.com Journal
The first coast-to-coast road trip on record was undertaken in a 1903 Winton and lasted 63 days

There are limits to what you can carry; your tool kit and spares should take up as little room as possible so you can also pack your toothbrush and spare underwear.

Obviously, there are major mechanical failures that cannot be repaired on the road, even if you had the parts. But you shouldn’t let a minor problem ruin your trip just because you weren’t prepared.

What’s most important is what you do before you leave home. You need to make sure every part of your car is up to snuff, from the battery to the gearbox. Examine everything carefully and if you have any doubts about anything, correct it before you leave.

Check belts and hoses carefully for signs of tension, age or wear, and replace them if you have any concerns. Cheap and easy. If they are more than a few years old, you might as well change them.

Are the tires getting old? Replace them. Starter acting up? Replace it. Does the front loosen or rattle? Get it fixed before you hit the road. And that water pump? Brakes are a big deal, so make sure everything is in order, especially checking that all hoses are in good condition, not bulging or oozing.

Check that all fluids are topped up and the tire pressure is correct – don’t forget to check the spare wheel. Make sure your jack is in good working order and that you have the correct pin wrench.

Once you feel like your classic car (or truck) is ready to go, here are the items to pack just in case. Now, that would be my personal gear list, so you might want to add or subtract a few.

My toolkit would include:

• Wrenches in sizes suitable for most car components. Duplicates don’t hurt (see shift linkage repair above). Also a small adjustable wrench just in case.

• Various pliers, such as slip joint, needle nose and channel lock pliers.

• A small ratchet, probably a quarter inch, and various sockets and extensions. Also get a socket tool with a screwdriver handle.

• Screwdrivers, four or five of different types (slotted and Phillips) and sizes.

• A roll of electrical wire and wire cutters. Also crimp connectors and electrical tape. Have a 20-25 inch piece of wire with alligator clips or an end to bypass shorts and such.

• A good wire cutter/stripper/crimping tool.

• A portable electronic test gauge.

• Scotch tape.

• Zip ties.

• Some bailer wire and maybe a piece of wire coat hanger for emergency stabilization of things like a loose exhaust pipe.

• Tire pressure gauge. Also, one of those tire inflator and sealant boxes that works with minor punctures.

• A Swiss army knife or a Leatherman tool.

• Work gloves, hand cleaner and shop towels.

• A small first aid kit.

You can probably fit all of this in a reasonably sized tool bag. Maybe two. Keep it flexible for easier packing.

The spare parts you need to bring include:

• Ignition parts including points, condenser, distributor cap, rotor and spark plugs, maybe not a complete set but one or two. Maybe a spare ignition coil if you have the space and the inclination. If your car is from the 80s or newer, you would have electronic ignition, which usually does not deteriorate and you won’t need any of that.

• Fan belts, one correctly sized spare for each if you have more than one.

• Radiator hoses and clamps, because even if you’ve checked them, you never know.

• A few lengths of properly sized vacuum hoses and a few feet of fuel line.

• A spare fuel pump or rebuild kit. If possible, you can bring a small electric fuel pump that you can hook up online, if needed.

• Fuses and spare bulbs.

• Battery jump leads. You can also get one of these portable rechargeable jump starters, which work well in most circumstances.

• A bag of extra nuts and bolts.

• A few spare wheel nuts in case one falls into a ditch while you are changing a tire.

• Any other parts that may be problematic on your specific vehicle.

Other items:

• Fire extinguisher. Keep it inside your vehicle within easy reach.

• Flares or reflective triangles for roadside repairs. You could get one of those reflective work vests to make yourself more visible.

• A few quarts of engine oil and one quart of gear oil or automatic transmission fluid, with a means to get it into the transmission.

• A towing strap. Check under your car to determine where you could attach it instead of fumbling around when you actually need a tow.

• One gallon container of water.

Oh, and one more thing: a spare ignition key.

Some items I missed? Add them in our comments section.

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