While you’re always going to have to bring in the automotive professionals for some jobs, there’s a real joy in doing the basics of the car-maintenance yourself, says TV presenter and classic car expert, Paul Cowland. He’s provided some fantastic advice for Draper Tools in this guest blog below, read on to find out more.
Lockdown has been a funny year for many of us. Life has changed in a multitude of ways during that time, but on many fronts it’s helped us to realise what’s truly important. Time spent with family and friends, the simple joy of a state-sanctioned walk, or even just the sheer elation of sitting in the pub for a quiet pint. It’s amazing what really matters when you stop and think about it – or, indeed, are made to!
For me, it’s also given me a little more time in the workshop. During the early stages of the first lockdown, filming and travel were cancelled, many of the specialists that I usually turn to had temporarily shut their doors, and the service jobs on the many classics were piling up. So what did I do? Well, I dusted off my old Haynes manuals, cracked open my Draper tools, and had a go myself!
I’m fortunate enough to work alongside some of the best technicians in the automotive restoration world. Engineers and artisans who are immeasurably more skilled and talented than I am, and don’t get me wrong, if we’re talking about creating a screen-friendly, show-stopping leather interior, or even that mile-deep flawless paint job, I’m probably not the guy you want. As for the state of my welding… ‘adequate and functional’ have been two of the kinder descriptions I’ve received. But, if it comes to an oil change, swapping a set of discs and pads, or even something more exciting like uprating a set of dampers, you’d be surprised how it all comes flooding back to you, even after a few years of not keeping your hand in.
When I bought my first car, of course, I did everything myself. This was simply down to budget, rather than choice. As a fearless youth, I’d try anything! Engine swap on a Beetle? Done by Teatime! Suspension change on an old Saab 99? Done outside my first terraced house in the rain by Sunday night, so I could drive to work the next morning. In those days, all I needed was a manual to show me the way, several cups of tea, and if I was lucky, an able mate to help me with the odd bit of lifting and shifting. Back in that rose-tinted past it seemed that, with a decent socket set and a few inexpensive hand tools, literally anything was possible.
But, you know what lockdown taught me? It very much still is…
What started as a task of necessity soon turned into hours of joyful pottering. When you’re not in a rush to get your classic ready for work the next day, there’s a huge amount of satisfaction (and not a small amount of mental therapy) to be had by just fixing little things on your car. Whether it’s a full service, or just attending to minor maladies, there’s something very special about fixing a problem yourself. Taking something that either doesn’t work, or isn’t doing what it should – and making it function exactly as the factory intended is immensely rewarding.
Even if you’re not the next Edd China, it’s easy enough to find out what to do. Thanks to Facebook groups and YouTube, there aren’t really any tasks that aren’t shown somewhere as a ‘how-to’, outlining not only the tools you’ll need, but a step-by-step on how to get it all done. Start with small and simple jobs to build your confidence, and work up slowly until you find your feet. Every little task you perform won’t just save you money and de-stress your brain, but it’ll also help you to bond with your car. So maybe, if you’ve packed a few service essentials and a little car tool kit for your next voyage, this new level of understanding and mechanical sympathy might just mean that the talented soul that gets you on your way to your chosen destination is YOU, rather than having to wait in the rain for the breakdown service to arrive.
Learning how to fix at least the basics of your own car scores on so many levels. If you have kids, and they show even the slightest inkling of interest, get them in the garage, too! I lost count of the numbers of hours I spent in the workshop with my Dad, as a kid, learning essentials like adjusting valve clearances or how to clean and gap a plug. The tools you need to do these jobs won’t break the bank, and when you look at what you can save off your next service – and for years and years afterwards, that investment in quality equipment will pay you back a hundred times over.
The only downside is, one you’ve unlocked these new-found talents – all of your mates are going to want you to fix their cars, too. Should keep you in free drinks for a while, at least…
Draper’s top classic car tips & tools
- It’s tempting to keep a pristine classic inside all year long – but lack of activity can lead to faults too, so take it out for a few regular rides (weather and government restrictions permitting of course). Doing this will help you ensure everything’s working as it should.
- Have a quality set of tools handy to help you perform regular health checks such as tyre pressure, lighting, engine oil, battery, brake fluid and windscreen wipers. We recommend our brand new 127 Mechanics Tool Kit or the 1/2″ Sq. Dr. Combined MM/AF Socket Set – these are sure to see you through plenty of jobs.
- Don’t leave the handbrake on if you’re storing for long periods of time, use chocks instead to protect your brakes.
- For sports cars and other classics with reduced clearance height, invest in a low entry profile trolley jack. The Draper Expert Professional Garage Trolley Jacks (2 Tonne) is ideal for the job, requiring just 72mm clearance.
- Keep it clean! Give your classic a regular hand wash and wax, don’t forget about the interior too. Try the125mm Dual Action Polisher Kit for the exterior and check out the Draper 600W Hand-Held Vacuum Cleaner to keep your interior free from and dust or debris.