Spring Check-up

By Gary Anderson

Originally published in the Austin-Healey Magazine, May 1990


Invariably, the first long spring tour of the Healeying season will see at least one brute parked beside the road about midway through the event. What will it be this time? Dead battery? Electrical system short? Blown radiator hose?


Whatever it is, you may curse Lucas and all the minor gods of British motoring, but you may have only yourself to blame. Typically, these problems—which often tie up the time of several drivers—are due not to the vagaries of British engineering but instead to the owner. You've seen them: maybe you've even been there. With only minutes to spare before the trip, they pull off the cover, get it started maybe even with a jump start or push, and then drive it off to the tour. They give nary a thought to the possibility that the car had, as we say in the West, been ridden hard and put up wet last fall, and then has sat there all winter with no attention.


We won't say anything about that oil change that should have been done after the last drive last fall, or the battery that should have been stored out of the car. or the gas tank that should have been filled to prevent moisture from gathering in the fuel system. Let's just get on with what you should do now that the sun is shining and the warm breeze blowing. This check list, supplied by Bruce and Inan Phillips of Healey Surgeons, makes good sense. Do it the weekend before you leave on your first outing.


Change the engine, transmission, and rear axle oil and the oil filter. The engine takes 7 quarts of 20-50 oil and the transmission another 3-4 quarts. The Phillips suggest 40 weight non-detergent oil for the transmission; other mechanics say the same case of oil you bought for the engine will be fine. The rear axle takes 2 quarts of 90 weight hypoid gear oil. This is a job you can do yourself and will fit in with the remaining items on the list, but if you don't have the space, or the means to properly dispose of your used oil, one of the commercial oil changers will probably do the job effectively if you look over their shoulders and show them things like where the transmission oil filler is and where all the drain plugs are.


Lubricate the car, making sure to get all the fittings listed in your manual—especially the universal joints. This job is also within even the sub-average mechanic's capability. A grease gun and a flexible hose can be purchased for less than ten dollars at any parts store and then all you have to do is match the fittings up with the diagram in the owner's manual.


Clean/check wheels and hubs. Check for loose or broken spokes and check the condition of the hub and splines (sharp points on the spline teeth or a clunk when starting to move off are dead giveaways). Or would you rather be singing "You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel?"


When putting the wheels back on, be sure the knock-offs are tightly knocked-on. Check the kingpins, ball-joints of center and side rods for slop while you have the car up on jacks.


Check tire tread and pressure. Tread depth, bald spots, and so forth could put a serious crimp in your cornering pleasure when you get a blowout and, as much fun as they are in the parking lot contests, wheel change pit stops are not fun when semis are breezing past your ear at 80 mph. As for tire pressure, two pounds lighter in the front than in the rear will help steering while the firmer tires will give you better gas mileage. (26 front/28 rear or 28 front/ 30 rear are good.)


Tighten all four shocks, especially the front ones. What you thought was a major suspension rebuild, or just poor British handling, might just be the want of a spanner and some elbow action.


Top off oil in the steering and idler boxes and in the carburetors. The steering and idler takes the90 weight gear oil. The carbs take regular engine oil.


Inspect brake and clutch hydraulics for leaks. Friends tell me it is somewhat disconcerting to have your brake pedal disappear into the floor with no discernible retardation of forward movement of your vehicle, or to have to drive the remaining miles home in whatever gear the car was in when the clutch refused to release.


Check condition of hoses, fan belt, and coolant. This is critical—our cars all run hot and many of us are driving with belts and hoses that haven't been replaced since Eisenhower was president. Replace them if there is any question in your mind. If you think it is difficult to find the correct lower radiator hose or fan belt at your local parts supplier, try doing it at an interstate highway gas station and convenience store. Check both the condition and tension of the fan belt and the retaining bolts on the generator; these bolts can work loose, and a loose belt can easily become a lost belt.


This little bit of effort can be accomplished in an afternoon and still leave time for a beer and most of the ballgame. And, as we mentioned in our recent "Fear of Driving" column, you may never know what you avoided by catching a problem early, but we guarantee, you will drive happier and more confidently knowing that you've checked the car out before you drove off down the road.


Not what you were looking for? Don't forget you can check our back issues using the AHCUSA Magazine Index.

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