Preventive Maintenance Is Better Than a Cure

Most classic car owners cover relatively few miles in their cars both because they are owned as hobby cars but also because they are generally covered by limited mileage insurance policies. Mileage could be anywhere from a few hundred to about 3,000 miles per year. If a problem starts to manifest itself, the owner usually gets plenty of notice and has plenty of time to fix the problem. And unless they have a specific classic run or rally planned then there is no urgency.

Renting out a fleet of classic cars brings us a set of different problems. Firstly the mileage is much higher. Some of our cars will cover 10,000 miles per year and 6,000 to 8,000 is quite normal. This means that problems that may creep up on the average classic car owner fairly slowly appear a bit quicker on our fleet of classic cars. Add to that fact that by the nature of our business, we have cars hired out on definite dates, we have developed a culture aimed at avoiding problems rather than waiting for them to happen and then fixing them.

When we add a new car to our fleet we give it a thorough service including replacing all hoses, whether they need it or not, replacing the flexible brakes hoses with Aeroquip ones which do not degrade, and fitting electronic ignition to avoid the slow degradation that happens with good old contact breaker points.

We also drive our own hire cars regularly as our customers will not always report anything unusual as they tend not to know how the cars drive normally. In this way we can usually pick up symptoms as they start to develop and have them fixed before they become a problem to either us or the customers.

This is illustrated by a piece of work that we are currently having carried out on our 1970 Jaguar E-Type Roadster. As well as hiring this out, we use it quite a lot ourselves and drave it across Europe to the Czech Republic and back in September 2010. The MSA Euroclassic is not a normal road run and is set to take in the most scenic routes possible , including in this instance crossing the Alps via the famous Stelvio and St Gothard passes.

The Stelvio has been featured on the BBC Top gear program as one of the best drives in the world and having completed it twice we can verify this accolade. This year on a few of the 49 hairpin bends, when turning in tightly under load, there was a slight knock, knock coming from the right rear. We have a team of mobile mechanics with us on the Euroclassic so I asked them to have a look and they said it was a small amount of play in one of the four universal joints on the rear drive shafts. They pumped in a load of fresh grease, to the offending UJ and the other three for good measure, and the problem disappeared.

The E-Type has now gone in for it is annual pre hire-season service and I asked our garage to check it out. They confirmed the mobile mechanic's diagnosis that there is a small amount of play in just one of the four UJs. If this was a normal classic car their prognosis is that the UJ would be fine for anywhere from five to ten thousand miles which for most classic car owners could be anywhere from 3 to 10 years motoring.

However for the Open Road this could have been done in a single year. There are not any tight, stelvio type, hairpin bends for many miles and it is unquestionably that a customer would hear so much as a slight clunk during the coming year. However I do not want a customer to be either worried if they were to hear such a noise or, still still, to be inconvenienced if it were to fail.

I gave the garage instructions to replace the offending UJ. Based on the assumption that the other three UJs in the drive shafts are of the same age, and have been subject to the same driving stresses it is reasonable to assume that they might be starting to deteriorate. I therefore instructed them to replace the other three UJs at the same time to remove any risk of premature failure.

About once a year, a customer will say that charging over £ 300 for a day's hire for an E-Type feels a bit expensive. This is one of the reasons why. I would rather spend money in advance on preventive maintenance that a normal classic car owner would not think was strictly necessary.

At the end of the service our E-Type will be setup and ready for what I am expecting to be a very busy year. The E-type was launched in 1961 so this year celebrates its 50th birthday. It has already been featured in a number of the classic car magazines and I expect it to receive huge amounts of coverage through the coming year which should generate loads of requests to hire this icon of the British automotive art.