How to… prepare for a breakdown

| 8 Jul 2019
Classic & Sports Car – How to... prepare for a breakdown

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Nobody wants to break down, but the reality is that at some point, you’re likely to have a problem on the road in your classic car – and it’s best to be prepared for this.

A factory toolkit might make your car look the part at a concours, but period box spanners aren’t effective at helping to identify and repair a non-mechanical malady.

Neither 
is that 99-piece motor factors set you got for Christmas. But a well-stocked and cleverly selected kit can come in handy with sorting a problem before you reach for your AA/RAC card and mobile phone.

Versatile tools are key. Glues, duct tape and cable ties can get you out of a jam, but more specific repair items are worth having, too, as are a selection of hose clamps 
and spare coolant.

It’s also vital to have the correct calibration; pre-war British classics typically use Whitworth threads and spanners, while post-war cars feature UNC and UNF threads and imperial AF spanners. If you drive something from the 1970s or a continental make, it will be all metric under the bonnet.

A selection of nuts and bolts in common thread sizes is handy, too, as are circlips and cotter pins, while a variety of electrical connectors will let you circumvent a short or a faulty component. 

Never attempt a repair at the roadside unless it is safe, preferably with the car well off the road. Wear a ‘high vis’ jacket and place a hazard triangle to warn other road-users.


1: SPANNERS

Classic & Sports Car – How to... prepare for a breakdown

Half-inch, ⅝in and 916in spanners will cover 80% of bolts on a British classic, while 10, 13, 14 and 17mm will do for most continentals. A couple of adjustables will fill the gaps.

Take a ¼in-drive socket set (5-13mm; 316-½in) for fiddly jobs and a ⅜ or ½in set for longer trips. A spark-plug spanner is essential.

2: OTHER HAND TOOLS

Classic & Sports Car – How to... prepare for a breakdown

Two sizes of flat-blade and Phillips screwdrivers are a must, as are stubby-handled (c2in) versions for confined spaces (look for a kit with interchangeable bits).

A small hacksaw (the blade at least), a slim craft knife, a pair of cutters and large pair of pliers are vital. Allen keys are useful as well.

3: COOLING

Classic & Sports Car – How to... prepare for a breakdown

Repair tape is mandatory for a quick fix if you don’t have space to lug a spare set of radiator hoses.

A length of heater hose can bypass a leaking valve or matrix, and a spare thermostat can prevent potential damage should the fitted one seize. And carry Jubilee clips of varying sizes in case you drop or shear one.

4: HYDRAULICS

Classic & Sports Car – How to... prepare for a breakdown

Spare clutch seals can revive a leaking system – although it’s best not to attempt to fix weeping brakes.

A self-bleeding hose will help you bleed without assistance; you’ll need a pint of brake and clutch fluid (DOT 4/5), too, plus a jar. Add a spare bleed nipple, and pack a hydraulic hose for long trips.

5: ELECTRICAL

Classic & Sports Car – How to... prepare for a breakdown

A length of 10/15-amp cable is essential. A separate fuse-holder will ensure temporary circuits are safe and a simple switch will allow you to control them from inside.

Also include some insulation tape – electrical connectors are better – bulbs, a test lamp and an HT lead to identify a spark.

6: SPARE PARTS

Classic & Sports Car – How to... prepare for a breakdown

A loss of spark is common: keep a set of points, plugs, distributor cap and condenser stowed away for a rapid ‘elimination of the culprit’ approach.

Also include a fuel filter (and a length of pipe), plus a brake-light switch and a coil. And always carry a fanbelt: inside the rim of the spare wheel is a good place.

7: LIFTING GEAR

Classic & Sports Car – How to... prepare for a breakdown

Period screw or scissor jacks are intended only for changing a wheel; a bottle jack is likely to have greater lift and be more secure.

Always use an axle stand (a folding one saves space) to take the weight of the car off the jack.

8: MISCELLANEOUS

Classic & Sports Car – How to... prepare for a breakdown

A square of emery cloth for cleaning points, ensuring a good earth and preparing surfaces before gluing. Small scissors to cut gaskets and rubber. A feeler gauge for gapping plugs or points. Silicone sealer, a sheet of gasket paper, gloves, a torch and a magnet for picking up screws.


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