Motor Car Maintenance

MAKERS invariably issue instructions for the maintenance of the vehicles they manufacture. These instructions may or may not be fully comprehensive, but will, of necessity, apply only to a particular model. They will, however, be correct in the information given and consequently should be strictly adhered to. Also, the owner will realize that although the manufacturer can produce the finest piece of mechanism in creation, it will not give satisfaction if it is incorrectly serviced. The onus of taking proper care of a vehicle is therefore on the owner or driver, and not on the manufacturers.


Whether the bodywork is finished with varnish, or with the cellulose enamel finish of most modern cars, the process of washing is much the same. Dirt and mud which cannot be dusted off must be removed with a jet of water, and a soft brush or sponge. Let the water soften the dirt to avoid scratching the paint. A strong jet of water is best for removing encrusted mud from under the mudguards and chassis, and from the axles. When the worst has been removed, the body work may be finally washed down with plenty of clean water, which may be slightly warm and contani t a little soap free from alkali.

Grease or oil on the body should be removed by the application of : paraffin or petrol, but in this case a second rinse with clean water should be given. Dry off with a : leather which should be rinsed and : wrung out from time to time. 5 Wait until the body is thoroughly f dry before applying a good body > polish. Such polish should be , thinly applied and well rubbed until bright. Finally, finish off the polishing with a special polishing : cloth kept solely for the purpose. Tar spots can be removed with f turpentine applied with a soft t cloth or brush, but a little petrol 1 should afterwards be used to wash t off the affected part prior to r polishing. Car hoods should be washed with soap and water and never folded until quite dry. Chromium plated fittings, if dirty, should be cleaned with a damp leather and finished off with a soft rag. Do not use any abrasive polish.

The interior of the car should be regularly brushed out and the upholstery sponged over and leathered occasionally. Dirty mats can be rejuvenated with carpet soap. Door hinges, locks, window-winders, adjustable seat-runners, and roof-slides (if any) require periodical lubrication. The webbing on which the bonnet rests should also be greased. This will eliminate many elusive squeaks, but most motorists know by experience that after a sustained dry spell of weather numerous squeaks do occur. This is due to lack of moisture between the various wing and running board valances, for water acts as a lubricant before rusting sets in. The cure is to spray all round these parts with penetrating oil prior to washing down. Dirty cord upholstery can be renovated with a cloth and a good brushing, stains having previously been removed with petrol or liquid cleanser.

Rattling doors can usually be cured by slackening the screws securing the lock striking plate, moving the plate slightly until the door has to be closed sharply before the lock registers. The plate may have to be shifted several times until the position is satisfactory. Do not forget finally to tighten the fixing screws.


A lubrication chart of a stripped chassis applying to a particular make of car, to fix on the garage wall for reference, may be obtained free of charge from any of the reputable oil companies. A study of the chart will show that there are mapy points which require regular attention, some more often than others. Apart from this, it is essential that the right kind and grade of lubricant is given to each specific part. Therefore, it cannot be too strongly advised that lubricants as recommended by the manufacturers of the vehicle should be used.

Pay attention to all the points shown. Clean greasers before applying the gun, and make sure they are not clogged. If they are, clear or replace them, otherwise the part served will suffer. Some greasers may be awkward to get at, others may be overlooked because they are not visible. Make it your business to become conversant with every lubrication point on your vehicle, and see that it gets regular attention. So much for general chassis lubrication, but other maintenance work consists of such adjustments as may be necessary to keep the vehicle up to as high a standard of efficiency as is consistent with normal service. We will therefore proceed to deal with each unit separately.

Power Unit

The owner should always store the oil container in the cleanest part of the garage and keep it tightly covered so that no foreign matter can get into it. Funnels and any tins for transference or storage of oil must also be kept clean. He should for safety’s sake make a daily check of the engine oil level. Inspect by means of a dip stick or gauge with the vehicle on level ground, and top up to correct level with the oil recommended by the manufacturers. Drain off after first 500 miles and every subsequent 1,000 to 2,oco miles, and flush out with light flushing oil (not paraffin) before refilling with fresh oil. Also take the opportunity of cleaning the filters in the oil system; you should locate these as soon as you acquire the car, by referring to the instruction manual. Those of the renewable cartridge type are usually changed about every 10,000 miles. Do not forget the air cleaner, generally fitted to the carburettor intake. This should be washed out with petrol, dried and re-oiled with engine oil, the surplus being allowed to drain off before refitting. Try and arrange the draining off and refilling of the engine at the period of change over from summer to winter grade oil, or vice versa. It is best to drain off oil when the engine is warm, as the oil is then thinned by the heat, and much of the sediment will be suspended in the oil. This sediment cannot be entirely removed, of course, without dropping the sump and cleaning out the system.

At the time the engine oil is renewed, the fuel system should be cleansed. Remove the carburettor float chamber, blow through the jets with the tyre pump, wipe clean the float chamber before replacing, and clean the petrol filter. Drain off any sediment in the fuel pump by using the drain plug provided. Otherwise, clean out the pump when removing the gauge filter for cleaning. When replacing, make sure the cover washer is in good condition and that the cap makes an air-tight joint when tightened down. With electric pumps it should be necessary only to clean the filter. If there are any other filters in the supply system, and reference to your instruction book should inform you on this point, they should also be cleaned at the same time.

About every 1,000 miles the valve clearances should be tested. It is impossible to give any hard and fast rule regarding correct tappet clearance, as designs vary from To -045 in., so definite data must be obtained either from reference to the instruction book or from the makers. It is also particularly important that the clearances are set when the valve concerned is on the lowest position of the cam. In the absence of definite details of procedure the safest method is to adjust the clearance on both valves of one cylinder when the piston is at the top of its firing stroke.

The sparking plugs should also be cleaned and the electrodes reset about every 10,000 miles. Make sure you can replace the wires to each plug correctly before removing them. It is a good plan to mark each lead with file nicks to indicate location, starting No. 1 nearest the cylinder to the radiator. Clean off the carbon with a wire brush, scrape le. As clean as possible, and reset the points as recommended. Never try to bend the central electrode; always set the side one.

It is as well to check over the contact breaker at the same time as the plugs are cleaned. Clean the points with a special file or carborundum slip made for this purpose. Make sure that the rocker arm moves freely on its pivot and set the points to the particular gap recommended. A spot of lubricant on the operating cam will reduce wear on the fibre heel of the rocker arm and eliminate any tendency to squeak. Clean and wipe away any moisture that may be present in the distributor cap. After standing idle for a time, condensation occurs here at the sparking plug points, causing difficulty in starting up.


Clutches on modern cars are generally of the single plate type and require no lubrication. The few that operate in oil are generally fed from the engine system. Where ball thrust races are employed in the withdrawal mechanism they must never be neglected, but lubricated strictly in accordance with maker’s instructions. Special thrust washers are now extensively employed with the object of eliminating the necessity for lubrication. About an inch of lost movement should be maintained at the pedal. When this becomes appreciably more, or the pedal fouls the toe board without fully disengaging the clutch, it is time for adjustment. Actual details vary with the design, and reference should therefore be made to the instruction book. Provision for this adjustment is always embodied in the clutch assembly. Closely observe the makers’ instructions.


The gearboxes of new cars should be drained, flushed out with thin oil, and replenished after the first 500 miles. This is necessary as metallic dust created during the running-in period would be harmful if left in. The level should be regularly checked every 1,000 miles and replenished to correct level. Drain and refill every subsequent 5,000 miles. Always drain off when the lubricant is warm and agitated, as in this condition impurities are more easily carried off and the oil flows more easily.

Rear Axle

The rear axle should be given attention on similar lines to the gearbox, the only difference being that the grade of lubricant used will be different. Use only that recommended by the manufacturers.

Spring and Front Axle

All points on the front axle and spring should be lubricated every 500 miles. Check and replenish lubricant in the steering box every 1,000 miles. Tighten up the steering knuckle joints every 10,000 miles if of the adjustable type, and check the front wheel track. Adjustable steering joints are now being favoured by manufacturers, and if play becomes excessive in these joints they must be renewed.

Many car manufacturers employ adjustable type bearings in the hubs of the road wheels. Excessive play in these bearings should be taken up by removing the split pin securing the spindle nut and tightening up same. They should be checked about every 10,000 miles, or at the same time as the brakes are adjusted. The opportunity should be taken to repack the hubs with the right lubricant.

General Chassis

The road springs, if they are of the laminated or leaf type, require lubricating about every 10,000 miles. If there is no provision for this it is best done by jacking up the chassis so that the axle hangs on the spring thereby tending to open up the leaves. Graphite grease may then be introduced between the leaves, or the operation can be facilitated by spraying penetrating oil between them.

It is necessary to do the spraying rather more often, and while you have the spraying can in action give all the brake connections a spray. Lubricate them with a liberal dose of oil from the oil can after spraying. Also check the bolts or U-clips anchoring the springs to the axles, and tighten them up if they are loose. At die same time, the shock absorbers should be checked and topped up with the correct fluid. Make sure you use the correct fluid for your particular make as there are several different grades only one of which will be suitable. Also clean off the dirt before removing the filter plugs. Take the opportunity of making sure that the shock absorbers themselves are absolutely tight, and that the connecting linkage, etc., is secure.

Electrical Equipment

With regard to the electrical equipment, first and foremost comes the battery. The electrolyte should be checked every month. Remove the vent plugs and see that the level of the acid is just above the tops of the plates. If necessary, top up with distilled water only; it is advisable to complete the check over by measuring the specific gravity of the acid, as this gives a good indication of the state of the battery. A hydrometer is used for this purpose and the acid should give a reading of 1285 to 1-300. The terminal connections should be kept clean and tight; smear them with vaseline to prevent corrosion. Finally wipe all dirt and moisture from the tops leaving the batteries quite clean and dry.


Correct lubrication in accordance with the engine manufacturers’ specifications is of great importance. The viscosity and characteristics of lubricants vary considerably. One type of engine oil may be ideal for a certain engine but will be quite unsuitable for others. It is the special interest of the engine manufacturer to select, scientifi- cally, from a very wide range of lubricants those which are particularly suitable for the engine concerned. The lubricants recommended generally consist of four classes, an engine, oil possessing the correct viscosity at normal engine working temperatures, a lubricant with high pressure characteristics for the gearbox and rear axle, a special heavy grade grease suited to the working load imposed on wheel hub bearings, Drain and Refill.


After first 500 miles and every subsequent 1,000 to 2,000 miles, flush out with light flushing oil, not paraffin, before refilling with fresh oil.

Gearbox and Rear Axle

After first 500 miles and every subsequent 5,000 miles. Etc. and a high speed non-separating lubricant for the universal joints.

Distributor, Magneto and Dynamo

Every 1,000 miles place two or three drops of machine oil in oilers provided.

Occasionally remove the distributor cap and wipe out dry with a clean rag. Clean the electrodes with a rag moistened with petrol. See that the carbon pick-up brush is clean and moves freely in the cap. Clean and examine the contact breaker points, and reset to correct gap. Give the lubricator two turns every 500 miles, and a spot of oil on the rocker arm pivot every 5,000 miles. Lift off the rotor arm from the spindle and add a few drops of machine oil for lubricating the automatic mechanism, every 5,000 miles.

The dynamo commutator and brushes should be kept clean. Dirty brushes should be cleaned with a cloth moistened in petrol; see that they move freely in their holders. Badly worn brushes can easily be replaced with new ones obtained from any service depot. At the same time see that the commutator is clean and free from oil and brush dust. If burned black it can be redressed with No. 00 sandpaper—never use emery cloth. Similar treatment should be given to the starter motor. As a rule these machines do not need lubrication as the bearings are primarily packed with special grease when assembled. Where greasers are provided, however, give them attention as per lubrication chart. On occasion, the starter pinion may fail to engage on the flywheel. When this happens, if it is not due to a run-down battery make sure that the screwed end on the armature spindle is not contaminated with oil and dirt. If it is, clean off with paraffin. Should the starter jam into mesh at any time, it can be disengaged by turning the squared end of the armature shaft with a spanner.

About every three months raise the arms of the direction indicators and apply a little vaseline with a small camel hair brush between the brass knob or profile and the small copper tongue spring and copper spindle.

Miscellaneous Work

In conjunction with the foregoing notes the reader should refer, for further details, to the other entries dealing with the motor car.

Other items requiring attention from time to time include: The fan belt, this should be kept tight.

When the dynamo or other auxiliaries are driven by chain in the timing case, provision will be made for tightening the chain when it becomes slack. Flush out the cooling system twice a year. The best time to do this is when safeguarding against frost with anti-freeze solution, and at the end of the winter where such protection is no longer necessary.

Regularly check over the wheel nuts for tightness. If wheels have not been removed for some considerable time, it is as well to detach them and to grease the registers and oil the nuts before replacing.

All engine control joints and brake linkage pins should be lubricated occasionally with the oil can. Brake cables (if used), and the footbrake pedal shafts, should be lubricated regularly.

The engine oil sump should be removed once a season, to enable the filter tray to be cleaned and all sediment, etc. to be washed out before replacing.

Occasionally tighten down the cylinder head nuts, commencing with those at the centre.

Tighten the exhaust and inlet manifold nuts from time to time.

Disconnect the speedometer cable and lubricate the inner driving cable once every season.

If attention is given on the lines suggested above, trouble on the road is not likely to be experienced, and the wear and tear of all parts will be reduced to a minimum. There will, however, come a time when wear between working parts in the engine reaches a stage which requires more than adjustment to bring the engine back to something like its original efficiency. This condition, apart from mechanical defects, usually manifests itself in high petrol and oil consumption, lack of compression and excessive oil fumes. When any of these symptoms become apparent, repairs should be put in hand before a final breakdown occurs. Excessive wear of the engine internal components, such as may occur in big end bearings, gudgeon pins and bushes, cylinder walls, pistons, etc., is a job for professional car repair service, particularly if the wear is general.

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