Tips from Jim Hill

Here is an article by Jim Hill:


Some time around half-past February, you may be reading about what all will be occurring this coming summer, and you decide it is time to get the old Packard out of the garage and have it ready.   But then, na-a-a-a-a, you don’t really need to do much, after all, you had it out back then in December and you filled up the gas tank and there was an oil stain on the oil dipstick.  

Well, that’s OK, because here at the Salado meet we will have a little trophy all a-waiting for you, all we need to do is award it and put your name onto it.  Yeah, you’re a shoo-in for winning the “hard-luck trophy”, because your Packard is sure to die somewhere within the first 100 miles of driving.  After all, those freeway miles are awful hard on a 60 year old car.  And even harder on a 70 year old man trying to corral it into the outer lane while all those little 2-year old Japanese bugs whiz past you.

It’s called “Preventive Maintenance”.   You can sink a whole pot-full of money into it and still not see that you’ve done anything.  But you might not win that “Hard Luck Award” because your car will still be running to you get back home. 

But now, let tell you about the truth of the matter.  “Preventive maintenance” doesn’t cost anything.  Oh sure, tell your hard-fisted banker about that.  He’ll just tell you to get out your wallet plastic and sign on the line….  But no, it doesn’t cost much and over the years it will save you a lot of wear and tear on your wallet and your plastic.   You see, even one busted fan belt out in the middle of Texas, or New Mexico, or even on the Kansas prairie… might call up a tow truck and a shipper truck, and a lot of expensive try-to-find-it phone calls… those can easily wear out your plastic.  And wives tend to get awfully “testy” sitting in a dead car waiting.  So read on, and wise up.

I’ll start at the front of the car and work backwards.  Every time you find something that is questionable, write it down.  If there are part numbers on it, write those down.  If you know where you got it the first time, write it down.  Then you can, at your convenience (with permission from Visa or Mastercard) you can get it and get to the replacement.

“Pop” the hood.   Look at the radiator.  Is it full?  Does it have a good strong “green” look?  (Actually, by now, you get out an antifreeze tester, and run a quick test even though it’s cold.)  You want a test to show below 0 degrees F, not because it won’t ever get to freeze, but antifreeze is also a boil-over preventer.  Test it.  If it doesn’t test very low, you may need to drain out some coolant and add more new antifreeze.  Stick your finger down in it.  Is it “clean” with no rust or oil droplets on your hand?  Now, seriously, you could even taste it.  (I have done that.)  If it is cleanly sweet, nothing “acidic” or “tart” it’s probably OK.  But if it has a jot of “junk” floating around in it, you can stand to run the car for a few minutes to get it temperature clear up to proper, and then kill the motor and drain out all the old antifreeze.  The older the antifreeze, the more likely it could stand to be replaced with age over 8-years telling you “it’s about time”.   When you drain it, catch the old antifreeze and put it into a bucket to take somewhere for proper disposal, don’t just dup it out on the ground.  You dump it, you may drink it.

Look at the fan belts.  Are there any cracks, especially on the inner surface?  Time to replace any of them.  And again, if they are over 8 to 10 years old, it might be a good preventive to just go ahead and replace them now, because age and hot temperatures cause the rubber and cloth composition to decay until the belt will choose the hottest day and most inopportune time to “go south” on you.  Fan belts are not expensive when you compare that to the cost of a tow to a near-by garage for replacement.  Or, if you happen to carry an extra one in your trunk, now is the time to get it out and use it because it won’t do you any good back there in the bottom with those replacements just being transported and stored.  And even if the belts are good, check the tightness. “Loose & floppy” ain’t good.  They slip and wear out the belt.  Friction wears them out.

If your generator has an oil spot, give it a squirt.  Or it might have a sealed ball-bearing with lifetime greasing.  Same for the starter.

Now, you’ve got into the motor compartment.  Look at wiring.  Are the connections at the battery clean metal?  NOW, disconnect the ground cable at the battery and then you can examine other wires.  Any connections that are dirty or oxidized need scraped or sanded to get clean and bright metal.  The heavier the wire or connection, the cleaner it needs to be, especially at the battery and at the starter.  If your car is a 6 volt system, you need heavy battery cables if you replace them.  You can’t buy those at most parts stores, but you can go to a “farm & ranch” store and they have big and long battery cables.  Don’t go getting “cheap” here, because a weak battery system won’t let you start during the winter and it won’t work well in the summer.  How old is your battery?  If it’s more than 5 years old, go buy a new one now, as the old ones get old and tired and quit at inopportune times and places.   (Leave that battery ground cable unfastened yet, I’ll come back to it.)

The battery should connect to a big copper bolt on the starter or on a starter solenoid.  Clean these connections.   The other end of the ground cable should connect to a big bolt on the motor; it not, scrub a mounting bolt for the starter to bright metal and fasten that end of the battery cable there.  You can also consider a grounding strap between a big bolt on the motor and a big bolt on the body or frame.  

Look at light bulbs.  Are the connections at your headlights clean and bright?  If not, clean them!  And if a bulb is kinda dim, get a new one.  I’m not familiar with it, but there is a “dielectric grease” that seals out weather but helps electricity pass.  Ask your parts store.  More about bulbs- any time you take out a light bulb, regardless of the reason or place, replace it with a new one.  (New ones are brighter and last longer.)  If you find fuses that are corroded, take them out and replace them with same size and same capacity and try to clean the fuse sockets.   Never put an old fuse back in, it just ain’t worth the bother.  It’ll  “go south” on you.

OK, after you’re totally through messing with electric wires, back to the battery.  Be sure that both battery posts are clean, both cable ends are clean and fasten on the “hot wire” to the battery.  And if you’re all done, only now can you connect the ground cable to the battery.   Remember when working on these wires, always disconnect the ground cable at the battery first;  when you reconnect cables, connect the ground cable last.

OK, now to the chassis.  Check the tires.  All of them.  You should have a pressure gauge, and record the pressure.  Periodically keep track of tires and spare.  If there are any rocks stuck in the tread, dig them out.  Look for little cracks in the rubber of the tires.  (For a little “aside”…when you have a repair done replace the little pressure valve in the valve stem;  and if it’s a tubeless tire, replace the whole valve stem assembly about every 5 years, it’s rubber and it ages and starts leaking.  And carry a spare stem in your parts kit.)  

How long ago did you check the brakes?  If you can, jack up the right front and put a jack stand or a wood block under the frame to support it securely, and take off the tire and then the axle bolt to get to the insides.  Look at the everything.  Clean rubber seals?  Plenty of pad thickness for brakes?  Look at the flexible brake lines.  Any sign of cracking rubber or leakage?  If so, you should plan some replacement of the flexible lines.   When you put things back together, liberally spread the proper bearing grease into the wheel bearings.  Bolt it up and reinstall the bearing cup and the cotter pin, put the wheel back on.  OH!, one more thought- if the balancing of the tire/wheel assembly is old, consider some time having the wheel cleaned and rebalanced.   And you’re done here, but if you’re not happy with the condition of the right front brakes, check the left front brakes.  Those two are most likely to need repairs.

You got a transmission, maybe an overdrive, and a differential.  How long has it been since you did anything with those?  If it’s an Ultramatic, check the fluid level, and fill as necessary.  (I don’t have one, so I can’t tell you what’s right; maybe a transmission shop near by can.)  A standard transmission has a filling fitting on the side of it. The transmission gets filled with transmission grease up to where it just oozes out that hole.

Differential is about the same situation.  With the car setting on a flat and level surface, put a hydraulic jack under either one side, lifting on the set of bolts fastening the springs to the axle.  NEVER jack up the rear end by jack under the differential case.  They break.  And when they do, it’s an difficult replacement, costs $$$$ and requires a lot of looking and arranging.  So NEVER jack it up by putting the jack under the middle of the car.

If the transmission, overdrive, and differential have old, old grease in them, contact your editor about how to clean it all out and then replace with new grease.

Back toward the front of the car again.  There are about 20 grease fittings that need greased.  Many are on the front suspension.  You can grease those if you have a special grease gun or you can take the car to a service station to have it done.  If they’re friendly, they might even let you get under there with the mechanic to be sure he finds all the fittings.  Look closely and if you find a fitting on one side, there is probably one on the other side.  There are grease fittings on the universal joints, front and rear.  If you have many “old” cars or trucks, it will be worth your time to have your own grease gun for these fittings.  That way you know it’s done completely and properly.

While you’re greasing fittings, check the flexible joints called “tie rod ends”  If they’re loose, you’ve eventually have those replaced.  If the universal joins on the driveshaft wiggle, those can get replaced some time.  Fortunately, these are not an immediate need.  While the car is jacked up, see if the front tire will wiggle right-to-left… that shows tie rod looseness,  If they wiggle top-to-bottom, it shows king pins get replaced some day.  If you don’t do this, try to find an OLD mechanic who might remember doing this work 50 years ago.  

Fuel…. Check the flexible rubber/cloth hose that goes between a metal tube and the fuel pump.  If it is soft, if it leaks it gets replaced now.  Follow along the fuel line back to the tank.  Are there any places badly dented in?  Any significant flat places?  Those are where rocks or something else has hit the line and bent it.  Might eventually need replaced, but if there are any leaks, it’s gotta be replaced now.  

To the fuel pump.  Most of them have a cap on the bottom that can be taken off by one bolt at the bottom of the pump.  That cap traps things like rust.  If you take that cap off, it will go back on with a cork or special rubber gasket.  Cork is simple.  While you’re there, you can follow the line up to the carburetor.  If you don’t have a filter immediately before the fuel goes into the carb, get one that will screw into the carb with a fuel fitting on the other end to accept your fuel line.  Periodically, take it off and blow it out with compressed air.

Happy Packarding.   -Jim Hill

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