Owning and maintaining an old car – Basic tips and tricks

Dear Sir, 

Today morning I switched on my car to find that the coolant level was way below the minimum. I am afraid I must admit that I was lazy to open the bonnet and keep a track of the coolant. But also the fact that it had returned from garage only 5 days ago made me overlook the regular checks. I had to walk to the petrol station and get a bottle of coolant before I could come to work. I hope you understand my situation and give me attendance for this day even though I’m an hour and ten minutes late. 

Had my boss seen me come late today and had he asked me for a written explanation, this would have been my explanation. He would have promptly replied me back with a simple one liner,

Get a new car or get fired.

Yes, I own an old car which for me, is a masterpiece. The non enthusiasts call it a rusty old car waiting to fall apart (not that it is rusty or will fall apart). Sadist fellows!!!

For the n th time bear with me, let me put those specs down proudly…. it’s a VW Golf GTI with 2.3L (2300 cc), V5 engine, Manual gearbox, 170 hp and it can do a 0-60 mph (0-100 kmph) in 7.6 sec (claimed). I own this car for the past 2 years and I absolutely love it.

Are you one of those people who love your old car but distressed due to the fact that it keeps visiting the garage too often? If yes, let me try and put down some of the things I learnt from my ownership. I am not talking about those classic cars which sit in the garage and is driven out on a weekend, but about cars which can be/are used as daily drivers. Mine is a perfect example of that.

Disclaimer: Please note that my knowledge about cars is very basic and I’m not a very technical person, hence no high hopes please.

The reason why people love old cars is for it’s simplicity and the feel they give. Not to mention that they are damn cheap. I love old cars for all the above reason. Talking about the better things like performance, the cars from those days were void of many electronic aid that we find today. Some people love that, some people don’t. For example the current champion of a car Porsche Cayman GT4, which happens to be my favorite car these days, have a rev-match assist in the sport mode which some people would argue for and against. Good drivers know rev matching, heel and toe and techniques like that from before. So the point is old cars are simple and there is no short cuts aided by electronics. You have to turn your heads and look back while reversing(unless you got a parking cam done from outside).

Here goes the things that I have learnt over these 24+ months of ownership.

  1. Have a back up Japanese car or any car. You can’t just put miles on your old car like you did 5 years back. I did that mistake and I regret not having the money to  not buying another small car so that I could alternate my daily drives between them.
  2. Monitor your cars fluid level (engine oil, radiator coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid) and also monitor tire pressure on a regular basis… say once in 4-5 days.
  3. There are a lot of online forums which discuss about cars and car issues. You need not be a petrol-head and you still can read them and get an idea about the car. Know your car (I do not follow this religiously since I just run to my friends who first yell at me and then help me).
  4. With an old car, it’s probably not worth going to the dealerships. The only reasons the dealerships are there is to steal your money. Period. It will be cheaper and much more financially sensible to find a ‘Friendly Neighborhood Garage’ (a term used for local garage) where people know what they are doing.
  5. Use internet. Most of the issues you face will already be listed there with the solutions. I have been yelled at by my friends for not doing this as well. If you have an idea of what needs to be done in your car, then you can talk to the person fixing your car better. He also gets a vibe that you know stuff and he wouldn’t dupe you ….much.
  6. Again use internet. Many of the problems have easy fixes and you can DIY ‘do it yourself’. Working on our car is one of the most satisfying things. It’s like having pizza but much better. So better to take a spanner and a small bucket and do the engine oil and oil filter change yourself. Have your smart phone handy and follow the experts. Do  small things like replacing Air/AC filter which you feel is less challenging.
  7. Like grocery shopping, always be on parts hunt for your car. You never know when you find something for a massive discount. Keep an eye on the online parts and accessories seller/retailer. They have huge discounts most of the time. Buy things in bulk so that you save on shipping. It’s always better to stock the normally used parts like Oil/Air/AC filters, Brake pads, Engine oil since buying in bulk can fetch you a good discount. I use rockauto or even amazon / ebay to buy parts. For VW these guys make some good videos in YouTube and also you can get the parts from this site. There are a lot of good sites available.
  8. Read through your manual and know which item to change at what interval. Engine mountings need to be changed at 100,ooo kms / 60,000 miles for my car and it is clearly mentioned in the service manual. In old cars, the parts likes gaskets, plugs, rubber hoses and rubber bushes fail the most. It’s better to change them one after the another after say after 150,000 kms. Do it step by step but doing it will save you a lot of headache and heartache in the future. Buy them all online one after another and get them replaced. If you want to save labor costs, see what you can get done in one go. For eg, if you are getting the bumper removed for some engine related works, you can do the valve cover gaskets, manifold gaskets etc done at the same time saving you on labor costs.
  9. Never trust your garage guys completely. Whatever they say, take it with a pinch of salt unless you or your acquaintance that led you there, know the person for a long long time. It’s always better to get opinion from others too especially people who know more about cars. Someone would come up with a better idea. Recently a guy went to Jag dealership with his car and the car wouldn’t slot into 2nd gear. They quoted $4800 (approx) for repairs. He was advised by a friend to go to this local garage. The local garage guy bought 2 clutch plates because the sides were worn out in the car and there you go, problem solved. Everything done for less than $400.
  10. Sometimes we have the tendency of leaving a problem unattended. We just believe that it will get better with time. Human body might, but not cars. Unless it is rattles, better to check what it is and then follow step 5 & 6.
  11. Preventive maintenance is always better than breakdown maintenance. Always.
  12. Have some grease, WD40 or equivalent, spanners, screwdrivers handy. Learn how to use a jack. Know the basic stuff.
  13. Motorbikes are better with fewer parts and complications. I always loved motorbikes anyways 😀

These are some of the things that came into my mind quickly but there are lot more than this. If you think I have missed out on something very important, feel free to use the comment section. If you feel that I have written down something wrong and stupid, again feel free to use the comment section. I would love to hear from you guys.

On that bombshell, ‘Drive safe, have fun’!



19 thoughts on “Owning and maintaining an old car – Basic tips and tricks”

    1. You can always opt to buy a new car 😀 and not be worried about any of these. Downside of learning driving is that people won’t drive you around anymore like they do now 😛 😛

  1. This is a really great post! Even if someone doesn’t have an older model car. Still not going to attempt to change my oil, or anything else for that matter. 😛 I’d most likely mess something up.
    Nissan Skyline- what’s your take?


    1. Hey there,

      Skyline? R32? Skyline is amazing. Period 😀

      I messed up my gear linkage assembly while trying to DIY and then had to take it to garage driving it in 2nd gear and 4th gear only 😛 The odd gears were all wrecked… hehe

      1. Hi ANoop! Yes, R32, sorry I
        should have specified! The GT-R is real nice too 😀 Nice ride, it’s a shame I don’t get out of the U.S. As much as I’d like! 😛

        Oh no! At least you made it there though and tried fixing it yourself!

      2. US has many wonderful roads, country sides. I hope you enjoy your car more and more 🙂 🙂

        Yeah, at least I tried 😀 😀 I say that to myself often.

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