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Spinning My Tires   is one man's view of the world of cars. Random thoughts, ideas and comments pop up here, all of them related to owning, driving and restoring cars. I've been doing this car thing as long as I can remember, and have enjoyed a great many car-related experiences, some of which I hope to share with you here. And I always have an opinion one way or another. Enjoy.

E-mails are welcomed--if you have thoughts of your own to share, please send them.

Additional Spinning My Tires editorials can be found on the Archives page.


If you love your car, set it free!

Cars are funny things—we love them more than we love our refrigerators or our computers or even our houses. We wash them, wax them, repair them, restore them, anything to keep them not only functional, but lustrous and shiny as well. And I’m worse than most—I sometimes lose sleep thinking about how dirty my cars are (I kid you not) and feel overwhelmed by the prospect of keeping a fleet of 4 vehicles up to my own very high standards.

Unfortunately, I’m also a mechanical guy, and I take little solace in simply storing my cars. My Mustang sat in a garage, untouched, undriven, protected and in a cotton cocoon for more than two years. Of course the paint was still shiny, the interior immaculate, the Armor-All on the tires still slick, but the car was definitely worse for the experience. The brakes were mush, the polished aluminum underhood was chalky, the aluminum wheels actually corroded under the clearcoat, the oil had moisture in it, the tires were flat-spotted, all from sitting in one place for so long.

So I wage this war in my head all the time. I want to keep my car looking as perfect as possible. Paint chips assault me as if the car’s skin were my own flesh. The undercarriage is spotless and I wash it every time I’m under there for an oil change. I’m fanatical about keeping the car as perfect as possible for as long as possible.

I know I’ve discussed something this before (way back in Spinning My Tires #8, March 2003), but this is different. I want to talk about actually using your car, because, ultimately, it’s better for it in the long run.

I recently saw a very nice, low-mile Cadillac on eBay. With under 7000 miles on the clock, it had recently received a lot of work: new radiator, new brakes (lines, master cylinder, caliper, pads, rotors), a transmission rebuild, new CV joints, new valve cover gaskets, a new battery, new belts and hoses, and, of course, new tires. That’s a lot of stuff for a car with only 6700 miles on it!

The strange thing is that a car with 67,000 or even 167,000 miles on it probably would not have required most of that work. And that brings me to my point: storage is the worst thing you can do to your car.

Man, that was hard to say.

Cars are not simply sculpture that will sit, unchanging, in one place for years and years. All those parts that make up a car are vulnerable to time and the atmosphere. But when we drive the cars, they’re vulnerable to rocks and bugs and dirt and rain and other drivers. That puts me in a conundrum: if I want to keep it visually perfect, I can’t drive it. If I want to keep it mechanically perfect, I must drive it. Cars were designed to be used regularly and each component was built with that in mind. Exhaust systems don’t have drains because the engineers figured you’d be driving your car long enough and often enough to simply let engine heat take care of the moisture that tends to accumulate in mufflers. Gaskets are made of materials that are oil and resistant, but not especially resistant to air. Rubber is essentially a liquid, and like a liquid, it will take the shape of whatever it’s in (or on). Fortunately, it doesn’t flow very fast, so an overnight park in your garage probably won’t do any damage, but a few months or years, and your tires are now almost permanently flat on one side (or at least until the rubber flows back into a round shape). No, sitting still does a car no good.

Driving your car regularly has a lot of benefits, just like exercising regularly can make you healthier. Fluids circulate, coating all the metal parts they are there to protect. Parts get warm enough to burn off moisture that may have condensed on them, protecting them from rust. Tires roll and warm up, and end up in a different position than they were in the night before. Gaskets are saturated with protective fluids and stay soft and pliable and don’t dry out and leak.

I wonder about the condition all these “perfect” show cars that are never driven farther than from the garage to the trailer and then from the trailer to the show field. That won’t be my car—partly because I can’t afford a truck & trailer, but mostly because I think the fun of owning an old car is driving an old car. I was at a big-name show a few years ago, one where the cars are driven up to the awards ceremony. There was an absolutely gorgeous Duesenberg J roadster, black with a black top and red leather upholstery, chrome wheels with blackwall tires. It was flawless—even the paint on the engine block had been wet-sanded and buffed so that it was free from orange-peel or any surface irregularities. I spent a good 45 minutes examining it. Then my heart broke when it won an award and the owner drove it up to the grandstands—it sputtered and coughed to life like your neighbor’s clapped-out 18 year-old Dodge pickup truck, smoked like a tire fire and stalled several times between the show field and the grandstands. Humiliating (for the car, I mean—the owner seemed overjoyed).

I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with that Duesenberg that a few hours on the road wouldn’t completely cure. Get all the parts up to operating temperature, adjust the carburetors and get the oil circulating, use some fresh gasoline and cycle the brakes. As Bill Cosby used to say, “You just need to blow the gunk out.” That car was built to run—hell, it wanted to run—but the owner had too much invested and what kind of lunatic would risk a million-dollar Duesenberg on today’s roads (I would, but that’s beside the point)?

Of course, that also means that perhaps some of the paint gets chipped and bugs crash into the grille. The chrome on the exhaust might start to turn blue, and who knows if the paint they used on the engine is up to the task of expanding and contracting as the engine warmed and cooled? The instant that car hits operating temperature and 60 MPH, it won’t be perfect any more.

To be honest, I don’t know if I will be able to live with knowing that my perfect car isn’t perfect anymore. Chips and road rash depress the hell out of me on my daily drivers, never mind my special cars. I understand guys like the Duesenberg’s owner, guys who love the perfection. I may even be one of those guys. But I’m also guessing that the lure of actually driving the Buick will be too much for me to resist. I can always restore it again.

So do yourself and your car a favor—go out for a drive!

See you next month!

(And thanks to all of you dropping your change in the tip cup! It makes a difference.)

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Last modified on 04/07/2005

Thanks, Fidget!