There you are, standing in the driveway, staring into the garage at your first new/old car. What a deal. You picked it up for only $1,900 and it runs, too! If you're anything like the typical car guy, images flash through your mind of cruising on a warm summer night with one hand on the wheel and the other doing the "Orangutan Hang" out the window. Sure, it's rough around the edges, but what can you expect from a $1,900 car, but hey, it's yours and you can't wait to get in and cruise it.
Before jumping in and running full throttle down the highway, there are some mechanical items begging for attention before any action is performed-sorry to burst the bubble of imagination there. Indeed, basic diagnostic evaluations can save you a world of hurt and even some money. There are also a few cool tools that should be added to any automotive collection. For those tools, we turned to Equus for help, (but more on that later).
Back when I was in high school, I was saving every nickel and dime to buy my first car. My grandfather saw me working hard and stocking away my money, and decided to help me out with the automobile situation. He did so by handing me the keys to his '73 Camaro! How's that for a 17-year-old kid in school? My dad, however, wasn't so thrilled. About a year later, the small-block started running rough, and shook like a dog passin' peach pits. I was perplexed as to how I should handle it. I had no mechanical skills, and no idea how to check the timing, compression, vacuum, or anything else for that matter. My father, being a "Ford man," never did help me spin wrenches on the Camaro. Gradually, the car got worse, and eventually stopped running all together. Giving in to frustration, I eventually sold the Camaro for $400, and I never saw it again-a decision I will always regret.
For some of the new guys just getting into this lifestyle/hobby, there is nothing like looking back with regret over selling a car-when you didn't have to-due to the lack of mechanical skills. For you fellas who have just sent your last kid off to college, and are looking to recapture your youth and buy the car you have always dreamt about, we hope that getting back to basics helps you achieve your automotive pursuits.
While we've got the wheel off, take a closer look at the tread. Look at your tires and check for uneven wear patterns and tread depth. Uneven wear patterns can be indicative of misaligned steering. Apparently, the previous owner put on a new set of tires-hoorah for us! For the time being, that's one less thing to worry about.
Now let's pull the drums off all four corners and make a visual inspection of the drum lining. Check the drums for any deep wear patterns or cracks; in our case, the drums were just fine.
After checking the drums, let's take a look at the brake shoes and wheel cylinders. Inspect the wheel cylinders to make sure there is no leaking fluid and all the seals are in order. Also, check the backing plates. If any brake fluid is present it'll usually translate into a greasy, wet mess on the backside of the backing plate and surrounding suspension components; replace them immediately. Wheel cylinders are inexpensive to replace.
Next up on the list: let's pull the wheel hubs off and check the wheel bearings. Make sure they have plenty of grease and repack them if necessary. True story: I once had to spend the night in a tiny out-of-state town on account of dried-up wheel bearings that had gone bad. The new bearings arrived the next day via overnight delivery (not cheap). If you hear a metallic chirping noise from your wheels or vibrations, stop and take a look for safety's sake.
A quick visual inspection of the spindle is also on the list. Look for any worn or shaved spots on the spindle where the bearings sit.