This guide captures ‘bygone’ advice on how to check the lubrication points on a Classic Car. It is part of a series I am building that describes what to do on a Classic Car Basic Service.
Gearbox and back axle lubrication is covered in the above post but this post focusses on all the lubrication points to consider.
- Why Lubrication is Essential
- What Grease to use on a Classic Car
- What is Lithium Based Grease used for
- What Grease to use on Universal Joints.
- What is Calcium Based Grease for
- What is Coparslip Grease used for
- General Car Lubrication
- Lubricating Battery Terminals
- Lubricating Bonnet & Boot Catches
- Lubricating Release Cables
- Lubricating Carburettors
- Lubricating Distributors
- Lubricating Car Doors
- Lubricating Driveshafts
- Lubricating Dynamos & Generators
- Lubricating Handbrake Linkages
- Lubricating Leaf Springs
- Lubricating Pedals
- Lubricating Seats
- Lubricating Speedometer
- Lubricating Steering Boxes
- Lubricating Water Pumps
- Lubricating Wheel Bearings
- Lubricating Windscreen Wipers
- About this site
Useful information for Classic Car and Retro Car enthusiasts, as many of these tasks are no longer required on modern day cars.
Remember folks these are ‘bygone guides’ … useful but the safety and personal protective equipment measures are reflective of bygone awareness. Stay safe.
Why Lubrication is Essential
Regular thorough and correct lubrication is essential for preserving the life expectancy and efficiency of nearly all the mechanical components of your car.
Inspecting oil levels (engine oil aside), topping-up procedures and general lubrication can be conveniently dealt with as part of the 10,000 km (6,000 mile) service.
What Grease to use on a Classic Car
Chassis greasing and general lubrication were once a major part of a car’s maintenance schedule. Every joint and moving part had to be pumped full of grease or oil at inconveniently frequent intervals.
Though this is no longer the case, most cars do need periodic injections of lubricant in certain places to keep everything running smoothly.
What is Lithium Based Grease used for
The usual multi-purpose grease is based on a metallic ‘soap’ of an element called lithium.
It has good water resistance and is particularly useful for lubricating parts of the car that are vulnerable to poor weather conditions. It also has a high melting point and is often called HMP grease.
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What Grease to use on Universal Joints.
However for some jobs other types of grease may be better or even necessary. Special grease with a high molybdenum disulphide content is essential for certain universal drive joints.
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What is Calcium Based Grease for
Calcium-based grease is more runny and penetrative than its multi-purpose equivalent so it will be easier to force through joints that are blocked with old stale grease.
What is Coparslip Grease used for
Any parts of the car which need lubricating but which incorporate natural rubber components (in the form of bushes, boots, gaiters or similar) may require a special type of grease, such as Coparslip if there is a likelihood of the lubricant coming into contact with the rubber.
This type of lubricant should be used when greasing brake parts, which generally use rubber for seals and flexible pipes-using ordinary oily grease here could damage the rubber and have dangerous consequences.
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You may find that some parts of the car appear not to have nipples fitted although they are meant to be lubricated. In these instances look for blanking plugs which cover a threaded hole. Remove these in order to screw standard grease nipples in their place.
These plugs are fitted partly because they cost the manufacturer less than proper nipples and partly because they help to prevent dirt finding its way into the joints through nipples.
About four or five strokes of a grease gun (use a good quality one) will suffice to push the old lubricant out of the joint and fill it with new grease.
You should be able to see fresh grease coming out at the edges of the joint. A rag held round the end of the gun as you apply it to the nipple can help prevent too much grease seeping into places where it is not wanted.
Old stale solidified grease can sometimes be persuaded to move by the judicious application of heat from a blowtorch (though watch out for ‘rubber’ seals if you employ this method).
TOP TIP: Bear in mind that some suspension joints have to be lubricated with the weight of the car taken off them. If so you will need to raise the car on axle stands.
General Car Lubrication
To deal with most areas you need only multi-purpose grease and a can of light oil such as 3-in-1. Instead of oil you can often use a dual-purpose lubricant / water dispelling aerosol spray. WD 40 for instance.
Lubricating Battery Terminals
First though not strictly a matter for lubrication is the battery. Lubricant is used here because at service time it is a very good idea to clean the terminals and smear them liberally with petroleum jelly
This does not prevent good conductivity, as would an ordinary grease, but serves very well to discourage corrosion or sulphation.
Lubricating Bonnet & Boot Catches
Bonnet, boot hinges and catches need to be given a little lubrication from time to time. Multi-purpose grease is ideal where heavy applications of lubricant are needed such as on the bonnet catch, while 3-in-1 oil or engine oil will do the job for lighter duty parts such as hinges and pivots
Lubricating Release Cables
The bonnet release is often operated by cable from a puller inside the car. This type of cable should be liberally greased. One method of doing this is to remove the inner cable and use a tin of grease such as that made by Duckhams designed for motorcycle chains.
You heat the tin and immerse your cable in the molten lubricant. This impregnates the cable strands thoroughly and cuts down the need for a frequent repetition of the exercise.
Other kinds of cable, such as the clutch and some handbrake cables, can benefit from similar attention. Throttle cables almost always have an outer sheath made frow a low-friction plastic material such as nylon but a little oil or aerosol spray will help the cable work smoothly, particularly if the cable is old and the inner strands are beginning to corrode.
Some cars have direct mechanical throttle linkage and this can be lubricated with light oil.
TOP TIP: There is a simple method which helps you to lubricate a cable thoroughly without the trouble of disconnecting the often inaccessible bottom end.
You release the top fixing and make a little cup or funnel around the opening of the outer sheath with adhesive tape and greaseproof paper. You can then trickle as much lubricant as necessary down into the cable.
Leave a little pool of oil in the funnel to soak down. You can free a stubborn sticking cable by working the inner part up and down.
Inner components of the carburettor take care of themselves but all the external pivots and linkages should be lightly oiled.
Constant depression or variable choke carburettors, for example SU and CD/Stromberg types, have damper chambers built into the tops of their piston chambers (known as ‘dashpots’). These dampers need oil to function and should be topped-up regularly
SU carburettors can be lubricated satisfactorily with 20/50 or a similar engine oil, while CDs function better using a lighter oil. Zenith/Stromberg market their own product specifically for this purpose but you can use most types of light oil.
The distributor needs little lubrication but a few drops of light oil on the centre spindle ( on top of the screw which is accessible after pulling off the rotor arm) and a few more on the advance weight pivots, usually accessible through the holes in the baseplate, are beneficial.
These are reached by removing the distributor cap. A smear of HMP grease on the cams on which the contact-breaker fibre heel bears will help to cut down wear and prolong the interval between points adjustment.
Lubricating Car Doors
There are three distinct features of the car doors that need lubrication, the hinges, the striker plate and the lock.
Hinges can be dealt with adequately by the application of light oil or left-over engine oil to the pivots.
The striker plate, the part on the door jamb with which the catch interlocks to hold the door closed, should be given a light smear of multi-purpose grease.
The window winding mechanism can be dealt with too by removing the interior door trim where this is possible. This usually involves undoing a few small screws. The linkage can then be smeared with HMP grease at the pivot points.
A good lubricant for the lock mechanism is powdered graphite, which you can buy in convenient ‘puffer’ packs. If you cannot obtain any graphite use an aerosol spray lubricant; this has the additional advantage of preventing the lock freezing in icy weather.
Driveshaft joints come in various types, some of which are packed with special greases on assembly and need not be disturbed in normal servicing.
Check that the synthetic rubber boots of these joints are intact, as even a small split will let the grease out and the dirt in, quickly ruining the joint.
Other driveshaft joints such as those on the propshaft of some conventional front engined rear wheel drive vehicles can be lubricated with HMP grease through a standard nipple.
TOP TIP: Keep oil and grease well away from the rubber of the ‘spider’-type inner drive couplings such as those fitted to some fwd cars and the doughnut-shaped Rotoflex couplings found on many other cars.
The gear change linkage on rear engined cars can also be lubricated with light oil at the same time while you are underneath the car.
Lubricating Dynamos & Generators
Generators need very little routine lubrication.
On some dynamos (usually the Lucas ones) there is a conical housing on the rear end of the casing, which contains the rear bearing. This has a small hole in its flat rear surface.
Inject the oil sparingly here because too much could contaminate the commutator and carbon brushes, and may put the device out of action.
Alternators and other types of dynamo need no lubrication.
Lubricating Handbrake Linkages
Handbrake linkages usually run underneath the car and so take some very harsh treatment from bad weather conditions.
Be very generous when applying grease to pivots, cables, quadrants and any other exposed parts of the system. HMP grease can be used throughout.
Lubricating Leaf Springs
Leaf springs are often packed with a special graphite-laden lubricant when they are assembled and need no further lubrication.
Rubber bushes in the shackles and rubber inserts between the leaves are common so keep ordinary oils and greases clear of them.
If you are troubled by squeaks or creaking noises, you can squirt some old brake type fluid on the springs, this is vegetable-based and designed specifically to be compatible with natural rubber, so it will not harm the rubber bushes.
Pedal pivot points are often left out of the lubrication sequence but should not be forgotten.
A little oil can make a car much more pleasant to drive-there are few things so irritating as a jerky accelerator pedal or stiff clutch which makes smooth driving impossible.
Seat runners and rails should be greased lightly with HMP grease. But if the runners are the plastic or nylon roller type they need no lubrication at all.
If your speedometer needle tends to be twitchy and erratic, a little lubricant on the inner cable is probably all that is needed to cure it.
Disconnect the outer cable from the speedometer head and pull out the inner cable. Smear the inner cable with HMP grease but leave the top 7 .5 cm (3in.) clean. You risk damaging the instrument if the lubricant spreads up into it.
Lubricating Steering Boxes
Steering boxes should be topped-up.
Recommended lubricants vary but often it tends to be the same oil as used for the rear axle, this applies to all worm and roller, worm and nut and recirculating ball boxes.
These types will have a filler plug located on top of the casing; it may be either square or hexagon headed.
Rack and pinion steering gear may be lubricated either with oil or grease, depending on the make and type. Check which type yours is.
There may be a hexagon bolt filling point or grease nipple on top of the rack.
Ensure that the ‘rubber’ gaiters at each end of the rack are undamaged.
Inject the correct type of lubricant into the gaiters by squirting it under the protective boots. You will probably have to release wire clips to do this.
Lubricating Water Pumps
Many water pumps have no provision for greasing.
Even on those where it is possible you must be careful not to use too much lubricant or you may damage the carbon sealing ring dividing the bearing from the impeller.
Specially formulated greases are available but ordinary HMP lithium will do the job. The lubricant is applied through a nipple or plug on the body of the pump.
Lubricating Wheel Bearings
Wheel bearings can be lubricated with HMP grease.
On some cars you have to remove first the wheel, then the hub. This requires a very large spanner to shift the large central nut (which may be held from working loose by a split-pin). This nut may have to be retightened to a specified torque on reassembly.
On newer cars you need not remove wheel or hub, but gain access to the bearing by removing the nave plate on the wheel and the dust cap beneath.
Lubricating Windscreen Wipers
Finally remember to lubricate your windscreen wiper linkages. Light oil, HMP grease or glycerine can be used.
The wiper mechanism may be one of two basic types, the direct mechanical linkage or the cable driven, type. Put a few drops of oil on the linkage pivots.
Some cable operated wipers have grease nipples fitted to them. If so, lubricate with two or three strokes of the grease gun filled with LM grease. Do not over lubricate as the grease may get into the drive motor and damage it.
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