Under the Bonnet: Spring 1998

Many of you may be contemplating a serious long-distance journey to one of the many fine events listed in our calendar. Preparations and plans for an extended journey involves as much as anything, plain common sense. So let’s take a look at what you might be doing before you leave on your trip.


• Check all fluid levels and top up as necessary.

• Inspect all hoses and belts for cracking.

•Make certain all electrical connections are clean and tight.

•Check carburetors for leaks, and if applicable, add oil to dashpots.


• Inspect tires for cuts and wear. Replace if necessary—worn tires can kill!

• Inflate tires to proper pressure. (Don’t forget the spare!)

• Turn on all lights and check for faulty or burnt-out bulbs. Make certain both high and low beams are functioning properly. Sound the horn!

• Make sure your wipers and blades operate efficiently.


While many of our cars had factory tool kits, over the years some have either been lost or removed from the car entirely. It’s best to carry a rudimentary tool kit in a box or roll, and while requirements vary from car to car, the following is a basic list of necessities:

Pliers: Needle nose and regular.

Screwdrivers: A couple of sizes of both straight and Phillips.

Crescent wrench: Call it an “adjustable spanner” if you wish to sound British!

Gauges: Some of us always have a fear of the point closing up and no way to set them. Indulge yourself by carrying this essential item—they don’t take too much room!

Jack and lug wrench or wheel hammer: Are they really in the trunk? Better check!

File: Carry a point file; fuel pumps can be given enough life to at least get you home.

Electrical, wire, and duct Tape: These items are self-explanatory and very, very useful!

Spanners: (See how British we are!) A basic set of combination wrenches are an absolute necessity. Make certain they are of the appropriate type for your car (i.e., Whitworth, SAE, etc.).


The spare parts you carry will really be dictated by how recently things were replaced on your car. If your fan belt is fairly new, it would be silly to carry a spare. Spark plugs, points, and condenser take up no room. A couple of quarts of oil and a gallon of water are absolute musts! Many drivers take one of everything, but Sod’s Law says that whatever you carry—generator, water pump, fuel pump, etc.—will not be needed en route! But, if it’s going to worry you and detract from your driving concentration, take whatever you feel comfortable with. It’s been our experience that one usually takes more clothing than one needs. Just lay out what you think you require, then put half of it back! However, do take a piece of mat or tarpaulin to lie on should you have to go under your car at the side of the interstate. One last essential item to take with you: the Moss catalog for your car! We are only a day away from wherever you might be stranded! Just call us—we can help!


An essential task prior to a long journey and one that is probably our least favorite maintenance activity is changing the oil. However, it is probably the most important of all operations for ensuring long engine life and cool running. Engine oil serves two major functions: lubrication and cooling. Moving parts rely on a very thin film of oil to prevent frictional wear, and the circulating oil absorbs a good amount of heat from the engine. The latter characteristic is demonstrated by the reduction in engine temperature when an oil cooler is used.

For proper lubrication, absolutely clean oil is essential. Since the lubricant is extremely thin, any contaminant will severely interfere with proper lubrication, and while a good oil filter will remove most particulate contaminants from the oil, chemical contamination is not so easily removed. Chemical contamination consists largely of combustion byproducts and resultant acid formation, and none of us want acids circulating in our engines! It is because of this that the oil must be changed periodically.

Despite some current claims that oils in modern cars only need to be changed at intervals of 10,000 miles or more, our older British sports cars still require oil changes at least every 3,000 miles (or six months if the car isn’t driven 3,000 miles during that period) for maximum longevity. If in doubt, follow the factory recommendations for frequency of oil changes.

One legitimate variation to the factory recommendations is the use of multiviscosity oils with additives. The only defensible use of single viscosity non-detergent oil in engines is in old worn engines which have been run with older type oil. Modern type oil in these engines will often flush out accumulated buildups of matter which worn engines sometimes rely on to keep aerating as well as they can. A sudden release of these buildups is not always beneficial.

If your owner’s manual specifies only single viscosity oil, picking the correct multi-weight oil should not be difficult. For general use, 20W-40 is typically a good choice for most engines. Consistent very high temperatures and/or very hard driving may require the use of a higher viscosity rating due to elevated oil temperatures. Conversely, cold conditions may very well require a lighter oil.

The actual process of changing the oil is not difficult. Drain the oil when the engine is warm into a large drain pan. Clean, replace, and tighten the drain plug (and the drain plug washer if one is used!), replace the filter with a new one, and fill with new oil. Run the engine and look for any oil leaks. Shut the engine down and let it sit for about five minutes minimum, then recheck the oil. It may be necessary to add a little more oil to reach the full mark on the dipstick. DO NOT overfill the engine with oil, as this may lead to foaming, which drastically reduces the oil’s ability to properly lubricate your engine.

If you have a spin-on oil filter, changing it couldn’t be simpler. Just be sure to follow the installation instructions, and don’t over-tighten! The older canister-type filters with replaceable elements are much messier and more difficult to deal with. This type has a separate sealing ring between the upper edge of the canister and the filter head, which fits into a deep groove within the filter head. Always replace your old seal with the one included with the new filter element. The old seal is often so hardened by age that it might seem there’s no seal there at all! A sharp ice pick or similar tool may be required to remove the old seal. Some cars, notably MGAs and early MGBs, have filter heads which are retained by the filter canister boll, and have another similar seal between the filter head and the block. This seal should also be replaced. Finally, as with any oil change, it is essential that the old oil is disposed of in a legal and environmentally safe manner. Many gas stations and garages will handle this final process for you at nominal or no charge.

(I would like to acknowledge the help of my colleague at Moss, Craig Cody, in the preparation of this feature—E.W.)

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