I’m going to give you ten specific hints and tips that will hopefully have a wider application. I also anticipate that they will be something in what follows for people who tinker a bit, but prefer to leave anything beyond underbonnet checks and cleaning spark plugs to professionals.

So here goes. Everything shown below is something I’ve either done myself, or seen done first-hand by someone I know or have seen working. 


This is an extremely simple but very effective ‘modification’ to a spider-type wheelbrace, which has the major benefit of making it much more user friendly, as well as the minor benefit of making it rattle less in your boot! Obtain a short length of pipe insulation from a DIY superstore – one metre length costs pennies – cut it into four short sections and then attach same to the spider as shown, using either insulation tape or brown tape. This really does transform the tool, and make it much nicer to handle – especially in a roadside emergency situation.


Most of us have used washing-up liquid at some time as an ‘emergency’ hand cleaner/degreaser when you’ve run out of the proper stuff. It works okay, but can take an awful lot of working-in to get all the muck out. If, though, you pour a small quantity of sugar into your hands before adding the ‘Fairy’, you’ll find that it really helps to lift the grease out, off and away. It works in much the same way as the solid particles found in modern proprietory heavy-duty hand cleaners, and while it’s not really as good as the correct item, it’s well worth trying after an emergency job…


This is one I learned myself the hard way, some years ago. You want to store spare gasket sets out of harm’s way, and there’s often a gap at the top of a cabinet or similar in your garage, between cabinet and roof, which looks just right. Be careful though; few garages are totally watertight, and even if you think yours is, you’ll find that condensation gathers under corrugated roof panels. And even a little damp will ruin an otherwise good set of gaskets, with the head gasket most likely to suffer.


I’m not sure if people really were more honest back in the classic era, or whether this is simply a reflection of manufacturers willingness to make things a bit easier then, but if your pre-1970 (i.e. without a steering column lock) classic needs replacement key(s), there’s a fair chance the relevant key number will be marked somewhere in or on the vehicle. On ‘Fifties Rovers, for example, it’s often on the chassis plate inside the door shut. Otherwise, you often find the key number is stamped on the body of the lock/key mechanism that it needs to operate. Here’s a ‘classic’ example; this ‘Fifties Hillman door lock is operated by an old RM series key – specifically RM906. Incidentally, and just in case any less than honest people are reading this, that number does NOT relate to any car I, or anyone else on the TM team, owns or has owned!


Taking the pulley off a dynamo or alternator can be a bit tricky; you can’t turn the securing nut without turning the pulley, which totally defeats what you’re trying to do. Gripping the pulley directly in a vice or similar isn’t recommended either, as it’s virtually impossible to stop the vice jaws from causing damage. This, though, is a good way of doing it; thread an old fanbelt around the pulley and grip THAT with the vice jaws; nice and tight. This will stop the pulley from turning, meaning you can undo its securing nut. This technique is useful both for overhauling or repairing your own component and when fitting an exchange replacement as the latter are often supplied without a pulley.


Simple one this, but worth mentioning because I still get asked about it quite often. Many mid ‘Eighties-on classics have ‘coded’ radios, and the older a car, the less likely it is that an original code will be available. You can buy plug-in code savers like this from good accessory shops and they work by passing a small current through the car’s circuits when the battery is disconnected, thus preserving all functions that require a continuous power supply. Essential then, if you plan to disconnect the battery for any reason. Don’t forget too that if, like most, the cigarette lighter/power socket you are plugging into is ignition controlled, the code saver will operate only if the ignition is switched on before you disconnect the battery.


We often need to shape small pieces of sheet metal, for example when making panel repair sections. Finding something strong enough to knock against can be a problem; a workbench probably won’t be suitable and a full-size anvil is often overkill in terms of size and cost. There is though a very low-cost alternative if you’ve a couple of identical scrap engines. Remove the backplates from them both and weld them together – and that’s it! You have a strong piece that’s both tough enough to withstand all the hammering and has a fair few curved and circular edges, which are ideal for metal shaping.


We’ve all seen those superbly restored period radios on sale at shows, and a genuine contemporary set looks superb in a classic dash. The sound is more in keeping too – probably not as good in absolute terms as modern equipment, but certainly much more classic. There is though an adjustment that you need to make as part of the installation process; the radio has to be ‘trimmed in’ to suit the car’s aerial. Somewhere on the set, but usually accessible from the front, there will be a trimming screw – on this Motorola set it’s hidden behind the tuning knob. Select a strong signal (1500m long wave – Radio 4 perhaps?) and then adjust this screw until the signal sounds as though it is at its strongest. That’s all there is to it, but because it’s not needed on modern radios many people don’t know about this.


Sometimes people run into difficulty after fitting a replacement petrol cap; they find the car cuts out after a short time, starts again after a short rest, but then cuts out again.

The reason is that a non-vented cap has been fitted in place of a vented one. As fuel leaves the tank, air has to enter behind it, otherwise a partial vacuum is formed. Because ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ the presence of one here will stop the fuel from flowing. Air enters the tank by means of a small venting hole – this has to be designed so it can let in the air that is required, but does not allow fuel to escape either through spillage or evaporation.

Venting can happen either through a pipe-type arrangement that’s part of the tank, in which case the cap will be airtight, or via a vent arrangement in the filler cap. The photo shows the pinhole in a vented-type cap. Fitting a non-vented cap in place of a vented one won’t therefore work, as the air cannot enter.

Incidentally a similar arrangement to this is found in the cap of hydraulic master cylinders; as the fluid goes down when the brake, clutch or whatever is operated, so air has to come in behind.


Some say that having extra instruments simply gives us more to worry about when driving! Most classic car owners, however, recognise that knowing as much as possible about what our cars are doing is definitely a good thing, and are therefore keen to add instrumentation where only a limited amount was supplied by the factory. However, where the extra instruments were optional on your car, or supplied as standard on a higher-specified model, it’s often easier than you might think, and can be done in a way that hardly impacts at all on originality.

Most makers fitted blanking plates instead of optional instruments in order to make life easier in the factory, and sometimes the necessary wiring will be present and correct behind the dash. Here are two examples. This 1958 Hillman Minx doesn’t have an ammeter, but the contemporary Singer Gazelle does, and both cars share the same basic dashboard design – the Hillman instrument has a blanking plate where the ammeter would be. It therefore follows that you can fit an ammeter by simply finding an instrument with one fitted, swapping it over, and then making the necessary (and simple) wiring modification.

The second photograph shows the back of a late Volvo 140/early Volvo 240 instrument panel, with the optional rev counter in the centre. Where this is not fitted, there’s a blanking plate instead. Here upgrading to include a rev counter is dead-easy as the main connections plug straight into the dashboard printed circuit. The only other one needed is from the main centre connection to the coil.

Have you got a top tip or a bit of advice you would like to share with the TM community? Well leave it below.