If you’ve owned classic Corvettes all your life, you know they’re one of the simplest and most straightforward vehicles to work on. You know that, unlike with new cars, you don’t need to run to your local GM dealership every time your Vette needs something simple like a new headlight bulb, or have someone plug into your car’s computer every time that ominous engine light comes on.
However, if you have always driven new generation, computer-controlled cars like those on dealership lots today, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed at the idea of keeping up with the maintenance of a classic vehicle. I understand that many of our customers are learning how to take care of a classic car for the first time, so I’d like to share an overview of my procedures and tips for classic Corvettes maintenance.
As I’ve mentioned in my Buyer’s Guide, regular maintenance and proper storage are critical to the reliability and longevity of any car. First, let’s talk about storage. Whenever possible, your Corvette should be kept inside and out of the elements. This is especially important when trying to protect the quality of the paint on your Corvette. Precipitation, sunlight, and temperature changes can do extensive damage to what was once a top-notch paint job.
Ideally, we would all have temperature-controlled garages to store our Vettes in year-round. Of course, this isn’t a possibility for everyone, and forking out the money to pay for a fancy new garage could certainly cut into your budget for the cars you want to put in it! Even if you can’t invest in climate control, be mindful of the humidity of your storage space. Consider investing in a dehumidifier if your garage tends to get damp. This will not only curb any potential rust issues, but will prevent that musty smell from mildew that thrives in damp environments. You can also protect your car from mildew by making sure the windows aren’t the whole way up when it is parked indoors.
While your car is being stored, you should always unhook the battery to prevent power drainage and possible electrical fire. Even in the summer when I am driving a certain classic car daily, I unhook the battery overnight for this same reason. If you are planning to store your Corvette for an extended period of time, especially over the winter, you should take a look at other procedures I outline in my Corvette Winterization Blog.
There’s really not a whole lot involved in a corvette’s regular maintenance. Most important is to check the oil regularly and change the oil and oil filter every 3,000 miles or at least once per year (even if you’ve driven less than 3,000 miles). The oil level for Corvette engines should be checked often and kept full at all times to prevent possible engine damage. If you’re not sure what your oil level should be, you can consult the owner’s manual. If your classic no longer has its original owner’s manual, they are easy to find on eBay.
When changing oil, I recommend 10W-30 oil for stock engines, and 20W-50 for high performance engines, along with a zinc additive and either AC Delco or Fram filters. It’s not hard to change a C3 corvette’s oil yourself. To learn how, look in a repair manual. Otherwise, any garage will be able to change it for you. Just make sure you tell them what kind of oil and filter you’d like them to use.
Fluids that need changed less frequently in a Corvette are transmission fluid, rear end grease, brake fluid, power steering fluid, and anti-freeze. All of these fluids have different changing requirements, so it’s best to refer to either the owner’s manual or repair manual. I’ll add the specific types and brands I use personally at the end of this blog.
A corvette’s tires often get overlooked as needing regular maintenance, because it typically takes many years to drive the 40,000 miles recommended for most sets of tires. Time, as well as travel, takes a toll on tires and eventually you will find that they become dry-cracked and unsafe for use, even if the treads are still unworn. Tires are often the first part I replace on a Corvette I’ve just bought. I’ve been astounded at the terrifying condition of the tires on some cars that the previous owners had been driving on. Depending on several factors, including the humidity level where you live, you’ll find that you need to change your tires approximately every 5-10 years. It is also a good idea to regularly check your tire pressure. I recommend keeping them at 32 PSI.
When choosing a garage for more involved maintenance, or for repair when you encounter a problem (and undoubtedly you will- remember, these are 30+ year old cars), be sure to find a mechanic who is experienced with classic vehicles. Experience working on C3 Corvettes would be even better. Most modern mechanics learn more about how to fix modern cars with their computer-controlled parts, as this is what they spend the majority of their time working on. The best way to find a good mechanic for your Corvette will be to ask around. If you have local Corvette club, try contacting them for recommendations.
I’m sure that most mechanics who started out in the days of what we now call classics, look back on those days as when problems were so much easier to prevent, diagnose, and fix. Even if classic car maintenance is new to you, don’t let it scare you away from becoming the owner of your dream Corvette. As long as you are committed to remembering the needs of your vette, and consult the right resources when needed, you’ll realize that you’ve found a hobby you will enjoy for years to come.
Visit our Parts & Restoration page for a list of suppliers for parts and accessories we have worked with in the past.
Parts and fluids we usually use:
- Spark plugs: AC Delco brand, C3 Corvettes generally run part #s R43S, R44T, R44TS, or R45TS
- Oil filter: AC Delco brand PF454 short filter; or Fram brand PH5 long filter or PH30 short filter
- Motor oil: Castrol 10W-30 (stock engines) or 20W-50 (high performance engines)
- Zinc additive for motor oil: STP brand
- Power steering fluid: Any brand is fine
- Automatic transmission fluid: Dexron brand
- Antifreeze: Green formula, any brand
- Gear oil (for rear end and manual transmission): 80-90W, most auto parts stores carry their own brand
- Differential additive: AC Delco Limited Slip Additive or AmsOil Slip Lock