Tech Articles

Spring Maintenance Checklist to Keep Your Race or Performance Car Running Great

If you drove your race or performance car into the garage last fall and haven’t touched it since, it’s probably time to start getting it ready for spring. It’s certainly a good time to perform preventative maintenance and do a thorough mechanical inspection, particularly if there were any issues that existed prior to storage, such as a loss of power, unexplained noises or fluid leaks.

Proper maintenance allows you to diagnose and repair mechanical problems promptly, typically with less impact on the pocketbook than when they are delayed. Most maintenance services can be performed by nearly anyone who is mechanically inclined or has the initiative to learn the procedure through a how-to video on YouTube.

If the overall condition of the engine is in question, it may be a good idea to perform a compression or leak-down test. A compression tester (Allstar Performance ALL96520) or leak-down tester (Total Seal TOT14MMLDT) are required for each task. Both tests are pretty straightforward, however, a leak-down test requires a compressed air supply and the engine’s harmonic balancer to be marked in 0 deg., 90 deg., 180 deg. and 270 deg. timing increments. Regardless of which test you perform, results should be relatively consistent from cylinder to cylinder.

If a particular cylinder has a low compression reading, further investigation will be required. A leak-down test, however, can help pinpoint a potential problem. For example, if when performing a leak down test you encounter a particular cylinder that is leaking significantly, simply listen at the crankcase breather, intake, and exhaust to determine the source. Air leaking from the cylinder to the intake, for example, indicates an intake valve that is not seating properly, while air leaking into an adjacent cylinder or bubbles present in the coolant with the radiator cap removed are likely caused by a blown head gasket.

Engine condition can be further verified by performing an oil filter inspection. Always a good maintenance step, checking for debris in the filter a couple times each year can provide an early warning of potential issues. Simply remove the filter from the engine, cut it open using an oil filter inspection tool (such as Longacre’s LON77750) and inspect the filter media for bearing material. A minor amount of wear is of no concern, however, if the filter is loaded with debris, the engine should be disassembled to determine the cause.

If the vehicle is subject to losing coolant, a check may be in order using a cooling system pressure tester, which allows pressurizing the system without having to operate the engine. Install the tester in place of the radiator cap and proceed by pumping it to the specified pressure, verifying that the gauge holds steady. If the pressure drops, a leak is present and the system must be inspected. Any one of a variety of components could be responsible including the radiator, a coolant hose, water pump, heater core, intake manifold or head gasket, for example.

MSD Timing Light and Allstar Compression Gauge
A good timing light and quality compression gauge are invaluable tools for maintenance and troubleshooting.

The ignition system should be inspected, as well. The distributor cap and rotor, if applicable, should be checked and replaced as required, particularly if they include evidence of cracks or “carbon tracking”. The spark plug wires should be inspected and cleaned, ensuring that they have not become damaged due to contact with hot exhaust.

Vehicles equipped with high-output ignitions require extra attention be given to the plug wires and the coil wire, in particular, which should be replaced periodically. An Ohmmeter can be used to check plug wire condition.

The spark plugs should be cleaned and re-gapped or replaced as well. After completing these maintenance procedures, the ignition timing should be set using a quality timing light, such as the unit offered by MSD Ignition (MSD8992).

Vehicles that are idle for extended periods are often subject to deteriorating fuel. Race cars that use methanol or E85, in particular, should be drained of their fuel at the conclusion of the racing season to minimize system corrosion, and the carburetor or fuel injection system should be thoroughly cleaned, replacing all gaskets and seals as needed. Regardless of fuel choice, the fuel filter should be cleaned or replaced and the fuel lines inspected as part of an annual maintenance routine, if not more often. Driven Racing Oil’s Carb Defender, a concentrated fuel additive, offered in both street-legal and race-only formulas, can be used to help battle the corrosive effects of methanol, E85 or oxygenated fuels.

Many performance enthusiasts have fallen victim to a bad battery or alternator. By simply connecting a voltmeter (Allstar Performance ALL80099) to the battery of a running engine, one can determine whether the charging system is functioning properly. Most vehicles will output 13-14 volts, yet may drop to 12-13 volts with several accessories operating. If voltage drops below 12 volts, the alternator may not be charging properly or a bad ground may exist. A battery load tester can be used to effectively check battery condition.

Regardless of whether it’s an automatic or manual transmission, or transaxle, the fluid should be changed periodically. Transmission fluid breaks down over time from repeated heat cycles and becomes contaminated with normal mechanical wear. Vehicles fit with an automatic transmission should be subjected to service including pan removal, filter replacement and a dose of fresh fluid.

Additionally, pre computer-controlled units such as Ford C-4/C-6, Chrysler Torqueflite 904/727 and GM Powerglide require specific band adjustments, which should be performed at the same time as fluid service. Simply consult a repair manual for band adjustment procedures and specifications. Transmissions should also be inspected for any evidence of leakage and repaired as needed. A telescoping mirror (Allstar Performance ALL14174) can be of aid in locating and viewing hard-to-find fluid leaks.

Universal joints, if applicable, should be inspected to ensure that they are in good condition. If there is any indication of wear or evidence of fine, ground steel around the bearing cups, they should be replaced. Common to front wheel or four- wheel drive applications, constant velocity (CV) joints should be examined, ensuring that the boots are intact. Once a boot becomes torn, grease is slung out of the joint, and the joint is exposed to contamination by dirt and moisture.

Highly stressed in virtually any racing or performance application, the differential should be subject to cover removal and inspection, if applicable. The lubricant should be drained, carefully examining it for any signs of bearing material. If a pinion bearing is failing, for example, tiny metal fragments will be present in the lubricant. The ring and pinion should also be examined at this time as well, checking the wear pattern and ensuring that none of the teeth are cracked or broken. If a repair is necessary, Allstar Performance offers a variety of differential components including bearing kits and ring and pinion sets.

In most performance vehicles, the brake system is often neglected until a problem arises. The rotors and pads (disc brakes), or drums and shoes (drum brakes) should be carefully inspected as part of routine maintenance. Rotors and drums should be free of heat discoloration, grooves, warpage, or cracks. Parts that appear worn should be re-machined or replaced, accompanied by new pads or shoes.

Evidence of fluid loss through the calipers, wheel cylinders, or brake lines, can also allow air into the system, and creates a spongy brake pedal that should be corrected. Fluid may be flushed and replenished, if required, using a power bleeder, available from Motive Products. While performing brake service, the wheel bearings should be inspected, cleaned, and re-packed with a quality wheel bearing grease (Allstar Performance ALL78241).

The steering system should be free of wear or damage, ensuring that it is smooth and responsive during operation and lacking in excessive free play. The steering linkage, which typically includes the pitman arm, center link, idler arm, and tie rods, should be checked for wear at each joint and worn components replaced. Inspecting the tires at this point is key as uneven tread wear is often a good indicator of worn steering or suspension components. A “pickle fork” and ball joint spreader (Allstar Performance ALL11174) are invaluable tools when performing front end work.

Once all inspections and maintenance are completed, the chassis should be greased (Allstar Performance grease gun ALL14300) and front-end alignment checked in the event that any steering or selected suspension components were replaced.

Suspension components including the control arms, ball joints, coil or leaf springs, etc. should be visually inspected for signs of wear or damage. Spindles, easily damaged on race cars that are subject to wheel-to-wheel contact, may be checked for straightness using the proper tool from Allstar Performance. Suspension bushings wear and deteriorate over time and must be replaced to ensure proper handling.

Although it may be time-consuming and labor-intensive, doing a thorough mechanical inspection and performing the necessary maintenance in the off-season will certainly put your mind at ease, knowing that your “pride and joy” is truly ready for spring.