Cherished vehicles suffer in heatwave

Figures from leading vehicle recovery companies reveal that the recent UK heatwave has increased breakdowns by up to as much as 25 per cent, and with reports of the hot weather set to continue during August, there could be more heartache for owners of classic and older vehicles in particular.

The RAC has said the rate of breakdowns for all cars was up 25 per cent in London in late July, and that in general it expected them to be about 15-20 per cent higher than usual during the hotter period. Similarly, Green Flag said it had dealt with over 50,000 breakdowns on July 26 and 27 during the peak of the heatwave, which was 10 per cent higher than expected and equates to one breakdown every four seconds.

It’s a fact of life that all vehicles are susceptible to a mechanical failure, but age limits on certain breakdown policies and increased costs for classic car cover shows that most companies believe older vehicles to be at greater risk. As the summer holidays get into their stride more folk are likely to use their classics to attend shows and events, take on extended trips or simply enjoy during evenings and weekends, so it naturally follows that breakdowns will be more numerous. However, the recent heatwave has served to exacerbate the situation.

RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis said: “The heat we’ve been experiencing lately can take its toll on all vehicles, although it is those that haven’t been as carefully looked after that are most prone to problems. “The main problems our patrols have been attending lately include punctures – underinflated tyres or those in poor condition – and batteries, which are under more pressure from the heat combined with a lot of stop-start leisure traffic.”

In many cases, failures may not be due to deliberate neglect – especially with classic cars. Many spend prolonged periods in storage and deteriorate while sitting idle, or parts have simply degraded over time without the owner’s knowledge. This is not helped by the quality of replacement parts often being lower in quality than the OE-items. For instance, thermostats and heater taps for A-Series engines have become notorious failure points, where previously such problems were rare.

Indeed, the heat has been catching out owners of even the most cherished and previously reliable classics. Sunday Times digital editor and journalist Charlotte Vowden, who owns a 1960 MGA, is one such example. She took on ownership of the car, affectionately known as Frisky due to its FSK numberplate, when her grandfather, Raymond Greenway (aka Dodo), sadly passed away last May. The MGA has been in regular use since, with Charlotte getting accustomed to classic car ownership along the way. Her recent experience mirrors that of many others in the last few weeks.

“During the start of the heatwave I went to Wales for several days, driving considerable distances with sensible breaks after an hour or so, and I had no problems whatsoever,” she explained to Classic Car Buyer. “Every morning I’d check the oil and check the water, and constantly monitored the temperature of the engine – doing all the things you’re meant to do. But when the heat got really intense, I decided to avoid a longer trip in favour of a 55-minute trip from Hertfordshire to Southend.

I checked the water that morning and reached my destination with no problems, but on the way back I left the motorway and hit a sea of cars. The engine temperature started to go up, but there was no way for me to get out of the traffic and turn the engine off. Eventually I managed to pull into a car valeting garage but the engine was knocking, which I’d never heard before. I was on the verge of panic, but I knew I had to deal with the situation.”

In a scenario owners of older cars dread, Charlotte was left with a car that she didn’t want to start again in fear of causing damage, but was forced to. “I made sure there was enough room for other cars to pass, but the garage owner insisted I started the car and moved on. My pleading fell on deaf ears I had no option but to start the car again, so it could be moved on. Checking the coolant half an hour later, there was no water left at all. There was no obvious reason for it to overheat other than the exceptional weather.

“I’ve been stuck in traffic before and noticed the temperature going up, but usually you have enough time to get out of it. The hotter air temperature just made it so much worse. I’m very cautious with the car anyway, but it’s made me more nervous to use it now, especially after the treatment at the garage.”

The heatwave has not just caused mechanical failures though, as the RAC’s Rod Dennis added: “We’ve also seen increases in problems that are not related to the mechanics of cars, such as drivers filling their cars with the wrong type of fuel and more people locking themselves out of their own vehicles – perhaps the prolonged summer heat is at least partly responsible.

“Certainly it is a busy time on Britain’s roads however, with schools in all regions now broken up for summer and a corresponding increase in leisure traffic. Having in place a quality breakdown policy can give drivers the peace of mind that they can get the help they need if the worst does happen.”

While most owners will check the vehicles regularly or have them inspected regardless, it’s important to be even more vigilant in hot weather, sorting any minor issues that may not survive a harsher test that such conditions bring. What’s more, having the correct breakdown cover in place will get you out of trouble should the worst happen. If you plan on frequent hot weather use, such as trips to southern Europe, then it’s a good idea to seek advice from relevant owners clubs regarding procedures and upgrades.

Although the heat did manage to relent in the UK for a while during the last fortnight, it was replaced by heavy storms. Of course, such conditions bring about another set of problems as electrical faults can be caused by water ingress. For classic cars owners, the often lamented and slightly soggy traditional British summer may well be preferable to such extremes…

Charlotte and her dad Steven with Frisky the MGA.

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