Caring For A Classic

Trucks live longer these days. Tighter manufacturing tolerances, greater rust resistance from paint and undercoatings, more efficient lubricants and cleaner-burning fuels help a well-cared-for pickup easily rack up more than 100,000 miles--sometimes even double that--before requiring a major engine overhaul.

Yet the way we drive our trucks works against their aging gracefully. A sportsman typically either uses his truck to the point of abuse or relegates it to hunting-lodge duty, where it sits for weeks or months at a time. Both extremes create their own problems.

If an owner is diligent about regular maintenance and monitors vulnerable components for wear, however, there's no reason why even the hardest-working pickup can't deliver a couple of full-odometer rotations. Here's a guide to those areas most prone to breakage--the weakest links, as it were. The secret to keeping a truck in service is to replace or repair these weak links well before they break.

THE DRY RUBBER BAND

It doesn't take much stretching to snap an old rubber band. That's because rubber dries out over time, and age attacks a vehicle's rubber components whether it's being driven or not. In fact, letting a truck sit can be much worse than piling mileage on it, since the rubber pieces in and around the driveline won't get any lubrication.

1 UNDER THE HOOD Under-hood heat speeds the aging process, so watch out for weak links in the engine compartment. Check fuel lines, radiator and vacuum hoses, spark-plug wire insulation and anything else made from rubber for cracks, discoloration or other signs of aging. Hoses under pressure--like those to and from the radiator--bulge when they deteriorate. If you don't see obvious bulging, push the hose with your finger to test for soft spots.

2 CHECK THE BELTS Though it's made from several materials in addition to rubber, the accessory drive belt will also crack and fray with age. Be sure to look it over carefully.

3 BRAKE LINES

Inspect the brake fluid lines between the chassis hard lines and the brakes. These bulge as they age and can be replaced with stainless-steel-braided hose.

Rubber boots that protect the constant-velocity (CV) joints or U-joints in the drive axles are susceptible to drying and damage from sharp trail hazards. If you find even the smallest tear in a CV boot, replace it immediately; otherwise the joints will freeze.

4 LUBE THE JOINTS Driveline joints and yokes that are not protected by boots should be lubed at least as often as the manufacturer's severe-duty maintenance schedule recommends. Even the rubber breather tubes in the differentials will deteriorate over time; some four-wheelers replace these with either steel-braided hose or a sturdier neoprene rubber.

5 TIRE TROUBLES Age can also dry out tires. Cracked sidewalls are a hint that a tire isn't as structurally sound as it used to be.

6 REPLACE GASKETS Many undercarriage components, including the oil pan, transmission, transfer case and differentials, are sealed with cork or rubber gaskets. These dry out and deteriorate as they age, particularly in a vehicle that doesn't get much use.

7 LOOK FOR LEAKS If fluid can seep out around seals, contaminants can get in. This is particularly important for vehicles that spend a lot of time in water, because water ruins the lubricating properties of grease.

8 REPACK HUBS If your truck has manual locking hubs, repack them with grease at the same intervals recommended for wheel bearings. A truck's mechanical transfer-case linkage should be lubricated at the first sign of stiffness. It's also a good idea to engage the transfer case and front drive axles at least once a month, so moving parts don't freeze from disuse.

SMOKE AND SMELLS

9 WATCH YOUR OIL A little puff of smoke at start-up or having to add a quart or so of oil between changes is normal for an older engine. However, if you're adding three or more quarts of oil between changes, or that puff of smoke becomes a James Bond-like smoke screen, it's time to rebuild the engine. A drop in power (even if the engine still runs smoothly) or a sustained clatter at start-up should also send you to your mechanic.

10 REPLACE THE CLUTCH

If the clutch on your truck slips or feels like the gear isn't engaged even when the pedal is all the way out, clutch work is in order. In an automatic, a burnt smell to the transmission fluid can mean trouble, as does a transmission that won't stay in gear or one that makes prolonged, mushy changes between gears.

Chasing down these weak links is like painting the Golden Gate Bridge--as soon as one end is finished, the job starts all over again. However, taking time now and again to check the potential trouble spots is always preferable to having to make the long walk home when a weak link breaks.

Vintage Tin

Finding parts to keep an older pickup on the road can be difficult. Here are a few companies that specialize in old iron.

Kanter Obsolete Auto Parts (Dodge, Ford, GM) 800-526-1096; www.kanter.com

RB's Obsolete (Ford, GM) 800-426-6607; www.rbsauto.com

Year One (GM) 800-932-7663; www.yearone.com

The Filling Station (GM) 800-841-6622; www.fillingstation.com

Sacramento Vintage Ford 888-367-3100; www.vintage-ford.com

Dennis Carpenter Ford Reproductions 800-476-9653; www.dennis-carpenter.com

Dodge Connection 304-538-2690; www.dodgeconnection.com

For more on trucks, go to www.outdoorlife.com/gear/trucks