In a short period, my son Bradley’s access to the SCM fleet have made him a favorite of his cohorts at Lincoln High School, where he is a sophomore. He is the founder and president of the first car club in the history of the school, “The Cardinals Car Club.” (A cardinal is the Lincoln mascot.)

Recently, he was getting the 1972 Mercedes 250C ready for the 200-mile roundtrip to the Oregon Coast. He and three friends would be staying with parents there.

I watched as, on his own, he went through the pre-trip ritual. First, he researched the recommended tire pressures for radials on the W114, settling on 28/32. He then used a hand-held portable electric inflator to top off all the tires.

After that he opened the hood and disconnected the trickle charger. Then it was a glance at the oil level. He’s learned if you pull the dipstick when the car is absolutely cold, you don’t have to clean and reinsert it. The level it reads on the stick is accurate.

The 250 burns a quart about every 2,500 miles. The stick read only about a half-quart low, so we just left it.

He earlier had made the mistake of checking the oil on the 1991 Alfa Romeo Spider S4 when it was hot. The oil read low, so he added a quart. The next morning (and ever since) the cold reading is that we are a half-quart overfull. You really need to let an engine sit before grabbing the dipstick.

Next was looking for the overflow tank, seeing how much coolant was in it, then opening the radiator cap and peering inside. The overflow tank on the 250, which is almost impossible to get to, was nearly empty, but the level in the radiator was up to the neck, so we left it.

This constitutes a good pre-flight check for any old cars. It’s a process that is essentially unheard of with new cars. When I bought my 2021 Hyundai Elantra, I asked the salesmen to show me how to open the hood. His answer was, “Why would you want to do that?”

My inner car guy is enjoying this, as for the rest of his life Bradley will have a situational awareness with old cars. When taking a car out of storage (where our old cars often sit) he will check the pressures and fluids. (A front tire on our Land Rover Disco was down to 16 pounds, from the recommended 40, when we pulled it out for a ski trip last week.) He will be ready to keep a car from running out of oil or water. Those are all good things when you are around old cars.

Admittedly, these are not the most reliable of machines to have my son and his friends driving around in, but if old cars are properly set up and looked after they do well.

Long after I am gone, I am sure Bradley will still remember to check the fluids and pressures before heading out on a drive. That’s a part of my legacy, and I’m pleased by it.

Do you recall who taught you how to check tire pressures and oil level, and when and where?


  1. Enjoyed your Hyundai salesman’s comment about why would you want to know how to open the hood. Through the years I always did the routine maintenance on my cars. Then about 10 or so years ago I purchased a new air cleaner for the Ford Escape I was leasing at the time. Returned home from the auto parts store, opened the hood, and spent about half an hour trying to figure out how to open the air cleaner housing. Gave up, shut the hood, returned the air cleaner to the parts store. Am currently on my forth new lease car since that time, and haven’t opened the hood on any of them! All the best to you and your son.

  2. I think I was about 8 years old when my dad showed me how to sent the points on our Morris Minor. First job was to file off the residue and then use the feeler guage to set the gap. We had a foot pump and my job was to check the tire pressures and use the pump. We also had a 1959 Riley 1.5 with twin SUV carbs. and my job was to top off the oil. The piston would occasionally stick and the result was petrol pouring onto the road. My job was to take a spanner and wack the top of the carb!!! Oh yes, and of course the engine oil. One day dad was working on the brakes and forgot to chock the wheels. He climbed from under the car and went to the shed to get another tool. I watched as the car rolled back down the driveway, broke through the twin metal gates, just missed a coal lorry that was passing by, and the demolished the neighbours fence. When my dad returned from the shed our car was sitting in the neighbours garden. Such memories.

  3. B. Mitchell Carlson

    I, too, got a chuckle out of the Hyundai salesman’s comment. Every rental car I’ve had I’ve opened the hood on – some out of necessity, most out of morbid curiosity of what gutless wonder is trying to propel the thing.

  4. Thanks for the quick trip down a recent memory. My young one is been busy submitting to colleges, but just the other day I saw her continuing the ritual we started when I gave her the truck she calls Nugget. Nugget is a 1991 push button 4×4 ext cab ranger. We got it from the orignal owners after a mutual friend went through the car. Although it is low miles for the year, it still requires a lot of hands on to keep it in the road. However, I would add even with all of the experience gained, I caught her trying to put in some small engine oil (lawn mower) in the car just a few weeks ago. It seems that Dad dropped the ball and did not re-stock her shelf when she went through her other bottle and only saw this one. Since then she now knows better and so do I as I have made sure her oil is clearly marked. Thanks again – Jay

  5. He could not have a better teacher, or more accurately, group of teachers, which would include the SCM staff and contributors.

  6. I have a 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee as a second vehicle. Only put 300 miles on it last year. Due to adult children visiting NY from London for Christmas, we needed a second vehicle to transport our group from Long Island NY to my sister’s house in Northern Virginia, which is about a 5 hour drive. I went thru the same process as Bradley did and the car performed the round trip without an issue. That was critical to me because one of the passengers was my 99 year old mom.

  7. When I was a kid, growing up in east Oakland, some of the older kids (the ones old enough to own/drive cars) dug a hole in a vacant lot to serve as a ‘grease pit’. It was a good thing because cars needed their suspension greased about every 1000 miles in the old days. Anyway, I would go over and watch these guys fix stuff, adjust their points using a matchbook cover as a feeler gauge and keep those old heaps runnin’. No, they weren’t mentors but more of an inpiration to me, who 30 odd years later, would have a Mercedes 500K engine apart on the bench…and later that heap would run too.

  8. My Dad advised me to do this before every long trip. My high school auto shop teacher actually showed me how to do it – you actually had competent teachers then who gave a sh*t. (Dad had a bad heart from 2 heart attacks)

    Back in those days you also could actually get free air and water at the local GAS station (not convenience store!)

    BTW…I’m currently enjoying a nice cold beverage in my SCM “wine” glass – a gift for my 3 year renewal – cheers!

  9. Enjoy your beverage and thanks for your renewal. – KM