Old Dominion Model A Ford Club 

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1. There are two tricks to a sure start and battery longevity: buy a good battery and keep it fully charged. I usually get at least 8 years out of any battery made by East Penn, sold as Deka, Duracell or Car Quest. And there are two ways to keep a battery fully charged. The best way is to run your engine to operating temperature at least every 30 days. Or, use a float charger. Not a trickle charger, but a float charger. A battery charger, even a "trickle" charger, left unattended will eventually boil out a battery. Keeping the battery fully charged prevents sulfation. Battery sulfation occurs at a specific rate at "X" temperature.  Over time, sulfation reduces battery performance and eventually its effects are irreversible. Sulfation of batteries starts when specific gravity falls below 1.225 or voltage measures less than 12.4 for a 12v battery, or 6.2 for a 6 volt battery. Sulfation hardens on the battery plates reducing and eventually destroying the ability of the battery to generate current. Using a float charger significantly reduces sulfation. Your battery loses 33 percent of its power when the temperature dips below freezing, and over 50 percent of its power when the temperature falls below zero. A fully charged battery will not freeze until -76°F; however, a fully discharged battery can start to freeze at 32°F. So……keep the battery fully charged! If you have a digital volt meter, 6.03 volts on a 6 volt battery and 12.06 volts on a 12 volt battery is only a 25% charge!  Deltran battery tenders have in-line fuses and can be hard wired to the vehicles.

2. Clean grounds & battery terminals are always important. Don’t forget to loosen the starter from the block and polish the block & all starter mating surfaces with sandpaper to insure a good electrical ground.  Copper washers and bare metal on the positive battery cable connection to the frame, plus an additional strap that goes to a bolt on the transmission will help grounding issues. And, engine side pans not only help with engine cooling, they help with grounding.


3. If you can’t remember the last time you replaced the battery cables, it’s time to do it. If your terminals are corroded, there is a good chance that corrosion is under the insulation. And, this is another case where size matters.  A small gauge 12-volt battery cable will not work properly on a 6-volt Model A. Use a 1 or 0 gauge cable to go to the starter (negative) and the OEM strap for the positive cable.

4. A charged battery, clean grounds & new cables aren’t going to mean much if the car needs a tune-up. Quality points are critical to performance. And, at a minimum, every fall, remove the cap, check the points for pitting or burning, re-gap them & put a dab of points lube on the cam. Not bearing grease or Vaseline; use the correct lube. (BTW, if you’ve wondered why some folks get years of use out of a set of points, this is one of the reasons

5. While each A has its own starting sequence, none of them will start well by just yanking out the choke rod & holding it out for 5 or 10 seconds while the engine cranks. This is a gravity fuel system on a low compression engine; it is easily flooded by too much choke.  Key on, spark fully retarded (up) GAV out 1 turn, clutch in, move the hand throttle until you see the gas pedal move, press the starter button. Let it crank for at least 3 - 4 seconds before you pull the choke rod. Then, don't hold it out for more than 2 or 3 seconds. If you find out it will not start w/o excessive choking, you have problems.

6. If you flood the engine, the plugs are fouled & it will be it next to impossible to start. First, fully open the throttle, turn the GAV off, and crank the engine, no choke! If that does not work, pull the plugs and dry them off.  Or, wash them in brake cleaner.

7. Use a fuel stabilizer. Marine Sta-Bil is an excellent product but it has a one year shelf life. Star Tron does not. With ethanol in the gas, ‘phase separation’ in the gasoline will begin in 30 days and be complete in 90. The alcohol binds to the water & it settles in the bottom of your tank. The way to mitigate that is to keep the tank FULL and use fuel stabilizer. Less air means less moisture in the tank for the alcohol to absorb. Clearly, using non-ethanol gas is not a reasonable option for most folks. And gas blends not only vary from one state to another, they vary from season to season.

8. Using winter gas in the summer will cause problems, particularly with the ethanol boiling off on a hot day. Because it’s a low compression engine, adding a pint of kerosene to a tank of gas will raise the boiling point of the ethanol w/o causing performance problems. Some folks report the same results w/ 1 oz of IMCT (a paint solvent) per gallon of gas or Marvel Mystery Oil (MMO). I use MMO year around along with Star Tron in the winter when the car isn’t used as often.

9. Adding a fuse mount assembly to your A is a nice safety feature. (Bratton’s p/n 16100) A battery disconnecting switch located in a convenient place is also a great safety addition.  It can be placed in either the hot or ground cable of the battery.  (Bratton’s p/n 20191)
Adding grease fittings on the brake cross arm and clutch/brake arm is a nice addition to prevent wear on these parts. 

10. The most common reason for a A to spew water out of the radiator is caused by over filling the radiator.  Only add enough fluid to cover the core.  It is not actually over heating; it is just spewing out the excess water.  If the radiator is not overfilled and is overheating, check for low coolant, a loose fan belt, debris in the radiator fins or a stuck thermostat.  A bad water pump will usually squeak or leak.  The Fan belt should have ½” of flex at themed-point; no more, or less. The A does not have a pressurized cooling system; normal operation will cause the coolant to evaporate. Check the coolant when you gas up.

11. Do use a 160* thermostat. If you don't the engine heats unevenly, which means it wears unevenly. The purpose of the t-stat is to quickly get the engine to its optimum operating temp and keep it there. A cool-running engine does not heat the oil sufficiently and you will get sludge build-up in the pan as a result. Further, water will remain in the oil because the oil never gets hot enough to evaporate the water; that creates acids in the oil leading to bearing corrosion. The A did not come from the factory with a thermostat, but Henry added one to the V-8 in 1933 or 34.

12. It is not necessary to add lead to the gas or use hi-test gas. This is a low compression (4.2:1) low hp (40 hp) engine without hardened valve seats and weak by today’s standard valve springs. At an engine rebuild, hardened seats can be added if desired or warranted by valve seat wear.

13.Pick the weight of the engine oil by the condition of the engine (oil pressure) & the outside temperature.  Many folks use 30w detergent all year.  A straight weight oil is probably ok in a hot climate, but you will get excessive engine wear on startup in cold climates.  (That’s one reason multi-vis oil was invented). A work engine is going to need a heavier weight oil to maintain oil pressure at operating speed & temp.  Many use 10w30, 15w40 or even 20w50.  Some like the newer diesel rated oil because of the additives for the flat tappets & highly recommend Shell Rotella T 15-40.  Increase the weight if the engine had low oil pressure.

14. Think your A needs an in-line gas filter? Think again. The two screens the A came with will work just fine if you keep them clean.  These cars are 85+ years old & they o require maintenance.  If you find out that the screens are getting excessively dirty in a short period of time, then reline or replace the gas tank.  At some point, 6 in-line filters won’t help a rusty gas tank supply system, an incorrect in-line filter can restrict fuel flow.  A one piece steel fuel line from the tank of the carb also provides safety & durability.  Copper tubing should not be used for the fuel line as copper and work harder from engine vibration and become brittle to a point of fracture.  Cutting that steel line & inserting rubber hose around a hot exhaust manifold can be dangerous.  And, because this is a gravity fuel supply system, an incorrect in-line filter can restrict fuel flow.  Plastic in-line fuel filters have proven to be a fire hazard with disastrous results.

15.  If you ever do any work on the charging system on you’re A, (remove the battery, disconnect the generator, etc.), you should re-polarize the generator just in case the generator loses its residual magnetism when the battery is removed from the circuit.  With the engine off, use a set of metal pliers to momentarily jump across the cutout; when it sparks, it is polarized.  Alternators do not need to be polarized.

16. Depressing the clutch when starting DOES reduce the starter drag especially when using thick tranny oil or in cold weather.

17. If you have a new coil for you’re a and it does not say “BAT” and “DIST” on the top of it, just remember, for a POSITIVE GROUND car, it’s Positive Plus to Points (PPP) the “+” wire goes to the distributor.

18. Engine side pans aid in engine cooling.  A fan shroud allows the air to flow over the entire radiator and helps the engine run cooler at idle.  So does a 4 blade fan.  But, if you have a 4 blade fan installed, you will need to remove the radiator to replace the water pump.

19. If you forget and leave the ignition key on and the points just happen to be closed when the engine stopped turning, the chances are about 99 percent that the batter is dead and the points are burned up.  If you are very unlucky, so is the coil.  Always turn the key off.

20. At a minimum, you need to have Les Andrews “Model A Ford Mechanics Handbook, Volume 1” for your A.  For the computer savvy mechanics, YouTube is also a very valuable resource for seeing how “it is done” by others.

21. The operating to maintenance ratio of an A is about 20:1, i.e., for every 20 hours of operation, you can expect to spend about an hour on maintenance. You can spend that hour in the comfort of your garage or on the side of the road 40 miles from home. Your A will not be neglected!

22.To jumpstart a 6-volt A with a 12-volt battery, put the A in neutral, set the parking brake and turn the key on. Place the negative jumper cable on the stud on the starter. Make sure the A is in neutral, because when you place the other jumper cable on the frame of the car, the starter will engage and turn the engine over. The 12-volt battery will not harm the 6-volt starter unless you crank it for three to five minutes. However, if you jump the 12-volt battery directly to the 6-volt battery, you stand a good chance of a battery explosion.

23. A digital multi-meter is a handy and usually inexpensive tool to have around the shop and in your A tool box.  But, most inexpensive digital multi-meters do not like the electrical "noise" produced by the A's generator brushes. The test leads act as antennas and the meter gives some erratic readings as a result. Stick with the old analog meter for your old A charging system.

24. The cheapest and easiest way to test your battery is with a battery hydrometer. They are available at most auto parts stores for under $10. They work by measuring the specific gravity of the electrolyte in each cell of the battery.

25. If you have an exhaust leak & find the block is badly pitted, (usually around # 4 cylinder exhaust port) you will have leak problems; get out the hi-temp metal epoxy. VersaChem's exhaust manifold repair, or ThermoSteel, said to be good to 2000 degrees. Clean the area very well with brake cleaner, put a little epoxy on it, put some wax paper over it and bolt down the manifold. After it dries take off the manifold and take a die grinder and clean the epoxy that might squish into the port. Put a new gasket on it. Many folks use Permatex hi-temp copper sealer.

Are you looking for a easy way to remove rust?

Use a 50/50 mixture of water and distilled white vinegar.

I started with a cup of each and placed my rusty/dirty parts in the mixture. If the item was not covered I just added another cup of each. I left the item to soak for a day and then took a wire brush to it. You can see the results below. I have done the same thing with larger painted items that were pitted deep with rust. I left them in the solution for 1 to 2 weeks. Removed and wire brushed. The rust and paint came off and left the metal clean. I washed the solution off and painted. This has got to be the easiest job I have ever done with rusty items.

Photos and tip submitted by Dennis Stone

These 50 Helpful Tips were gathered by Bruce Haynes.

26. Make reattaching the engine to the bell housing easier by cutting the heads off of a couple of bolts & put them in the bell housing to act as pilot studs for the engine when you slide it back.

27. If you are charging the battery in your positive ground Model A, hook up the negative cable from the charger to the starter post and the positive cable from the charger to the frame or block BEFORE you plug in the charger. Always be aware that hydrogen gas is produced when charging the battery and that hydrogen is very explosive.  (Remember the Hindenburg?) Avoid any spark or flame in the battery charging area. There are other "rules" too:

  •  Remove the vent caps & make sure the electrolyte            covers the plates before you hook up the charger! (if        not, add distilled water)
  •  Clean the post
  •  Make sure the vent cap holes are open.
  • Clean the grease/dirt off the top of the battery.
  • When the charge is complete, turn the charger off before you remove the cables.
  • Check the specific gravity in each cell 24 hours after it's fully charged.

28. If your oil pan plug is frozen on, start with a 6-point socket. If that doesn't work, try a basin wrench. Or, a pipe wrench held in place with a piece of wood & a bottle jack. That keeps the pipe wrench from slipping off.

29. You can change points everyday & it will not fix bad bushings or a worn distributor gear. If you are having trouble with points failure, check the shaft. If you detect any side to side movement, the distributor needs new bushings or a gear.

30. It isn’t necessary to add zinc to your oil. The current level of phosphorous (the anti-wear element is not zinc - it is the phosphorus that comes with the zinc in the ZDDP additive) is more than adequate for the valve train on a 23HP low RPM flat tappet engine with 30# valve spring pressures. It is also a little higher than the levels you would have found in the vast majority of 1940-1960 engine oil formulations. The truth is most "old school" flat tappet production engines are perfectly happy at 600-800 PPM phosphorous. And if you have a "high performance" engine that actually needs a higher level of phosphorous you don't have to go to diesel oils to get it. The SL/SM service class limits on zinc/phosphorous only apply to viscosity grades SAE xxW20 and xxW30. An SAE xxW40 grade SL or SM service class oil can have as much as 1400 PPM. Anything much more than that and the zinc and phosphorous will start to chemically eat the metal away accelerating camshaft and tappet wear. So make sure you understand the chemistry and be mighty careful what you are adding to your oil.

31. No automotive coil has an “internal resistor”. Internal coil resistance is determined by wire gauge and the number of turns. Higher resistance is provided by smaller gauge wire with greater turns. If the coil is marked or sold with a notice “requires an external resistor” that simply means it has a low internal resistance and will be damaged by excessive voltage. It does not mean the coil has an internal resistor. Your 6 volt Model A does not need any resistor on the coil.

32. Just because your headlights come on and your starter turns does not mean you have sufficient battery voltage to power the ignition.  You can string flashlight batteries together and get 6 volts; will that start your A? This is where a digital volt meter and a hydrometer comes in handy. A fully charged battery should read 6.32 volts with specific gravity at 1.265 in each cell. A battery at 50% charge will read 6.12 volts with a specific gravity of 1.190. And, at 6.03 volts and a specific gravity of 1.155, you only have a 25% charged battery. You need a strong battery to spin the starter, engage the Bendix and provide voltage to the coil. As the battery gets weaker, the first thing to fail is your spark. The more current you use to spin the starter, the less current you will have for the ignition.

33. Removing the spark plugs and putting gasoline directly into the cylinders isn’t a good idea. All that accomplishes is washing the oil off of the cylinder walls thereby reducing compression. While the gas will probably evaporate before you can get the plugs reinstalled, if it doesn’t, raw gasoline will foul the plugs. Spark plugs are supposed to be dry; if they are wet, you have flooded the engine. And fouled the plugs. If you have reason to believe that fuel is not getting to the cylinders, use starting fluid. No, starting fluid used correctly and sparingly will not blow up your low hp, low compression gasoline engine.

34. If you can’t find your feeler gauge, using a dime to set the point gap isn’t a good idea no matter what you’ve heard from Uncle Earl. The point gap on an A is .018 - .022.  A dime is .053. Do the math. An old cardboard matchbook, seldom seen these days, was closer to .020 and had an emery board for dressing the points.

35. Installing an 8 volt battery in an A isn’t a good idea. You need 9.5 volts to charge an 8 volt battery; your regulated generator puts out 7.5 volts to charge the 6 volt battery. Trying to charge an 8 volt battery with 7.5 volts gets you a perpetually discharged 8 volt battery operating at about 50% capacity. Cranking up the output on a generator will increase the charging voltage but at the cost of overheating the generator. Having a partially discharged 8 volt battery in your A is no better than having a fully charged 6 volt battery.  At 8.43 volts, your 8v battery is fully charged. And it needed 9.4 volts to get there. But, at 8.04 volts, your 8v battery is only 25% charged. In other words, it’s no better than a 6v battery at that point.

36. Some A owners try to correct hard-to-start problems by installing electronic ignition.  Often an A that’s hard to start on points will be just as hard to start on EI if the problem wasn’t the points. All EI does is replace the points and condenser. EI does not give you higher spark voltage, eliminate all maintenance on your ignition system or give enough of a horsepower boost to cause the car to do wheelies. It replaces the points. That’s it. It will not correct or overcome other major problems in the ignition system. While it will give you more HP and improve fuel economy, both would be so insignificant as to be hardly noticeable on a 40 hp engine. As the analogy goes, putting EI on a 85+ year old car is like putting 12” woofers on your grandfathers 78 rpm Victrola and expecting it to sound like surround sound.  While it is certainly true that EI is superior when compared to points ignition systems, that’s beside the point. The question is the practical applicability of EI on a 85+ year old 40 hp, low compression, low rpm engine. The key advantage to EI is that you do not need to gap & lube the points every year & replace them every 4 or 5 years or so. If your distributor is within specs and you perform annual maintenance on the points & change them every 4 years or so using quality parts, you will see no difference whatsoever between a points ignition system & EI on an A. The key disadvantages to EI on an A are initial cost, will not work w/ low battery voltage, & easily damaged beyond repair by polarity reversal & other common mistakes leaving you stranded on the roadside unless you opt to carry a spare ignition module. If you have a well running car & just don't care to fool w/ points anymore, EI is a perfect alternative. If you expect EI to cure any significant ignition problem you may have other than bad points, it won't. This is the question you need to answer: “If tens of thousands of other A’s operate just fine on 6v and points, why can’t mine?”

37. There are plenty of devices for charging your phone on eBay and Amazon. Find one that is easily mounted to your floor board. Out of sight between the seats. Don’t worry about them being 12 volt. Your phone will only need 4 volts or so to charge. Wire the leads backwards for your positive ground Model A.

38. Tired of changing oil every 500 miles? Install an oil filter. Bratton’s & Snyder’s have the kit. And then get the bracket from club member John Cannon to install the filter vertically.

39. The January/February 2018 edition of “The Restorer” has a great article on the many benefits of installing “modern” (V-8) points in your A. Many club members have done this modification and are happy w/ the results. The primary benefits are eliminating points float, longer life, and better performance. And, the condenser is mounted on the top distributor plate, removing it from the direct heat of the exhaust manifold. On the other hand, many club members using quality original points and condensers are perfectly happy with the performance of their cars.

40. Antifreeze manufacturers have formulated their products for long life and the inhibitor attacks among other things silicone compound – the most commonly used base for gasket sealants.  It also attacks lead-based products (solder and Babbit), some yellow metals (cam bearings, radiators) and conventional gaskets and packing materials. Do NOT use coolants with OAT inhibitors in your Model A. Read the label and use only IAT (Inorganic Additive Technology) inhibited antifreeze. OAT stands for “Organic Acid Technology” based corrosion inhibitors and they are designed to have longer service life than that of IAT coolants.  Unfortunately, that feature comes with a bad side effect to older cars.  One fellow decided to change antifreeze in his antique car.  His regular brand was out of stock so he bought the “advanced” formula.  Four weeks later he found pools of antifreeze under his car.  The antifreeze had dissolved the old gaskets.  It was formulated with OAT inhibitors.

   Here are some tips for finding IAT coolants:

  • Prestone says that all of their current antifreezes are OAT formulas.
  • Peak says that their antifreeze and coolant is an IAT formula.  The container is blue.  It is important that it not say “long life”.  Peak Sierra brand is propylene glycol for those who prefer that.  It too uses an IAT formula.
  • Zerex says that Zerex Original Green is an IAT formula.  It comes in a white container.  Do not use their G-05 formula in the gold jug.

41. Are your eyes getting so bad that you can’t tell a course thread from a fine thread nut or bolt? Get a thread checker board just like the ones in the hardware aisle of the big box retailers. www.ThreadToolSupply.com

42. Many A owners prefer an alternator to a generator to allow for a quicker charging rate on the battery and brighter lights. 6 volt positive ground alternators are available.

43. Speaking of brighter lights, halogen head lights and tail lights are a considerable improvement over the OEM incandescent bulbs.

44. Turn signals, dual tail lights, halogen bulbs, seat belts and a fire extinguisher are important safety features for your A.

45. Need to add fluid to your transmission or rear end and don’t have any of that special “600w” Model A fluid around? Many A owners have been making their own by mixing 50/50 STP and 90w gear oil for years with no ill effects.

46. Once you get your A running, your next project is likely to be getting it to stop. Don’t be deceived by the ease of brake adjusting wedges or believing that all of your problems will go away by relining the brakes. Or, worse yet, believing the old myth that “The brakes never worked in Model A’s”.  Simply put, the reason for most Model A brake problems is the number of unlubricated wear points throughout the entire system. The slightest wear or out of adjustment fitting in all of those wear points quickly adds up . If you have 1/32” of wear at 8 places, that adds up to ¼”. At some point, your wedges and rods can no longer be adjusted to account for wear. When you have brake problems, start at the pedal and check every single component all the way to the drum.

47. Don’t be tempted to always buy new fasteners for your A. If those nuts and bolts are within spec, clean them up and reuse them.  Some new parts even from reputable sources can be out of spec (e.g., timing pins with metric threads, motor mount bolts 1/8” too short, etc)

48. While a new steering arm ball costs about $4 each and can be welded to the arm by a local shop, it is a wise investment to spend the money and buy reconditioned arms.  There are horror stories about welded up steering balls breaking which results in an instantaneous loss of steering. The arms are reconditioned by using the original shaft and only replacing the ball by sliding it down over the shaft with an interference press fit and welding it in place at the top.

49. Many old car guys have found it to be a wise investment to have your OEM component parts (starters, water pumps, generators, carbs) rebuilt rather than buying a new part. There are some very good Model A carb rebuilders out there. Local shops can rebuild your generator, starter or water pump. Check the club website for recommended vendors.

50. No matter what the problem you are having or the project you are undertaking on your A, at least one club member has had the same problem or completed the same project, probably more than once. Before you start to work, email or call a member. If they don’t have an answer, they will know someone in the club who does.

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