June 26, 2020
Getting Back On The Road: Making Sure Your Seven Is Ready
*Image courtesy of Will and Phil Bradley
Earlier this month we caught up with two of our drivers to catch up about everything you need to know about getting on track for the first time. However, we know that a majority of Caterham owners are more likely looking forward to getting back on the road as lockdown starts to ease. So, what exactly should you be looking out for when taking your Seven out for the first time in months?
To answer this, we’ve been chatting with two of our mechanical masters. Dan Piper, Service Manager at Gatwick, who has been with Caterham for over 6 years and has over a decade of experience with Sevens (as well as a podium finishing Academy Driver), and Colin Vaughan, our Workshop Controller with nearly 3 decades in the industry working on a variety of vehicles ranging from Minis, to Rollers, to Vauxhalls to Fords… he’s done the lot.
Right then, let’s crack on….
So, what should someone be looking out for when using their Seven after lockdown?
Dan: Check the battery before doing anything. If you haven’t used your car for a few months, and you don’t have a trickle charger, you need to check there’s enough charge in the battery before any other checks. If you do have a Caterham, and you don’t have a battery isolator, it’s highly recommended.
Colin: If a battery is flat, and you can’t charge it / it won’t charge – you’ll need to get a new one. This needs to be picked up from your local retailer as we can’t send new ones through the post.
Also, you should make sure that the car rolls freely before going on the road. On flat ground, take it out of gear, take the handbrake off and check if you can move it forward and backwards easily. This isn’t limited to just Sevens; on any car the brakes can seize on.
Dan: It’s also good to check tyre pressures, if the car hasn’t moved for some time these could be all over the place. The correct pressures can be found in the owner’s handbook.
It’s important to make sure you check the fluid levels. You don’t need much mechanical knowledge for this – a visual check is enough to see if the vitals are above minimum, otherwise you may cause damage to the car.
- To check the coolant level, you’ll need to remove the nosecone.
- For Oil levels, this differs depending on the model. Generally, its either a dipstick or a dry-sump tank check – again this is in the owner’s handbook.
- For brake fluid and clutch checks, the reservoirs can be found on the master cylinders, on the bulkheads underneath the bonnet.
- Remember to check the washer bottle, which is either in the boot or under the bonnet depending on the age of the model.
Colin: Do make sure that you check your lights and switchgear, it’s easier if you have someone there to give you a hand. Everything should still be working, but you don’t want to get half-way down the road and find your wipers aren’t working.
For those who own track-only cars, what should they be looking out for?
Dan: You’ll find that the components used on track are under a lot more stress. There are some components that can work loose, so we always advise a spanner check.
- Check the torque on fixings such as the radius arms, A-frame and differential bolts, as these are the main ones that can loosen.
If you’re wanting to go on track, we do offer track day check overs. You can bring your car in and we’ll do the key safety checks, such as the suspension and geometry to ensure you’re getting the best out of your car on track. The track day check applies to both road and race cars.
What changes would you advise for people going on circuit?
Colin: It’s important to remember that our cars are good on track, but they’re mainly set up for the road. So it’s something to take into consideration before heading out.
Dan: Set up wise, it’s a very personal thing. A race car set up will be way more aggressive than a road car – it’ll be more twitchy. We’d try to understand the driver’s needs and driving ability, whether it’s where someone is trying to shave off milliseconds, or if they want to have fun in something that feels stable.
Generally speaking, we’d look at how much toe is on the car [to help it turn in], the ride height [a compromise for road and track], and the rake [to make sure the front and back is balanced].
If we were to look further into it than just geometry, a lot of people like the flat floor set up. This is when a car is balanced to the driver’s weight, adjusting the suspension and ride height to make sure it has a 50/50 cross weight balance. It’ll make a car a lot more predictable on track, it’ll feel more comfortable and give more confidence to the driver.
Colin: Everyone is different, but if you really want to get the best out of any Seven, no matter what the age – do go and see a Caterham retailer to have it set up properly. Keep in mind that it is easier to set up ‘R’ pack cars as they have adjustable suspension, otherwise you’re looking at upgrading your set up.
Some people might be considering an upgrade for their Seven, what ones are popular?
Dan: Power upgrades are quite popular, for example on a 270 you can upgrade this to 310 spec. If you have a slightly older engine, such as a 125 fixed-cam Sigma engine, there is the 140 Supersport upgrade. As well as extra power, this’ll give you a lightweight flywheel and a shift light on the dashboard – these are really handy when on track.
On the Duratec side of things, you can take the power up to a 420 spec (210 bhp) and add a dry sump, or you can add roller-barrel induction to it and improve the horsepower further. The roller barrels give improved power delivery and throttle response throughout the rev range, and change the engine note.
There are a lot of cosmetic enhancements available too. For road cars you have seats and heaters, and race cars you’ll find there are plenty of roll bars, and the new, easy-entry cages. These are perfect if you want a little extra security on a track day without the difficulty of a standard cage.
Colin: Another upgrade to consider would be opting for LED headlights, especially for long journeys. They’re a big jump up from the standard lights in terms of visibility.
There are plenty of upgrades available, we find cosmetic upgrades are particularly popular with used cars. Even if someone was buying a used car from the showroom, we could take it in and upgrade it to any spec they would like.
There are plenty of workshops out there, what’s different for someone coming directly to an official Caterham retailer?
Colin: Firstly, we’re at a huge benefit being the manufacturer because we built the car in the first place. We’ll have an accurate history log of changes to the car.
Dan: We have years of experience on road and race cars. As our aftersales and parts side of Caterham has grown, we’ve been able to improve our set up and invest in state-of-the-art equipment - so every car can benefit from the most accurate set up possible. We also have a thoroughly experienced team of mechanics on board that help support our motorsport division.
Colin: Certainly, we’re recognised as the official providers when it comes to insurance repairs as we can return the car to its original spec using Caterham-approved parts. Whether that is a simple nose-cone change, right through to a chassis repair or rebuild.
Dan: Only genuine Caterham, and Caterham-approved parts are used. Any job is done as it would be in the factory and is fully manufacturer approved, there’s also a parts warranty if anything does happen further down the line.
What if I can get the parts I need elsewhere?
Dan: This isn’t usually something we’d recommend, but we know that Seven owners like to personalise their cars one way or another. The parts and accessories sold through Caterham have gone through our engineering team and are designed to fulfil a purpose.
Colin: Equally, everything is under one roof. All the parts and accessories you could need for a Seven can be found in one place, it’s much quicker to visit the online store.
And what if I need help fitting something at home?
Colin: Unfortunately, we can’t send someone along to help at home – it’s simply something we don’t do – so you’ll need to visit your local retailer. Accessory fitment and upgrades must be carried out in our workshop – however the joy of a Seven is its simplicity, so most parts you could fit at home. Our team is always happy to answer a call from anyone who’s purchased a part and might be having difficulty, we can usually talk you through the problem. As for kit builds, you’ll want to speak to Derek.
So I’ve just finished building my car, and it needs to go for it’s IVA. First, I need to take it for a post-build check, is there anything I should be mindful of?
- Get in the mindest of the IVA tester, think about everything you will be tested on.
- Ensure that any problems you encounter during the build are dealt with before arriving. Always speak to the team at the factory if you’re struggling, don’t wait until the last minute and bring a half-built car – it could be expensive to correct.
- Really go through the IVA checklist, go over your car and make sure you understand the compliances for the IVA.
- Engine bay wiring can be one of the trickiest parts of the car to get neat. Every bit of wiring has to be secured properly, and making sure they aren’t chafing on anything. You can always put some extra insulating tape around these or secure them to a chassis rail, just keep things sensibly rooted.
- Wiring (part 2), comes installed from the factory. There is a fair degree of slack here so you can fit the engine and other components in. It can take a lot of time to rework during a post-build check.
- Pay careful attention to everything in the guide, particularly with washers and fixings. The cover sheet for the fixing pack is a really handy tool to help identify the correct part. For example, rear suspension washers are a common oversight, but are quite quick to install.
Top Tips to keep a Seven in Tip Top condition?
- If you are storing a car for a long time, over winter for example, make sure you put it in gear and leave the handbrake off.
- Regular checks and maintenance - make sure to attend to any small things you notice.
- Come in for a health check if you’ve been for a few track days, you might not realise how much strain you put on the car.
- Make sure you get your Seven serviced regularly, somethings may have worn that you can’t see or feel. The annual service is key to ensuring your car is reliable and, more importantly, safe.
To find out more about aftersales and getting on the road, check out more information here.