When you’re working on your own car, safety gear is just as important as the right ratchet set or screwdriver. Performing your own automobile maintenance can be rewarding, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of your safety. Fortunately, all it takes to stay healthy and happy as a shade tree mechanic is a dose of common sense and a few crucial pieces of very affordable safety gear. Here are a few of the safety basics to help get you started.
The cardinal rule of automotive maintenance is to never, ever work under a car that is supported only by a jack. Hydraulic jacks, which are the most common, can fail without warning, trapping you beneath an automobile and possibly causing serious injury. The spare tire jack that came with your vehicle was only designed for temporary use, not working under the car. A jack is a lifting device, nothing more, and must be used together with something else to safely hold the weight of the vehicle. A set of jack stands are a necessary component of any garage safety gear tool kit that will keep your car supported and stable. Always buy jack stands with a slightly higher capacity than the weight of the vehicle that will be sitting on it. For an extra layer of protection make it a habit to slide the removed wheel and tire under the frame or rocker panel of the vehicle. This simple action gets the wheel and tire out of the way while also giving an emergency backup in case the vehicle falls.
Safety Glasses Save Eyes
Next on the list of necessary automotive safety equipment is the humble set of safety glasses. Available for well under $20, these oversized plastic-lens glasses are big enough to fit over normal eyeglasses and will protect your peepers from sprays of liquids, like oil and gas, and metal and paint chips that can be thrown from grinders, sanders and other rotary tools. Safety glasses are a small investment that protect one of your most vital organs. They are available in many styles and size, so you can even buy several pairs and pick the ones that fit the job. You may even opt for a full face shield for projects that may cause a lot of flying or falling debris. You don’t want to be unprotected underneath a rusty winter beater when it rains down a cloud of rust flakes. If a pair of safety glasses gets damaged, replace them immediately.
Fire Extinguishers Are Mandatory
It’s pretty common knowledge that combustion engines use flammable liquids such as gasoline or diesel. Any time you’re working on your engine, fuel lines or fuel tank, there’s always the possibility of sparking a fire, especially if the motor or exhaust are still hot. Automotive electrical systems are also capable of bursting into flames if a short circuit develops. A fire extinguisher is a key piece of safety gear that should be within arm’s reach in any garage, and you’ll want to make sure it has a B and a C rating to tackle both gasoline and electrical fires. Best practice is to mount the fire extinguisher on the wall so that it can be grabbed quickly and is less likely to have been moved around over time. It also makes it easy to find especially if someone else is helping in the garage. Inspect each fire extinguisher annually to verify it is still within the recommended pressure range. Almost all fire extinguishers have a “charge gauge” on the handle indicating whether it is correctly pressurized. Even if you don’t use an extinguisher the charge can diminish over time. If your extinguisher is out of range have it recharged or replaced. Also it never hurts to have more than one fire extinguisher around if you have a large workspace. The faster you can grab a fire extinguisher, the better.
First Aid Isn’t Secondary
Even if you weren’t a Boy Scout you should always be prepared for garage emergencies. You may already have a first aid kit inside your house, maybe in the medicine cabinet. But you really do need a separate one for the garage. Scratches, cuts, burns and more seem to go hand-in-hand with DIY repairs. If the proper treatment is already nearby then you are much more likely to use it when the time comes. A minor cut can stay just that if treated quickly and correctly. But more importantly having a first aid kit on hand when bad things happen can make a big difference in how it goes once you reach professional medical treatment. Pick a first aid kit that has more than just assorted size adhesive bandages. Look for one that can treat a variety of injuries that may occur in the garage. Ideally it will include things to not only cover wounds but also clean them as it isn’t always possible to make it to a sink for a scrub. Once you have your garage first aid kit inspect it once a year to keep it up to spec. Replace anything that has expired and restock any consumables that may have been used over the year. This is also a good time to customize your first aid kit to cover any mishaps that happened during the year that the kit couldn’t handle.
The most important piece of safety gear in your possession is knowledge. If you’re hesitant about your car repair abilities, it’s smart to have a knowledgeable friend or family member on hand to help. Be honest with yourself and your own abilities. If something goes wrong while you’re working on your car, don’t panic. Stay calm, assess the situation and take the necessary steps to keep yourself and others around you protected from harm.
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Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.