Garages were originally designed to simply store vehicles, but today many people also use their garage as an at-home workstation or a storage space. Here are five professional tips to help you set up your garage workbench and your toolbox for DIY car repairs.
Many garages are cluttered with old appliances, kids’ toys and lawn care equipment. The first step to getting your garage ready for DIY car repair is to make space for a garage workbench, toolbox and, most importantly, your car. You need to free up about four feet around the vehicle to move around comfortably and to lay down in case you need to get underneath the car. Get creative when thinking about reclaiming garage space. Can you add some shelves to get things up off the floor? Maybe hang yard tools from the wall. It may even be worth putting up a small shed really free up garage space. Whatever you choose keep in mind how often you need to access items and choose their storage location accordingly.
On to the work space itself. A good garage workbench should have a solid, spacious surface for working and laying out parts for assembly or cleaning. This will prevent you from losing anything important. Surface material choice can vary based on your projects. A wood surface can be forgiving and tough, while a metal surface can be good for technical projects or messy fluids (like rebuilding a transmission). Some toolboxes come with a workbench top, which means you won’t have to make space for both a workbench and a separate toolbox.
Adequate lighting is essential to any work space. After all, how can you expect to get anything done if you can’t see what you’re working on? Standard fluorescent lighting fixtures are relatively inexpensive and easy to install, but LED is rapidly catching up in brightness and price. When picking lighting options be sure to keep in mind the capacity of your garage lighting circuit and don’t overload it. Regardless of which lighting source you choose you’ll need plenty of light around the car and behind your garage workbench.
Mobile lighting sources are a must. A drop light is good for lighting confined spaces, and small LED flashlights or headlamps can be good for getting into even tighter spaces, such as under the dash. There are also work lights that sit on the floor and even long underhood light tubes that can illuminate the entire engine compartment. Ideally your space will have a variety of lighting options so you can tackle any dark situation.
Part of your DIY garage preparation should include collecting some cleaning supplies to keep handy. At the very minimum you should have a broom and dustpan, mop and bucket with floor soap, plenty of rags and degreaser within easy reach. A shop vacuum is a great item to have as well. Take time to clean the area before starting a project. You will thank yourself later when that small part hits the floor and isn’t lost in a sea of debris. Every so often (maybe once a season) give the area a good deep clean. Tools and parts can make their way under cabinets and behind toolboxes where they may be forgotten for years.
If you know you’re going to make a big mess, cleanup can be easier if you lay down old sheets of cardboard that can be disposed of later. Always take the time to clean as soon as you make a mess, whether it is on the floor, garage workbench or your tools — many car fluids leave nasty stains or even destroy finishes.
There’s much to be said regarding garage organization, and everyone has their own strategy. Your toolbox should be organized, and there are lots of toolbox organization methods that work. Take inventory of your storage options (toolbox, storage chest, pegboard, etc), your tools, and how you use them. Prioritize your most commonly used tools within easiest reach of your work area. Try to not store tools on your work bench unless they are a used often. Take advantage of wall space and any small areas you can tuck a storage bin.
Cardboard cutouts can be used to separate wrenches and pliers, or you can buy prefabricated organizers like socket trays or wall mounts. The point is to make sure everything is easily accessible. Having to dig through an unorganized box of tools will only cause undue frustration.
Hand tools are usually the weapon of choice when it comes to DIY car repair because they are typically more affordable than power tools. Still, it’s no secret that power tools can make certain jobs go faster. Air tools, corded power tools their cordless counterparts are exceptionally useful whether you are a weekend warrior or professional mechanic. A good place to mount battery chargers is on the wall, where they’ll be out-of-the-way yet easily accessible. Air compressors can be put under a bench, on a rafter or even outside. For corded tools make sure wall outlets are easily accessible. A good 50-foot extension cord can handle almost any long distance power need in most garages. Upgrade to a hanging extension cord reel for an even easier to use power source. Mind the total power usage so you don’t overload the circuit. For example if the lights dim when operating a corded tool it might be time to contact an electrician for a garage power upgrade.
Don’t be discouraged if these steps seem like a dauting task. Break up your garage makeover project into manageable chunks that match your schedule. It may take a few weeks or even a few months but you can have a garage truly suits your needs. With these tips, you’ll be well on your way to converting your plain garage into a powerhouse of a workspace.
Check out all the tools & equipment
Image courtesy of Flickr
Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.