Matt's Old

Fiddling with Rambler's since 1995

Technical Information

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Shop Safety

I think this subject is one that is always overlooked. Most people forget just how dangerous servicing a car can be. Besides some of the obvious stuff (like not supporting a vehicle with quality jack stands and setting the parking brake), you can get burns from the acid in a battery (or it can just explode if its in bad shape), you can loose parts of your anatomy in the fan, or, if you're really smart, you can get the crap shocked out of yourself and hurt yourself while your stumbling around.

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Get a factory level service manual. You never know when there is a spring behind something that can pop out and hurt you. A service manual will point out when a given procedure is dangerous. Knowledge is your best way of keeping safe.

Make sure that you are physically and mentally capable of working on the car. 3 am on a Saturday after you've downed a 12 pack of your favorite brew is probably not the best time to be pulling the engine from your car.

Always make sure that someone is around when you are working with heavy parts or you are working under the car. You don't need an ASE certified mechanic or anything for this, just someone to come out and check on you every now and then.

If it is hot out, make sure you drink enough water or any sports drink of your choice. As you become more dehydrated, your energy level can drop and you can hurt yourself. Also, I've noticed that too much heat tends to bake the mind. If you need proof of this, visit California. Another real danger is heat stroke. Heat stroke can kill you. Also consider working in the early morning or late afternoon.

On an opposite note, also be aware of the dangers cold weather can bring. When it is cold out, you can get frostbite on your ears and fingers easily. Wear a hat and gloves and make sure to stop every now and then and warm up. If you get wet, change into dry clothes as soon as possible. Wet clothes and cold weather can cause you to become hypothermic (this is when your core body temperature drops below a certain point). What this means is that they could literally be prying the keys from your "cold, dead fingers".

Make sure your tools are in good shape. Don't use cheap (quality wise) tools for engine or suspension work. If a wrench breaks, you can get a severe injury. As a rule of thumb, good tools are made in the USA, Japan, Germany, or Britain. Cheap tools are generally made in Taiwan, China, and Mexico. There will be exceptions to this, of course. For hydraulic tools (jacks, engine hoists, etc..), make sure that there are no fluid leaks. The best hydraulic tools will have a label indicating which ANSI specification they meet (or exceed). ALWAYS check the nuts and bolts on engine hoists and stands to make sure they are tight.

Making sure your tools are in good shape also means taking proper care of them. In the rain is not the best place for things like jack stands and floor jacks (or socket wrenches or any of about 3000 other tools you may have). I know that they will get wet from time to time, but you don't want any weld seams getting rusty.

As much as possible, try to push on wrenches with an open hand instead of pull on them. This will keep you from scraping knuckles (or breaking fingers) when that rusty bolt breaks loose.

Make sure you have the proper tools for the job. If you need a spring compressor, don't rely on wire or chains to hold the spring compressed.

When you are jacking up a car, make sure to chock the wheels at the other end of the car. Make sure to put a chock on both the front and back of the tire. When jacking up one corner only (like when you change a flat), chock the tire on the opposite corner. Once it is in the air, put the jack stands under the car where shown in your service manual. If you put them in the wrong place, they can go right through the car. Using concrete block to support a car is asking for big problems. Concrete block only works when weight is applied over a large area. When you put all the weight on the edges or in small areas, they will break. Working on a level area is also a good idea.

Don't wear loose fitting clothes or jewelry when working on the car. A sleeve can get caught in a fan belt or any other moving part of the car. If this happens, you get to go to the hospital. Metal jewelry can be dangerous because it is a great conductor (especially gold). I know some of you married folk feel funny taking off your wedding ring, but I think your spouse would rather not have you get the holy heck shocked out of them when working on the car. If you absolutely must wear your ring(s), at least cover them with electrical tape or band-aids. Jewelry (such as necklace or chains for the 70's throw-backs among us) can also get caught on moving parts of the car.

Don't defeat the grounding or double-insulating features of electrically operated tools. Similarly, make sure the cords are in good shape. Standard procedure for tools with bad cords is to cut the male end off of it so no one gets electrocuted using it (if you can't plug it in, you can't use it). Keep in mind that water is a really, really good conductor of electricity. Keep that nice power tool in the garage when its raining.

On the subject of not getting shocked, don't think about laying in a puddle and welding. This is a quick way to kill yourself.

Also on the subject of welding, make sure to wear a welding helmet with a properly shaded lens (the owners manual will have what shade you need in it), a long sleeve shirt, pants, and welding gloves. Welding gives off UV light and will give you a nasty burn (like a sunburn) that will peel instead of darken you.

Make sure any extension cords you use are of the proper wire gauge and in good shape. Yes, you can draw 30 amps through a cord rated for 15, but you are creating a fire hazard (and hurting the tool) doing this. Generally, the bigger the wire (smaller gauge number) and shorter the cord, the better.

If a product you are using says to work in a well ventilated area, do it. Certain chemicals can cause respiratory problems and even brain damage.

Unless the directions of a chemical you are using says it is safe to do so, NEVER EVER MIX CHEMICALS! Simple cleaners (like those using chlorine and ammonia) can kill you when mixed. You can also create explosives by mixing common things. Remember, Diesel fuel and fertilizer was all it took to destroy the federal building in Oklahoma City.

On a similar note, make sure old oily rags are kept in a metal container with a lid away from things like furnaces and water heaters.

Don't smoke when you are working with the fuel system. Also, disconnect the battery if possible. A small spark can cause a fire.

If your hands get really greasy, take a break and clean them up. Grease and oil are lubricants and can make it hard to hold onto your tools. If you're working on brakes, this is critical. The shoes and pads don't work if they are full of grease.

Last Updated 01/07/04 09:10:45 PM