4 February 2007

Low-Buck Dirt Catcher

Working on cars leaves grime, grit and grease on the garage floor. If you have brick or mortar walls, you can pressure wash it clean; but if your garage is drywalled, like many are, the washing solution can ruin the walls.

How about one of those “you-see-it-on-TV” black-and-white checkered floors with interlocking tiles? Nice, but the cost runs about $5,000 for a typical two-car garage. There are do-it-yourself epoxy finishes that claim to be totally resistant to oil and dirt. The trick is getting them to stick on a floor that’s already soiled. To apply epoxies on dirty floors you need special blasting equipment and probably professional help. Think in the $3,000 range – or higher – for a two-car space.

What’s left for the hobbyist on a budget? How about a home-crafted dirt-catcher for about $30? The only real cost with this system is the purchase of carpet remnants. We got our 6x9 carpets in the mark-down aisle at Wal-Mart for $15 each. At first we were going to roll the car on the rugs, take it apart, let the dirt fall on the carpets and then throw the cheap rugs away.

After cleaning the shop a bit and parking the car on the rugs, it seemed a shame to ruin and toss the carpeting. Stored in another part of our car building was a rectangular wooden shipping crate that a furniture mover used to protect a glass table top. The crate was slightly narrower than the car’s front tread and long enough to reach from the bumper to the transmission.

We lined the crate with black plastic garbage bags. These were left over from last fall’s leaf cleanup, so there was no cost involved in recycling them for garage use. The sides of the bags were split so the plastic fit in the crate better and could be wrapped over the sides if needed.

Because plastic bags will not catch everything dropping from a car under restoration, we visited our local Subway sandwich shop to see if they were making any large orders. They were. We called the person giving the party and offered to recycle the plastic sandwich platters. They thought it was a great idea.

Six of the clear plastic platter lids were placed in the crate on top of the garbage bags. Then it was slid under the car and the restoration work began. The engine came out of the car, and the $30 dirt-catcher did a great job of keeping oil, antifreeze, falling parts and all kinds of dirt off the floor.

At night, before the tools were stored, the wooden crate was slid from under the car. Large quantities of fluids are recycled. Small parts like washers and hose clamps are picked up with a magnet. Dirt is sucked up with a shop vac. So far, the dirt-catcher is worth every cent spent to build it – all $30, that is!

John "Gunner" Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.

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