Professional auto shops go far to prevent injury and potential health issues in the workplace, but the DIY automotive enthusiast can stock up on toxic solvents, paint, and potentially dangerous equipment with zero guidance for safety. The shop steward is not likely to walk into your garage or driveway and chew you out for not wearing a respirator or safety glasses, so we’ve put together a collection of inexpensive safety equipment ideas and tips that can literally save your skin so you can live to wrench another day.
Eyes and Ears Open
Battery acid, hot motor oil, flying tools, and chunks of road crud falling off suspensions can irreparably harm human eyeballs. Quality protective eyewear can be purchased for well under a sawbuck and comes in a variety of styles. If hi-vis Xtreme safety glasses aren’t quite your thing, these traditional Bouton safety specs with mesh screen side protectors are still being manufactured. Full face shields offer another level of protection for running angle grinders, wire wheels, or similar; and a set of hearing protectors now will prevent ear trumpets later. Make sure any eye protection is rated for chemical use.
Flying wrenches can be dodged, but it’s what you can’t see that can cause long-term health problems. A cartridge respirator stops unseen fumes and particulates from solvents, spray paint, and other aerosol products from getting into your lungs and blood. This mask did its job and trapped gunk in the filters and fumes in the canisters. Disposable face masks are OK for small dusty jobs, but when it comes to clouds of rust, nasty fumes, and catalyzed paints, step up to a fitted respirator. Test for proper fit by waving something pungent yet harmless around the edges of the mask section before unleashing six cans of brake cleaner.
Skin and Bones
Slathering up in jet black motor oil or molasses-thick gear oil might seem the Chuck Norris thing to do, especially with your car on those new macho ramps, but soaking in contaminated petrochemicals is bad news. Gloves are the answer for keeping toxic agents off skin and out of blood. Latex gloves don’t stand up to oil-based chemicals. Nitrile gloves can hold out a bit longer. Step up to the rhino-hide-thick chemical gloves if a can of carburetor dip or elbows-deep solvent washer action is in the plan. Mechanics gloves add knuckle-busting protection with some cushion and grip, and coveralls go beyond hands for stylish protection. Sturdy shoes are another solid investment.
Fire in the Hole
Gasoline, motor oil, and other automotive combustibles are once difficult and easy to light on fire. Disconnecting the battery and covering the terminals prevents errant sparks, and relocating any containers of fuel or solvents away from the work area is always good practice. One spark or chunk of hot welding slag can turn a motor oil drain tray into a flame-and-oil spewing short-range rocket as combustion gases take the only route out through the pour plug. (Don’t ask how we know this.) Invest in at least one fire extinguisher and mount it within easy reach. As always, remove the gold band Rolex or studded wristbands before wrenching.
Drive-on ramps work for oil changes and other more routine tasks, but stepping up to a jack and jack stands takes things to the next level for suspension or brake work. Crawling under a car or truck supported by a creaky old jack can kill you. A stout set of jack stands can help stop a pre-apocalyptic Max Rockatansky from lowering the car onto your chest to get information on the Toecutter and his gang of Kawasaki Z1-riding miscreants. Always check to see if the vehicle is securely supported with a good lateral shake test before crawling under and spelunking for gear oil.