Working Safe on Your Car

Personal safety when repairing a vehicle in the driveway or garage is very important. Veteran mechanics and auto body technicians have long successful careers because they habitually apply good safety habits. So should the backyard mechanic, especially when applying force underneath a car so as to avoid a  crush injury or fatality. Here are some tips on how to work safely under and around any vehicle.

First off, always, always, always, lift and support the vehicle correctly. Steel ramps are sufficient for an oil change, but 4 jack stands plus a floor jack, applied on a level, concrete floor or driveway, are the only ways to keep a car up and stable so it does not come crashing down. Choose the jack stands according to the jack's load capacity multiplied by 4 wheels. This number should be substantially higher than the gross vehicle weight listed in the owner's manual.

Regarding the floor jack, do not use it as sole support. Even the best of jacks can lose pressure suddenly due to failure of one or more of the seals. In addition, consult the owner's manual for the proper jacking points on the frame. The relatively flimsy oil pan or exhaust system will crush under the weight of a car or truck. Don't use those points to jack up the vehicle.

Be aware that wood is never strong enough to support a car;  forget the oak tree stump or pile of lumber. Wood can be used to block the wheels when the vehicle is on jack stands.

Regarding working under the hood, be careful here to preserve hands, fingers, eyesight and breathing. Never put hands near a moving belt or engine fan. Remove a radiator cap only when the engine is cooled to avoid the coolant spraying someone in the face. Shop glasses protect the eyes, and particle masks and respirators guard against brake dust, solvents, and paint and primer fumes. Use gloves when applying any cleaning chemicals. 

It should go without saying that smoking is a huge no-no when working on a vehicle, and keep a fire extinguisher handy (by or in the vehicle) for unexpected smoke and flames. Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and inhalation of other toxic fumes by keeping the garage door wide open.

Any sensible backyard mechanic will work with a buddy in case danger arises. The buddy system does not include companionable beers or other compromising substances during the work session. Auto repairs require a full set of faculties to be completed correctly and safely.

Finally, information is key to doing a repair correctly and carefully. Owner's manuals, vehicle repair books, instructions included with tools and parts, reputable informational websites--all are valuable in doing work properly and safely. Read about the task before tackling it. Consult an expert when purchasing honda parts, or work with an experienced friend. Don't be ashamed to ask for help in understanding how to use a tool or make a repair. It's all part of working smart and working safely.