Sunday, October 06, 2013

6 Ways to Stay Safe in Your Garage




1. Let's say it's time to replace the shocks. The job really isn't that tough or inherently dangerous. But it does involve getting your car up in the air so you can work underneath it. And that's where things can get troublesome—quickly. Your nifty new floor jack makes short work of putting another foot of daylight between the bottom of the car and your driveway. And two short stacks of stout cement blocks will be amply strong to hold it there. The car will be plenty stable, because those blocks have a wide footprint. Right?

You've already broken the lug nuts loose while the car was still on terra firma and removed the wheels. So you casually close the door to turn off that annoying buzzer. That sends a vibration through the chassis and causes a big, big problem.

In the blink of an eye, the front end slides right off the jack and every single one of those four cement blocks returns to its sand-and-gravel ancestry, leaving your poor car perched on four naked brake discs.

Imagine, just imagine, if you were under the car, wrench in hand, when this happened. Ouch!

Lessons Learned

Working on your own car can be easy and fun, but it's got some potential dangers if you don't use common sense. The most obvious example we just played out: Wrenching underneath a car is a good way to become two-dimensional if you don't take the proper precautions. Let's catalog some procedures.

The only appropriate place to jack up a car is on pavement. And in our case pavement means concrete, not softer asphalt. A jack stand can make a nice cookie-cutter hole in thin asphalt. And that's especially true on a hot day, when the sun has made asphalt the consistency of molasses. Speaking of stands—always use ‘em, folks. Concrete block is not acceptable, because it's far too frangible. There are really only three options: ramps, old-school jack stands and, of course, a hydraulic lift. Ramps are great if you just need to change the oil. But for suspension or brake work, you'll need to remove the wheels and get into the wheel well. That means jack stands. They're not expensive, so splurge and get a pair that's rated for your largest vehicle.

What about wood—say that big stump over in the corner of the yard? Again, it's possible for wood to crack and separate under stress. I recommend wood to protect the bottom of a sheetmetal pinch weld or chassis component while a vehicle is being lifted. And wood is good for other stuff too. Scrap 2 x 4s are certainly fine for blocking wheels to keep the car from rolling off the stands. That reminds me: Don't trust the parking brake or the parking pawl in the transmission when you're working under a vehicle. A friend of mine learned that the hard way one day while changing the U-joints on his pickup. He'd left the truck in park and didn't bother to block the wheels. As he removed the last bolt from the differential flange, the truck rolled right over him, down the driveway and into the ditch across the street. Then he had to crawl under the truck and, lying in muddy water, reinstall the driveshaft so he could drive out of the ditch. Embarrassing, yes. But potentially deadly, too, if his truck hadn't been so tall it rolled completely over him. Not to mention the truck rolling into traffic.

It's just a quick fix, you say, so why not use a floor jack? No sir. A floor jack is not safe to support a car by itself. The hydraulic pressure inside the jack's slave cylinder is what's holding up that car. If any one of those rubber seals inside fails, the jack can dump pressure in a real hurry. And let's not even consider the possibility that Saturday Mechanic Jr. might wander into the garage and try to "help" Daddy by twisting the jack handle. It's happened, dude. Trust me.
2. Upsy-Daisy Here's how to raise a car or truck safely. Find a level, flat piece of pavement, and break the lug nuts loose before you do anything else. If you're using the stock scissors jack that came with your car, you're probably stuck working on only one corner at a time. But that's really the safest procedure, anyway. Lift from the factory-recommended jack points, which you can find in the glove box, on a placard or with the jack and tools. With the car well up in the air, put a stand under a beefy suspension part or frame rail. And to be clear, "beefy" does not mean things like the radiator supports, the exhaust system, the sway-bar mounts or the sheetmetal floor pan. Lower the car onto the safety stand, but leave some of the weight on the jack. Shake the car to see that it's stable. Then shake it again with some muscle, just to be sure.

Now you're thinking you've got the car safely lifted, right? Wrong. I've got one more trick. Remove the tire and wheel, and place it under the car, somewhere in the vicinity of where you'll be working. If your head is roughly the same size as mine, it's no thicker than that wheel, so in the unlikely event of a water landing (oops, wrong speech)—so if the car comes sliding off the jack, your wife won't be cashing in your life insurance policy.

The same principles apply when using a floor jack. The floor jack will allow you to lift one end of the car, not just a single corner like that scissors jack. Your best bet is to jack from the middle of the chassis on the front subframe or transmission case or from the rear differential housing. And just so we're clear, the oil pan, exhaust system or gas tank isn't a safe jacking point. If you don't recognize these items when you look at the bottom of your car, you probably shouldn't be under there, and you don't need to read any further.

Remember, when the floor jack goes up and down, the jack pad describes an arc. The jack's wheels need to be free to roll as the pad moves on its arc or the pad will slip. Ditto for later, when you're using the jack to lower the car. Even a pebble can keep those small metal wheels from rolling.
3. Underhood Work Not all the perils of auto maintenance happen underneath the chassis. There's plenty of danger under the hood, too. Aside from the obvious stuff, like sticking your fingers into the fan or belt when the engine is running, there are other ways to seriously hurt yourself under there.

If your vehicle has an electric cooling fan, be aware that it can spin all by itself, even when the key has been turned off. These fans continue to cool the engine until the block has dissipated most of its heat. And that could mean 15 minutes on a hot day. Pull the fuse or relay if you must work near it and just can't wait.

The radiator cap is another danger zone. It keeps coolant under as much as 15 psi and at temperatures as high as 230 F. The high pressure raises the boiling point of the coolant well above its atmospheric boiling point. Crack open the cap and it can flash-boil as the pressure in the system plummets. It's best to wait until the pressure drops back to zero. You'll know, because the upper radiator hose will be lukewarm to the touch and will feel squishy. If you must open the cap, use a rag and crack it open to vent—be sure to keep clear of the live steam. You might not even be able to see that steam, either, so use extreme caution. You had better have a good reason for opening the system anyway, because all the coolant that turns to steam or boils out will have to be replaced.

Fuel lines are another trouble spot. Sure, you've bled off the pressure (which could be as high as 60 psi, enough to squirt gasoline all the way across the shop) at the Schrader valve on the fuel rail, or by cranking the engine with the ignition disabled. But there is still fuel in that line. And if you're doing electrical work nearby, a few spilled drops from that line could catch fire.

One anecdote: I was working on a VW a few years back and disconnected the fuel lines so I could unbolt the cylinder head. Unbeknownst to me, VW has a cute strategy to help its cars start promptly. To fill and pressurize the fuel lines between the in-tank pump and the engine, the fuel pump runs for a few seconds when you open the driver's door.

Yes, I opened the door and sprayed gas right into the face of a gentleman standing close by. No lawsuits, but rest assured, I always clamp off fuel lines whenever I've got them disconnected. And no smoking—please.

Not all of the work around the shop is on the car. Plan to fire up the welder to tack the metal lawn furniture back together after a rowdy Super Bowl party? Let's remember to police the area near the welder or the grinder. Be sure to remove that pile of shop rags and last week's newspaper. You do have a fire extinguisher in the shop, right? I've extinguished two fires in my life, one my own fault, the other someone else's. They both would have been ugly had I not had an extinguisher. In fact, one would have cost me a Porsche 356 Carrera (serial no. 007) if there hadn't been a $15 Firebottle nearby. Thank goodness.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these tips on safety with motorcycle repair tacoma and other vehicle repairs. It can be a risky place of work if you're not cautious.

Samwise Gamgee said...

I just moved to Chicago and I have no Idea where to go get an oil change in Chicago, Il? any suggestions? I want a trustworthy mechanic that isn't going to make up things that are wrong with my car to get money.

Nannette Henriquez said...

Thank you so much for these handy set of tips and advise in car repair. This will definitely prove helpful to our friends out there who are thinking on doing some repairs on their car's engine. It might be a big investment right now to get tools or equipment like jack stands, and be very helpful for you if you're planning on keeping your car for the long haul.

Nannette Henriquez

ted armstrong said...

Any idea what to expect for charges in auto muffler repair in Brampton?

David Woodall said...

This is very informative. I agree with most of your tips. Doing repairs on a car may sound easy, but there are unavoidable circumstances that can happen, which may cause unwanted injuries. It's always better to be safe than sorry. 
David "Woody" Woodall

John Wright said...

People who work in garage have to face many problems. So here in this blog you can get good tips for your safety.

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Sean said...

Thanks for these tips on safety with car repairs Watford and other vehicle repairs.

celine sanderson said...

If you have no automobile repair training, it would be quite difficult to repair your car on your own. My dad only taught me how to change the oil, and other fluids. When my shocks break like you mentioned in the first paragraph, I have no way to lift it up on those hydraulic lifts. Auto repair shops are my go-to in these cases!
Celine | http://www.prontolubeandtuneboise.com/

Amelia Jack said...

This will certainly demonstrate accommodating to our companions out there who are thinking on doing a few repairs on their auto's motor. It may be a huge financing at this moment to get instruments or gear like jack stands, and be extremely useful for you in case you're anticipating keeping your auto for the long term and also Manual Tyre Changer is great service provider

Thiago daLuz said...

Awesome tips, I love how well articulated it is. I follow procedures like these every time I do work on the car. That's usually restricted to an oil change, but it's kept me safe. Thiago | http://www.woodrum-chevy.com

Gary Puntman said...

I've never known how to change oil before. I have recently been watching how-to videos online to try and learn. I would like to start doing my own oil changes. Safety is very important to me, so thanks for posting these steps for being safe. I will remember these every time I work on my car.
Gary Puntman | http://www.woodrum-chevy.com

Tim Wilson said...

Oil changes can be messy if you don't know what you're doing and you don't have the proper equipment! Thanks for the post by the way, I am glad I came across this blog! Keep up the good work!
Tim | Woodrum Chevy

Elina Maria said...

I read this blog. It is good for all. For car users and workers for a garage. We had need to keep our self safe in the garage while working not only ourselves, cars also.Thanks for this blog.
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katysewell12 said...

I'm about to move away from home to go to college. I want to learn how to take care of my car. Hopefully there will be a place that I can get an oil change in Macomb, IL when I get there. http://www.woodrum-chevy.com

Holly James said...

I need to get my oil changed before out road trip this summer! What could happen if I didn't do this? I don't want more problems to arise because I kept putting it off!
Holly James | http://www.woodrum-chevy.com/

Jennifer Davies said...

I agree! I'm all for the "do-it-yourself" attitude, but it can be dangerous. Never get underneath a car unless you're sure of your jacks and supports. That and I've watched hoods collapse on people as they have their heads inside. It's important to take the time to be safe when fixing a car.

Jenn | http://www.billsmithsauto.com/service.html

Jak Manson said...

I have been really needing to get some oil services for my car. The last time I got an oil change was well over 3000 miles ago and I know I am suppose to get it serviced every 3000 miles. That would be something that will help my car to run more smoothly.
Jak Manson | http://www.coveysauto.com/services/oil-changes/

Sophie Tilley said...

Nice information. I got some great information about motorcycle repairing and other vehicles also. Such types of blogs and information makes work easy for workers.
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Lauren West said...

I have tried so many times to do it myself. The only thing that I can get right is changing the tires. I do know how and where to put the jack under the car.

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