Automotive Maintenance Safety:
Automobiles are big and heavy with lots of mechanical moving parts. In the right environment a vehicle can be maintained and repaired safely and effectively. However, in the wrong environment repairing a vehicle can be dangerous. Follow the tips in this chapter to stay safe.
Basic Shop Rules:
- Never work alone.
- Wear eye protection.
- Avoid loose clothing or hair.
- Stay clear of moving parts of a running vehicle.
- Be aware of hazardous chemicals and keep a flushing station nearby for eyes and skin (at home this could be a bathroom sink or shower).
- Keep proper clean up materials in case of an accidental spill (see below).
- Don’t mix your work space with other cluttering materials such as home storage, garden tools and other items.
- Never go under a vehicle that is elevated improperly (the jack to change the tire is NOT sufficient, see more details below).
- Know where the fire extinguisher is and have a planned exit route. The fire extinguisher should be kept in working order and in a place with easy access.
- Keep an emergency response number handy and posted clearly where others can see it.
- Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle for roadside emergencies or repairs.
- Consult your vehicle owner’s manual for specific safety rules regarding your vehicle.
Proper Clothing and Hair:
Always wear safety goggles for eye protection. Vehicle repair involves the use of many types of fluids which can splatter and eye contact should be avoided.
One of my first bosses didn’t have any feeling sensation in his right hand. He couldn’t feel touch or pain in that hand. He was working alone one night and his hand got caught in the fan belt while the engine was running. He was conscious long enough to get the engine to stop running with his other hand, but his right was stuck and he couldn’t get out on his own. He eventually lost consciousness and lay there bleeding for three hours by himself. Bleeding this long could easily have resulted in death. Luckily he only lost his fingers. While it was his hand and not a piece of clothing that got caught, the same principle applies. If a piece of clothing or hair gets caught it won’t be long before a hand or face gets dragged in with it.
Do not wear ties or any loose, hanging clothing. Do not let pony tails down or leave any loose strands of hair. Bundle your hair up if it’s long. Do not wear necklaces, rings or other jewelry. Some may remember Mr. T, the Mohawk-bearing muscle man from the 1980s sitcom The A-Team. He often wore about 50 lbs. of jewelry and frequently worked on motor vehicles. This was a blatant violation of mechanic safety rules. Only a person who can get thrown out of an airplane, flip a jeep, and come out of machine gun fire without a scratch can work on engines that way.
Ideally the best clothing for performing automotive maintenance and repairs is a mechanic’s jumpsuit. It’s durable, comfortable, there are pockets for tools, and there is nothing loose that can get caught and pulled into moving parts.
Avoid slips, falls and hazardous chemicals:
Hazardous chemicals can include gasoline, oil, coolant, and other vehicle fluids. Avoid contact with eyes and mouth. If you ever have contact with eyes then flush with cool water for several minutes. Some car fluids can be acidic, such as battery fluid. If you ever start to feel burning, then flush with cool water for several minutes. If burning continues then seek medical attention.
Proper clean up materials include shop rags and “oil dri”, which is simply kitty litter without the fragrance. When a spill occurs you should spread enough “oil dri” over the spill to absorb the entire spill. Then sweep it up with a broom and dustpan and throw it away.
Avoid clutter in your workspace that can act as fall hazards. Keep storage and non- automotive tools in other areas. Also, clean up tools after you’re finished.
Proper Lifting Points:
A motor vehicle is a 4,000+ pound piece of machinery that could fall on top of you. Never go under a vehicle that is not elevated properly. If the vehicle is elevated properly then there should not be any problem.
Vehicles should only be lifted at their proper lifting points. The proper lifting points on a vehicle are the locations on the vehicle where you place the jack to lift the vehicle and where the jack stands are placed to keep the vehicle elevated. Lifting points are different on every vehicle. The owner’s manual will specify where the lifting points are for your specific vehicle. Often vehicles have lift points marked on the running board or rocker panel. There are a couple of disastrous events that can happen during an attempt to raise a vehicle without using the proper lifting points. The weight of the car pressing down and the jack pressing up can damage the body of the vehicle. Or worse, the jack could tip or slide while a person is underneath the vehicle.
Any vehicle that has a frame can be lifted by the frame. When the front is lifted the jack is usually placed under the suspension cross member. When lifting the rear the jack is placed under the axle if it has a solid axle. If it doesn’t have a solid axle then it should be lifted by the factory recommended lift points.
Vehicles should always be on firm, level ground. If the ground is not level then the car may roll and tip the jack. A jack or a jack stand can also slip out or fail to hold the vehicle in an elevated position when the ground is not firm, such as on a dirt road or when there is ice or snow.
There are different types of jacks and jack stands. A jack is used to raise the vehicle either by hydraulic pumping or hand cranking. A jack stand is used to keep the vehicle elevated and has a firm square base. One type of jack that people are most familiar with is the one that is included with the spare tire kit. This is to be used only for changing the tire and it is not sufficient for keeping a vehicle elevated when working under the vehicle. The jack used for changing tires often has a four point rectangular base. This is not as stable as a square base.
When minor repairs are being performed, such as changing a tire, it is permissible to raise just one corner of the vehicle, or the front or the rear. The vehicle is first raised with a jack and then placed on jack stands. (Do not go under the vehicle while it is elevated by a jack). The vehicle should be equally balanced on the jack stands.
A mechanic’s shop may have industry jacks or hydraulic lifts. These can be used to raise the vehicle and keep it elevated. These lifts can raise the entire vehicle at the same time. When lifting the entire vehicle the center of gravity should be positioned evenly with the lifting hoist arms. This is evident when the vehicle is raised and all tires lift off the ground at the same time. Most vehicles are front-heavy due to the engine block. However, many work trucks are balanced to have the center of gravity in the middle.
Emergency Preparedness and Response:
In an emergency, preparedness and a quick response can save a life. Although it is relatively rare, a fire can occur when working on motor vehicles. Some vehicle fluids are flammable. They can combust with excess heat or when a faulty electrical wire creates a spark. Keep a working fire extinguisher in an accessible place. All shop workers should know where the fire extinguisher is. An ABC or “tri-class” fire extinguisher is appropriate for auto repair shops. Also, have a plan for an emergency escape if a fire becomes uncontrollable.
Keep an emergency response number posted clearly where everyone can see it.
Keep a first aid kit handy for minor injuries, like superficial cuts and scratches.
Have a flushing station nearby for any vehicle fluid contact with eyes and mouth, or with skin if the fluid is acidic.
Introduction to Tools Used by Mechanics:
A commercial mechanic’s shop will usually have industry-standard tools, such as a torque wrench, hydraulic lifts, pneumatic (air-operated) tools, and electronic devices that connect with the vehicle’s computer to receive diagnostics. However, a startup repair shop or a highly proficient mechanic at home could get most jobs done with a $200 set of tools if needed.
The most common tools in a mechanic’s set include the following:
Flashlight: A flashlight is one of the most-used tools in an auto repair shop. It helps the mechanic see anywhere for visual inspections, maintenance and repairs.
Socket sets and wrenches: These have two different measurement systems. One is metric and one SAE (or standard). The metric system has measurements in millimeters (mm). SAE has measurements in inches or fractions of inches (1/4, 5/16, etc.). Wrenches often have an open end and an opposite box end.
Screwdrivers: both Philips head (the cross-section looks like a cross or plus sign) and flat tipped (or slotted). When using screwdrivers, try to match the size of the screwdriver head with the screw. Also try to avoid stripping the head of the screw (this has occurred when you can firmly turn the screwdriver against the head of the screw continually and the screw never rotates).
Jacks: These are used to lift the vehicle. Some are rotated by hand. Other higher-end jacks are pumped. Some are hydraulic.
Jack Stands: These are used to keep the vehicle elevated after it has been raised with the jack. They have a wide square base and come to an apex where the car rests on them.
Pry bar: This can occasionally be used to tension a belt.
Hammer: This can be any type of hammer and it is used on occasion, such as when freeing a stuck drum or rotor from its hub.
Test Light: This used to test fuses
Funnel: Used to fill vehicle fluids.
Drain Pan: Used to collect vehicle fluids when changing fluids and filters or flushing systems.
Tire Pressure Gauge: Used to measure tire pressure.
Battery Tester: Used to check the battery to see if it is charged.
Computer Scanner: Connects to the vehicle computer to receive diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs)
There are many other tools that can be used. But these are the most basic.