Safety Tips For The DIY Car Mechanic

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Published: 06th March 2012
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Let me begin by stating the obvious: you should NEVER attempt repairs that are beyond your ability. Knowing that some of you will ignore this priceless advice, Iím writing this article anyway. Itís ALWAYS better to pay an expert than to attempt major car repairs yourself...only to screw the car up even more. Many modern vehiclesí systems are very complex, so their repairs require considerable expertise, as well as special tools and equipment. A simple mistake could ruin sensitive, expensive electronic components.

Replacing some car components requires heavy lifting, crawling under the vehicle, laying or working in awkward positions, bending, twisting, straining, jerking and other motions you are not used to doing. If you have any physical limitations, such as a bad back, joint problems or lack the physical strength, simply hire someone to repair your vehicle for you.
In addition, NEVER undertake maintenance or repairs on your vehicle when you're tired, sick, tipsy, on medication or impaired in any way. Exhaustion, illness, alcoholic beverages and medications affect your judgment and perception, making room for injury and error.

NEVER WORK ALONE: If you're going to work on your vehicle outdoors or if you're going to be working underneath it, always CARRY YOUR PHONE and tell someone before you begin working. They can check on you later, in person or on the phone, and call 911 if you do injure yourself accidentally.

FOCUS: Try to minimize all distractions when working on vehicles: small children, pets, friends, family, neighbors. This will greatly reduce the risk of injury and mistakes.

EXTENSION CORDS: If you're working outdoors and using power tools, make sure your extension cords are rated for outdoor use. See that all extension cords and tools are properly grounded (a "ground fault interrupt" outlet is recommended), and that the cords also have the proper amp rating for the tools they are powering.

SMOKERS: Don't smoke at ALL when working on any fuel related components (fuel filter, carburetor, fuel injectors, fuel pump, fuel tank or fuel lines). Don't smoke or get any sparks near the battery. Batteries contain hydrogen gas which is very explosive.NOTE: Donít smoke anything other than cigarettes when working with on cars with dangerous tools. Since I know some of you will anyway, always have a fire extinguisher with you. The fire extinguisher should have a "B" (liquids & grease fires) and "C" (electrical fires) rating.

CLOTHING: Do not wear loose ANYTHING: coats, shirts, baggy jeans or overalls, apron, jewelry, rings, ties, scarves or bulky gloves when working on any vehicle. Always tie back and/or cover long hair too. Any of these items can get tangled in pulleys and other moving parts, resulting serious injury, dismemberment...or even...DEATH.

EYE GOGGLES: Always wear eye protection: when working under any vehicle (to shield your eyes from falling debris), when pounding or grinding anything (to avoid metal chips), when jump starting the car battery (to protect eyes from battery acid in case the battery explodes), when working on any air conditioning components (to protect eyes from refrigerant).

CAR JACKS: Never crawl under an improperly supported vehicle. Translation: don't trust a jack alone to hold up any vehicle. Always add extra support...just in case. Use a pair of support stands positioned underneath the vehicle to keep it from falling...which could be on YOU. NOTE: Make sure the support stands are strong enough to hold up the vehicle's weight. DO NOT USE: blocks of wood, boxes, wheels or bricks for supports! Each of these may slip or collapse, allowing the vehicle to fall...and possibly crush you.

CAR BATTERIES: Whenever youíre doing electrical repair work, be sure to disconnect one of the carís battery cables (replacing a starter, installing a radio, fixing a broken switch or wiring, etc.). This will prevent accidental shorts that could damage the wiring, or worse, start a fire. NOTE: This is a very important precaution when working under the dash of any vehicle that has an air bag. Why? Crossing the wrong wires might set off the air bag. Not only can this cause injury, it is also very expensive to replace!

CAR ENGINE: When the engine is running or the key is in the "on" position, NEVER disconnect or unplug any electrical connector (unless specifically instructed to do so as part of a diagnostic procedure in a shop manual). Unplugging connectors while eletric current is still flowing through them creates a voltage spike. This can damage sensitive (and very expensive) electronic components.

UNDER THE HOOD: When the carís engine is running, be mindful of the drive belts, pulleys, fan and all other moving parts when working under the hood.

FEEL THE BURN: When the engine is running or the vehicle has been driven within the past 30 minute, the engine, radiator, exhaust manifolds, catalytic converter, muffler and pipes will be hot. NOTE: Hot things can burn you...wear gloves and let them cool off.

Always allow the engine to cool for at least an hour before attempting to open the radiator cap. Even then, wear gloves and be careful. You can even put a rag over the cap first. Then loosen it slowly to the first stop ONLY, as this is the point that any residual pressure and steam should be released. CAUTION: Wait until all pressure escapes before removing the cap the rest of the way!

IGNITION SYSTEM: Be wary of electrical shocks when working around the ignition system with the carís engine running. The normal battery voltage in most vehicles is only 12 volts, which will not harm you. BUT... the ignition system raises the primary voltage up to 25,000 - 40,000 volts! This high voltage can give you a BAD SHOCK if you touch a spark plug wire, the ignition coil or distributor cap while the engine is running.

BRAKE LINES: Before you ever open up any brake lines or replace any components in a vehicle equipped with an "integral" ABS system (when the master cylinder is combined with the ABS modulator, pump and pressure accumulator), you MUST FIRST depressurize the system. Do this by depressing the brake pedal 24 to 40 times while the key is off.

FUEL LINES: Be careful when opening any fuel lines on a fuel injected vehicle. When the engine is running, the pressure in some systems is up to 80 - 90 psi. With this in mind, NEVER open any fuel line while the engine is running. WARNING: Residual fuel pressure can remain in the lines for many hours after the engine has been shut off. NOTE: To minimize the dangerous fuel spray, before loosening the hose or line, wrap a rag around it. See the vehicleís manual for other approved ways to relieve pressure in the line from the vehicleís manufacturer.

BOTTOM LINE: YOU ARE NOT A PROFESSIONAL MECHANIC! Sure, you can save some money on maintenance and small repairs. But be sure to leave the major repairs to the real auto experts. A good, honest mechanic is...PRICELESS.

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