While getting covered in motor oil may seem like a great idea to the do-it-yourselfer or driveway mechanic, bathing in petrochemicals is not the world's best idea. Solvents and even some caustic cleaners that work fine with automobiles are not very compatible with humans. Being safe while working on automobiles involves not only adherence to the rules of common sense, but also remembering things that, despite being put all over warning labels and in the instructions, often go unheeded. While some automotive maintenance accidents can bring a minor scratch or bruise, others can result in serious injury. The good news is that all of these injuries are preventable with some basic equipment combined with useful knowledge.
One of the most famous and ingeniously effective ad slogans ever devised was created to sell Bell helmets. It stated simply: If you have a ten-dollar head, buy a ten-dollar helmet. Bell helmets cost more then cheapo ten-dollar competitors at the time, but were also more effective in preventing split heads. The cost of safety equipment is ultimately a small price to pay. One thing people never seem to see is that eye protection is as important as protecting one's noggin. Battery acid, hot engine oil, flying tools, and even chunks of crud falling down from suspensions can irreparably harm human eyeballs. The good news is quality eye protection is relatively inexpensive. Protective eyewear comes in many different styles, and can be purchased for less than $20. Make sure the eye protection is rated for splashing chemicals.
Flying tools may be able to be avoided by cat-like evasive maneuvers. Sometimes it's what you can't see that can cause the most harm. Invisible fumes from brake cleaner, gasoline, spray paint, and other pressurized solvents can cause problems without warning—even when you can't smell them. Worse is that this damage may only manifest itself as long-term health problems years down the road. Working in the open air and not enclosed areas is a good first step. Along with stylish protective eyewear, it is always a good idea to wear an approved respirator when working with solvents or paints. These respirators are easily found in the paint section of most any hardware store. Keep in mind that the charcoal and other materials in the filter cartridges lose effectiveness over time and with exposure to air. Proper fitting is also important. One size does not fit all.
Everything that goes into or can stick to the outside and underside of an automobile will end up all over the hands of do-it-yourselfer. The rub is that coolant, engine oil, gasoline, or the caked on mix of all three combined with tire dust stuck to the underside of the vehicle is a toxic concoction best kept off human skin. Gloves are the answer for keeping harmful agents from working through skin and into the bloodstream. The trick is finding the right glove for the job. Latex gloves are not very good at standing up to oil-based chemicals. Nitrile gloves hold off a little longer, but will also fail in the presence of stronger solvents. Mechanics gloves are a good protective solution and offer the added benefit of extra cushion and grip. When working elbow deep in a solvent tank always wear gloves approved for chemical exposure. The right gloves for the job are inexpensive protection against toxic chemicals soaking through skin.
The final warning is one that is mentioned often: working under very heavy automobiles can be extremely dangerous. Unless you're lucky enough to have a garage equipped with a hydraulic lift then crawling under the vehicle is often the answer. Never attempt to work under a vehicle unless it is securely supported. Drive-on ramps are an inexpensive and good solution for oil changes and other routine maintenance. For work that involves removing wheels or other suspension bits, the tried-and-true jack and jack stand combination is the only way to go. Drive-on ramps must be properly rated for the weight of the vehicle. The same holds true for a jack and jack stand set. Never jack up a vehicle or use drive-on ramps on anything but a level surface. Always check to see if the vehicle is securely supported before crawling underneath. If working with a pal, always ask before lowering the vehicle. While some of these safety tips may sound obvious, protection against injury is deadly serious business. Taking the time to be safe always pays off.