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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
ZERO 101: AUTO REPAIR SAFETY



Welcome to my first beginner's guide to automotive repair. this guide is intended for novices, and as such your first concern should be your own safety and the safety of others around you. yes, i know...this is boring! it's also very necessary, so i'll try not to put you to sleep and keep this brief!

"I take no responsibility for any damage or injury that may be caused by your use of this guide. this is meant to be a reference to improve your safety practices. i cannot be responsible for your actions and mistakes"


SECTION 1: LIFTING HAZARDS

the biggest concern you will have here is getting under the car. this is very necessary for repairs, but also can be very dangerous. let's face the facts here: if that car falls on you while you are underneath it, you can die! for this reason, jacking the car up and getting under it should be taken with the utmost concern. any car can roll off its supports and fall if not secured properly.

the short of this is always use wheel chocks, parking brake/trans in park (1st gear for manuals) and always use solid or positive locking supports.

let's start with a few methods, do's and don't.

drive on ramps



for convenience, nothing beats these. just as they look, drive up on them. block your opposite wheels and you're done. they have ridges on either side of the flat surface to prevent rolling. great for quick oil changes.

downsides: can't remove your wheels or work on suspension. major jobs are out of the question. you have to be VERY careful positioning the ramps before driving on otherwise you can drive off them. it also takes a bit of practice to use them right as you have to give it a bit of gas to get up the ramp and then stop on the flats once the front wheels are over the stop ridges.

zero's experience: you can drive over these and end up with them under your car if you're not careful. yes, i have done this.

hydraulic jacks and jack stands

notice i lump hydraulic jacks and jack stands under the same category. this is because hydraulic jacks should never be relied on for safe support of your car ever!! these can slip, hydraulics fail, and then you could wind up dead. this happened to my old landlord years ago and he ended up stuck under his truck for several hours until someone could rescue him. luckily, the vehicle was high enough not to have crushed his skull - barely. he still has the scar. avoid the temptation of speeding through your setup.

in short, never get under a car supported only with hydraulic jacks! use jack stands!

always use wheel chocks to prevent vehicle rolling

if the wheels are on the ground, use either parking brakes or transmission in park (1st gear for manuals)

only raise a vehicle on level ground

always do a bump test before getting under the vehicle

always use a solid jacking point for your hydraulic jack and jack stands. there are many available, but take note of what is structural and what is not. for example, the gas tank is not such a good point for supporting your vehicle. subframe, as long as you don't need to remove it, is an excellent choice. take note of the following pictures for examples:

This pic is the underside of a hyundai accent, although not mine. i have circled the suitable jack point in black and non suitable in red. take a good look. the black point is solid box welded subframe...it's not going anywhere. it's also flat making it an ideal choice.

the leftmost red circle is the control arm under the wheel. not only could that hinder maintenance, its a pivoting joint with a strut on top of it. the control arm is also made of thin metal designed to crumple in an accident. terrible choice, don't even think about it.

upper middle red circle appears to be a solid point, and yes it is. however, it's the geometry that makes this unsuitable. the upwards bend means we don't have a good LEVEL spot to put a jackstand. also, can't see how this bolts to the frame. no idea if this is able to take full load of the vehicle or not from this view.

rightmost is the exhaust....this seems like a no-brainer but i have seen it attempted. its fastened by rubber mounts and hangs under the car. take a close look and it should be obvious why this is a bad idea.




this pic i believe is from a velositer. ignore the hoist points. although can be suitable, we can't really see what is going on with them clearly. also, see that lip on the outer frame? you might bend that if you don't have the correct equipment.

again, the frame is marked in black. obvious good spots for a jack.

gas tank, terrible place unless you like putting a jack THROUGH the tank. that spare tire well isn't much better.

now, why have i marked off the rear cross member as being a bad idea when i have already stated that its a good idea to use it? (scroll down to camero pic) take a good look at how the suspension is designed. that cross member pivots and is a moving part of that suspension. in short: never use a moving component for support

trolley/hydraulic jacks



there are many different ones out there, pick the one that suits your needs. you don't necessarily need to buy an expensive one. give it a quick check before using it every time. if its leaking oil, that's a dead giveaway. if you aren't sure, don't use it. again, these should NEVER be used to support your car while you are under it. the only exception to this rule is the few that have lock pins. the height can be positively locked with a safety pin, so if the hydraulics fail it doesn't matter.

the purpose of this jack is to get the height you need and then support with jack stands. once on stands, the trolley jack can be removed.

bottle jacks



bottle jacks are not recommended. there is a much higher likelihood of tipping the jack while raising the car. the footprint is much smaller and therefore less stable than a trolley jack. also, the trolley jack will travel a little on its wheels while raising the vehicle. think right angle triangles and Pythagorean theorem. this does not allow for that.

bumper jacks



these are all but extinct now. not recommended. they are a very old design and not commonly used due to the fact that they are inherently unstable in their design and prone to slipping.

jack stands



this is the preferred method to support a vehicle before getting under it or anywhere near it while supported. notice the wide base for excellent support and the locking bar. they are height adjustable and due to the ratchet style height locking design, they cannot slip while under load. only way to retract the supports with the release lever is by removing the load. very versatile and inexpensive. they will also allow you to do any repair.

take note of the following image:



note how the stands are placed evenly apart from vehicle center and a strong structural cross-member was selected to take the load. i would not hesitate to get under this camero!

wheel chocks



many different types and styles out there, but the principle is the same. you're blocking the wheels on the ground so that they are unable to move. if the car rolls, its going to come off ANY support you have no matter how good it is. doesn't matter if your brakes are on, this is your life we're talking about here.

the bump test

this is just my name for it. once the vehicle is supported, how do you know you've done it right? give the car a good bump with your body. throw your weight at it from all sides. if there is even the slightest slipping, DO NOT GET UNDER THE VEHICLE! get your trolley jack back under it so you can reposition your jack stands.

preventing damage

it is possible to cause damage to either your driveway/garage or even the vehicle itself when jacking it up. the weight of the car can bend some supports such as the rear cross member. the solution is easy: spread out the force by using a block of wood. wood can be used under your trolley jack/jack stands, on top or both depending on your application. inspect your wood carefully to ensure no cracks are present. the wood can split under the weight of a car. another alternitive (and safer!) is to use plate steel if you can get your hands on it. i would recommend a minimum of 1/2" to ensure its not going to deform badly under load. this isn't always necessary, experience will teach you when it is. watch your jack points carefully when performing your setup.

never use concrete blocks for support as concrete can crack under weight.
 

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Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
SECTION 2: MECHANICAL HAZARDS

i'll keep this one shorter as most of this is common sense. doesn't hurt to briefly touch on it though.

running engine

from time to time, you will find yourself doing certain diagnostics while the engine is running. remember that this is more hazardous than normal. you have rotating parts, moving belts, heat, and electrical hazards. take note of them and be smart.

also, while the engine is running the radiator fan can start at any time without warning. that fan will do a good job at taking your fingers off.

never run your vehicle inside any structure such as a garage! exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide which is very deadly!

hands and feet

depending on what you're up to, dropping objects is always an issue. if you're moving anything heavy consider wearing safety shoes (steel or composite toe).



as far as your hands go, gloves are highly recommended. not only will you keep grease and dirt off your skin, but you'll prevent smashing your knuckles like many of us have done so very much. sometimes a nut or bolt is stuck and you're leaning into it with a ratchet...then it gives...and your hand smashes into the nearest metal object.


eye protection

sure, we all look like dorks wearing safety glasses. you might even be thinking 'why would i need that?'. although it may seem a little extreme, you'd be surprised. anyone who's been under a rusty vehicle will understand what i'm getting at.

as you're under the car turning several nuts and bolts, you're going to have small pieces of rusted metal falling on you. it'll get everywhere. in your clothes, your hair, even your ears! and more importantly...your eyes.

even when not under a car, it's not that far fetched to break a bolt (you WILL break bolts) and have a piece of that broken bolt fly into your face.

zero's experience: as i have mentioned, i have done a bit of body work. i was grinding some rust out of my accent and i was wearing safety glasses! i ended up getting a good sized chunk of rust into my eye and became embedded in the surface of the white of my eye. when i finally got it out (hate hospitals) it took a piece of the top layer of my eye with it. i now permanently have a small crater on the white of my right eye where it took that thin layer. this could have been FAR worse. the problem was not wearing safety glasses - it was that the ones i was wearing were completely inappropriate. goggles were the choice i should have made.

the lesson here is to select the eyewear according to how much garbage is going to be flying at your face.


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heavy lifting

some parts are heavier than they look.

zero's experience: i still have memories of replacing the differential in my first car (rear wheel drive toyota). it's about 80-90lbs of solid cast iron....and due to the awkward shape i was forced to lay under it and bench press it in place and then try to get the bolts into the thing. i was using a trolley jack to assist (yes bad move!) and it rolled off onto my finger nearly breaking it. i got lucky, but it was also stupid poor planning on my part.

an engine is, of course, extremely heavy. weather you can lift it on your own or not doesn't matter - why are you going to risk causing severe damage to your back or dropping it on yourself? you can replace an engine, your spine not so much. here was my investment last winter when it went on sale:



leveling bar and all baby, 45% off at crappy tire! last i used it was to support the engine while i replaced the clutch.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
SECTION 3: ELECTRICAL HAZARDS

most people don't treat electricity as a major hazard. its only 12V right? that's no big deal. well think again. i'm not going to say that the electrical hazards in a car are huge, they are not. but that does not mean that they should be ignored!

first let's briefly discuss the difference between AC and DC current. for more in depth info, please see another source such as wikipedia.



in the above picture, we see an example of both direct and alternating current (DC and AC, respectively). most of what we will be dealing with under the hood is DC. interestingly, you'll notice that unlike AC which passes through 0 voltage regularly, DC is a constant voltage. for that reason, DC at lower voltages than AC can be just as dangerous. you have a constant current going through your body if you get electrocuted. AC is much easier to get yourself zapped, but higher voltage is needed. think of it like this: voltage represents the potential for current to flow through your body, while current is the killer. it does not take much current across the heart to stop it.

so what am i getting at? well just be aware of what you are doing. in hyundais, the positive terminal is covered. myself, i always disconnect the negative terminal first while the positive is covered and move it out of the way down the side of the battery to prevent it touching anything. only then will i uncover the positive terminal and remove it and then the battery. this way, there's no way i could do something stupid like connect both battery terminals with my ratchet.

now, why have i mentioned AC? there's no AC in a car, right? wrong. your alternator generates AC and the rectifier bridge transfers into DC power. this is purely for efficiency.

another point to consider is the coilpacks. their job is to take relatively low voltage and convert this low voltage/high amperage and convert it to high voltage/low amperage suitable to create an electrical arc across the spark plugs. the hazard here is although amperage is low, the voltage is VERY high. this means that the electricity will transmit through your body more easily.

in short, don't make shorts! this is also a good way to trash your electronics. 2 reasons to be aware of electrical. if in doubt, take the time to remove the battery.

in short: if you're doing major work or extensive work on electrical (other than simple plugs) play it safe and disconnect your battery!
 

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Discussion Starter #4
SECTION 4: CHEMICAL HAZARDS

ever read the warning labels on any of the chemicals you use on your car? you might want to start...its kind of scary to be honest. i will briefly touch on bodywork, but that is a completely different category on its own. its very high hazard work when painting and should be treated with the utmost respect. i recommend that a novice never begin with bodywork. the investment in safety gear is quite substantial. i may write a separate guide on that in the future, but body work is not my strength.

firstly, consider some of the chemicals you might use or come in contact with during repairs:

used engine oil. it causes skin cancer.
Used engine oil

i use anti-seize lubricant regularly and so should any mechanic. it contains copious amounts of lead.

brake cleaner is harmless, right? wrong.
Brake Cleaner Can Kill: When to Take Safety Warnings Seriously | Popular Science

what about carb and throttle body cleaners? highly flammable.

automotive paint. as i said, i'll be brief. this stuff is nasty. disgustingly nasty. contains many compounds which cause cancer, destroy various vital organs such as liver, kidneys, lungs, brain tissue, etc. its not to say you can't use it safely, but it absolutely demands respect if you value your life. check out toluene if you don't believe me. the paint i use and the thinner are full of this crap. please note that i use professional grade paint for all my body work.
Toluene - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

and the creme de la creme: brake pads, drum brake shoes and clutch discs. now i hear you saying "what the **** is this quack talking about??" well, what if i told you all these parts that you regularly service can contain asbestos?
Mechanics Exposed to Asbestos From Clutches, Brake Pads & Gaskets

what do do about these hazards

ok, enough fear mongering. i wanted to make the point that these hazards are very real. i think that has been done. this does not mean that you can't work with these hazards safely and efficiently - you simply must be aware and respect the hazards.

you'll notice that most of these hazards pertain to getting them on your skin. chemicals are easily absorbed through the human skin, as is the case with used motor oil. the solution is simple:



disposable gloves. get them on sale, not expensive. it'll cost less than your medical/drug bills if you get skin cancer, i promise. these are my personal pick, black gold nitrile gloves. you'll find that latex gloves are very difficult to get now due to common latex allergies. nitrile is the alternative and has similar properties. these are also chemically resistant making them the only choice for high hazard work such as body work. some people are allergic to nitrile (ironic, isn't it?). if you are, you can try to find latex and failing that you're stuck with vinyl gloves. they are not very resistant to chemicals and don't stretch well. i feel sorry for you!

how about asbestos? its only really a hazard in your lungs, but i wouldn't risk getting it on myself. don't get too frightened, the amount of asbestos in brake pads is not a lot. its enough if you work with brakes all the time for most of your life, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take this hazard seriously.

disposable masks are an option, but i do not recommend them due to fit and seal issues. any mask used for asbestos should be P100 rated.



my approach is to use a half-mask respirator. here's the one that works for me:



its not the cheapest, but i also use it for painting so a very worthwhile investment. its also the only one that seems to fit my face properly...

note that P100 will not filter our vapours. cartridges rated for organic vapours will be required. for painting, i use combination cartridges P100/OV.

these masks cannot simply be put on unfortunately....they require a fit test with a rather expensive piece of equipment. i'm lucky enough to be fit tested for this through my employer as i use this mask at work as well as at home. however, its recommended to perform a fit check prior to each use....adjust as necessary to achieve fit. i cannot recommend skipping the fit test but some people might believe they are reading between the lines and simply perform a fit check. here's how that's done:

first step is shave. mask seals to bare skin, not your beard.



mask should rise on your face and will eventually leak air, but no obvious point where it breaks seal. that's my problem with other masks limiting me to the expensive MSA comfo.



mask should collapse slightly on your face. similar idea as above.

finally, avoiding chemicals on your clothes and spreading it to your family. change your clothes. i have a set of clothing only used for automotive work. if i'm doing something where i am coming in contact with something nasty, i have a shop coat that stays in my garage. leave the trash in there where it belongs. i wash it every now and then on its own. never put in dryer, grease and oil may ignite.

high hazard work such as painting, i put a white lab coat (someone gave me a bunch years ago, can't remember who) over top of that. lab coat is washed immediately after use and let air dry.

in conclusion: yes i am very cautious. i'm not suggesting wearing a mask for ALL work. just plan it. maybe wear a mask for removing brake pads when you know there will be dust? clean the dust up and you're fine. work in ventilated spaces, outside if its really bad. keep your loved ones away from high hazard chemicals and the chemicals away from them. use disposable gloves where appropriate.

this may mean a slightly higher cost to your repairs. as cliche as it sounds, your life is worth it.
 

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Just a few small details that could be added.

Under jacketing up supporting vehicles ; never use concrete blocks they can easily split ; wood if fairly new can okay, although its better just for chocks , steel is always the better option.

Under sources of electrical/mechanical hazard ; assume electric fans can come on any time and chop fingers ; remote start should be disabled via relays etc if doing serious work under hood.
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
Just a few small details that could be added.

Under jacketing up supporting vehicles ; never use concrete blocks they can easily split ; wood if fairly new can okay, although its better just for chocks , steel is always the better option.

Under sources of electrical/mechanical hazard ; assume electric fans can come on any time and chop fingers ; remote start should be disabled via relays etc if doing serious work under hood.
thanks, like those suggestions. remote start i do not see as such a hazard for serious work. rationale: you'd be pulling the battery for serious work. if you're not, its asking for trouble. will adjust to reflect that.

RESULT: added warning re: concrete, check wood for cracks, and suggested 1/2" thk. min. steel plate a safer option. added fan warning under engine running in section 2, mechanical. added additional warning to remove battery during any electrical or major work under the hood. also added in warning re: high voltage on coilpacks.
 
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