man cleaning his white car

Garage safety

By Wayne Scraba,

There are many ways to be an automobile enthusiast. To folks like us, gaining the big spoils of satisfaction means getting down and dirty to work on our cars. Sounds good, but sometimes that means you get bruised knuckles, bandaged skin and, in some cases, stitches (or worse) in the process.

Some enthusiasts wear those stitches and scars like badges of honor, but it doesn't have to be that way. You can save yourself a lot of agony if you take a few simple precautions. Check out the following. We've laid out 10 garage safety tips, and there's bound to be something you can use.

1. Compressed air safety

Always inspect compressed air hoses before use and always replace cracked, worn or frayed hoses. Reduce compressed air below 30 psi for cleaning dirt and dust from parts and the work area, and never use compressed air to clean yourself or your clothes. Air must be shut off and all pressure in the line must be released before disconnecting the air hose from the air.

2. Drain pan safety

When draining engine coolant, treat the stuff with respect. Coolant (whether new or old) is most definitely hazardous to the health (and often life) of both humans and animals, especially if digested. Make sure to dispose of the stuff properly.

3. Axle stand safety

Never place your car on axle stands on soft ground (or even hot asphalt), or you'll immediately find that the stands will sink out of sight. As you might have guessed, these conditions make the vehicle unstable. Always make sure that axle stands are set up on a solid, level surface.

4. Fire hazard safety

If you decide to paint something in your garage (a part or two or even a complete automobile), be sure to extinguish all flames, and that includes all pilot lights before the spray job starts (a good example is the pilot light on a natural gas water heater). If you don't, you'll be shocked at how quickly atomized paint explodes when exposed to an open flame, and how quickly the flames can spread.

5. Jack stand safety

If a vehicle is jacked up and/or placed on axle stands, give it a few up and down shakes on the bumpers or fenders. The shake test ensures that the axle stands are fully engaged. Needless to say, nothing is more unnerving (or perhaps more dangerous) than climbing under a car and finding that the jack or axle stands aren't fully engaged. Read our article on car jack safety to learn about different car jack types, how to safely jack up a car and lower a car.

6. Jack backup safety

Never, ever trust a floor jack or a hydraulic bottle jack – no matter how expensive, how high the quality or how many times it has worked flawlessly. When working under your vehicle, always be sure that the jack is supplemented by quality axle stands or a set of high-quality ramps. Without the extra safety measures, all that's between you and two tons (or more) of motor vehicle is a 10-cent hydraulic seal.

7. Car battery safety

When charging batteries on a workbench or in your car, be very careful with sparks, open flames (or even cigarettes). It's not the charger or the battery that you have to worry about. It's the fumes that are given off by the charging battery. Not only are the fumes toxic, they're highly explosive. Acid scattered over you, your shop and your car isn't fun.

8. Tool safety

Always use the right garage tools for the job. A good example is the selection of a hammer. A carpenter's claw hammer is designed and manufactured with steel tempered to strike a soft nail. In contrast, a mechanic's ball peen hammer is case hardened so that it can strike something like a chisel. Hit a chisel hard enough with a carpenter's hammer and there's a good chance the hammer can self-destruct (at least enough to send chips flying).

9. Burn prevention safety

Any time you open a radiator cap, keep this in mind: The radiator is under pressure, often as high as 15 psi. And coolant operating temperatures can exceed 230 degrees Fahrenheit. If you carelessly crack open a radiator cap, there's a chance the system will erupt (most often all over you). Not only is it dangerous, it's incredibly messy. Wait for the coolant temperature to subside to a lukewarm level. Always use a large soft shop towel to slowly open the cap. Wait for any steam to dissipate, and then continue to open the cap.

10. Eye safety

If you've ever had to endure a trip to your local ophthalmologist, you can appreciate the importance of using safety goggles. Remember that claw hammer we mentioned above? If that or any other piece for that matter decides to explode right in front of your eyes, goggles become more than critical. Trust us, we've been there, done that, and having a piece of metal shrapnel extracted from your eyeball isn’t a pleasant experience. Use a set of goggles any time there's a chance of metal flying. They're cheap insurance.