I’m incredibly excited to welcome Laurie from The Frugal Farmer here today. She’s got some really important thoughts on a topic that I still have much to learn about. Enjoy!
Greetings, Mom and Dad Money readers! I’ve been loving the great tips in Matt’s series on DIY car maintenance. This is an area where a fan of frugal can save tons of cash, as most auto shops charge at least $50-$100 an hour for labor costs alone. Of course, I’m not opposed to paying a good mechanic what he’s worth (my brother’s been a mechanic for over twenty years), but for those of us with strict financial goals, it’s helpful to save money wherever we can.
That being said, when it comes to DIY car maintenance, I can’t help but think of my husband. Mr. Frugal Farmer, Rick, was a firefighter/EMT/Safety Officer for a total of 23 years until he retired this spring and joined the Frugal Farmer family permanently on the hobby farm we bought a year ago. Rick’s seen more than his fair share of tragedies from DIY car maintenance buffs, and most all of them were avoidable. Today, via Rick’s experience, I’ll share some common home car maintenance dangers and how you can avoid them.
**Disclaimer: This article was not written by a car care expert and the author and blog/site owner retain no responsibility for the car care safety of its readers. Refer to professional car care sources for official car care safety rules.
Yep, it can happen. The battery explosion is the most common accident that Rick’s seen, along with radiator “explosions”. The radiator doesn’t really explode, but if you remove a radiator cap on a vehicle with a hot engine, you’re asking for trouble. From the Do It Yourself website:
One common task in any auto repair is being able to safely remove your automobile’s radiator cap. Every engine must be kept to a certain temperature to keep from overheating. The radiator does this along with a thermostat by circulating a mixture of anti-freeze and water to maintain a safe temperature (around 195 degrees F in most vehicles.) The radiator cap, in particular, keeps the entire cooling system under pressure by raising the coolant’s boiling point and allowing the engine to reach even higher temperatures safely. The cap of the radiator itself is a very important component of the radiator and should be removed and checked occasionally to make sure it is working properly.
The radiator’s heat and pressure build up to dangerous levels when a car is running. Serious injury can come from removing the cap from a hot engine. If too much pressure has built up, removing the cap can send boiling water and steam up and out in all directions
Obviously, the burns from coming in contact with fluids of this temp could be severely damaging, so never, ever take off a radiator cap on a car until the engine has fully cooled.
Battery explosions are also a valid concern. Batteries contain sulfuric acid, and as you might imagine, exploding sulfuric acid can not only be dangerous, it can be deadly. Some things that can cause battery explosions?
1. Over-charging a battery or “jump-starting” a dead battery. It’s important when doing either of these two things that you proceed cautiously, following your car manufacturer’s instructions or the advice of a good car care book like the Haynes car care manuals, which are written for specific car types. We regularly get these manuals at the local library whenever Rick is doing a big or potentially dangerous maintenance task on our cars.
2. Laying tools across your battery. From PropertyCasuality360.com: Battery explosions have occurred as a result of tools being placed between the battery terminals. Some individuals test a battery by placing a screw driver across the terminals to see if an arc jumps, revealing whether the battery is supplying electrical energy or not. This can result in a battery explosion since the current through the screw driver is not regulated, can be very high and generate an electrical arc, causing an internal or external explosion.
Other things like corroded battery connections terminals or defective batteries can also cause battery explosions, so be sure to keep your battery terminals free of debris and corrosion, and watch for possible signs of internal defects like swollen sides of your battery as well.
Improper use of jacks/jack stands
This is one of the more common sources of injury Rick saw on the fire department. I remember one particular case of a beloved young husband and father who died as the result of his car falling off of the jack stands and crushing his chest. I worked at the local bank at the time, and I’ll never forget the look of shock on the face of the man’s young wife when she walked in a few days after his death to take his name off the accounts. It was his wife who found her husband succumbed to his injuries when she went to check on him in the garage.
The rules of proper jack use when working on your vehicle at home?
1. Always use jacks and jack stands properly rated for the weight of your particular vehicle, i.e. don’t use jacks rated for a 2,000 pound vehicle when you’re working on a Suburban.
2. Make sure your jack stand is properly fitted on your car’s frame before heading under the car to work. Your car’s instruction manual or a Haynes manual should tell you where the proper place is on your vehicle to set your jack stands.
3. Never use a hydraulic jack as a jack stand. A hydraulic jack is meant to be used for the purpose of jacking up your car so that you can properly place your jack stands under it. The jack itself should never be used as a jack stand, as the hydraulics can fail and drop the car and all of its weight on top of you in an instant.
4. Make sure your parking brake is on, so that you prevent the vehicle from rolling off of the jack stands, and strongly consider using wheel chocks as a back-up in case your parking brake fails.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
This is another common mistake that causes many unnecessary deaths or serious injuries to DIY car owners. How can you avoid Carbon Monoxide poisoning when you’re working on your vehicle?
1. Never run your vehicle’s engine in your garage. Period.
2. If you’re going to break this rule, make sure the garage door is open and the back end of the vehicle is outside of the garage. This is crucially important. Not too terribly long ago, a young teenager in the town where Rick served as an EMT died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. He had, or so he thought, followed the safe rules: he was working on the car with the garage door opened. However, the car’s front was facing the open garage door, and the back end of the car was close to the garage wall, forcing the carbon monoxide back into the car, where the young boy was sitting. He was dead within minutes. That’s the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage; it happens very, very quickly, often before DIY have a chance to realize what’s going on and escape the situation.
Use Proper Safety Gear
It’s also important to use proper safety gear when working on your vehicle at home.
1. Wear safety glasses, especially when working around fluids
2. Wear dust masks, especially when working around car brakes or doing body work
3. Always let someone know you’ll be working on your car, and have them check on you every so often to make sure you’re okay
Yes, DIY car care can save you tons of money, but it can also be dangerous, even deadly, if not done with the proper safety rules in order. Educate yourself thoroughly on these rules before doing your own car maintenance and repair.
What are your DIY car care safety tips?
Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.
Photo courtesy of imallergic