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Repair Your Car Safely

Repair Your Car Safely

Repair Your Car Safely

Kevin knew from experience how to change the oil in his car. He knew how to remove the drain plug on the oil pan, empty the crankcase, replace the plug, and tighten it. But one time as Kevin pushed firmly on his wrench, it slipped off the bolt head. Kevin’s hand smashed into a sharp piece of metal, slashing his palm badly enough to require several stitches.

LIKE Kevin, many people routinely work on their own car​—some simply because it cuts costs. But learning the basics of maintenance and repair can have other benefits as well. “Once, during a long road trip, my car developed a problem,” says a woman named Kathy. “Because I had learned to work on my car, I was able to fix it myself and continue the journey.”

Perhaps you too would like to be able to maintain and repair your car. But how can you do so safely?

Think Ahead!

Your first priority should be safety. * As Kevin’s injury illustrates, it is easy to hurt yourself when working in tight spaces or when exerting force with a tool. How can you avoid injury? When fastening a bolt with a wrench, make sure that the tool is properly seated over it. Ask yourself, ‘If the tool slips, where will my hand go?’ Wearing gloves or wrapping a rag around your hand can provide a measure of protection. To help control the force you are exerting, if possible, pull the tool toward you instead of pushing it away. Likewise, when freeing a stuck bolt, your goal should be to move it just a quarter of a turn at a time. These principles of foresight and control always apply. Never let haste cause you to neglect them!

Accidents often occur when a person tries to use a tool for something other than its intended purpose. Tom, for instance, was having a difficult time changing the spark plugs in his car. Why? His socket was too short, and it kept slipping off the first plug. Finally, Tom attached an extension between the socket and the ratchet. He then changed the five remaining plugs in the same time that it took him to change the first one​—and he did it safely! The lesson? Having the right tool is essential.

Foreign matter can get into your eyes while you are working under the car or looking up under the dashboard. How can this be prevented? “Wear some kind of eye protection, such as goggles,” says Sean, who has worked as a mechanic for over ten years. “In the shop where I work,” he adds, “using such safety equipment is mandatory.” You should also wear eye protection when working near hazardous liquids, such as battery acid.

When working under your car, always use a properly designed jack stand, a professional lift, or a reinforced repair dugout. Never get under a vehicle that is supported only by a jack. The owner’s manual of some cars indicates where jacks and jack stands should be placed to give the car adequate support. Be aware, however, that a sudden force​—such as the kind that is exerted when breaking a stubborn bolt loose—​could cause the car to shift and slip off its supports.

Preventing Hazardous Surprises

Some parts of your car can get quite hot and burn you if you touch them. For example, the water inside the radiator remains hot for some time after the engine has been turned off. So do not remove the radiator cap until it is cool enough to touch with your bare hand. On some cars, the radiator fan is electrically driven and comes on automatically​—even after the engine has been turned off. To avoid injury, disconnect the ground wire from the battery before starting your work.

When working on your car, remove rings and jewelry, especially if the engine is running. Besides catching on protruding parts, metal jewelry can cause an electrical short circuit and turn red-hot! Loose sleeves as well as ties, scarves, and even long hair can become entangled in moving parts.

Even when you think that your work is completed, there is one last rule to follow. “Always double-check your work,” says Dirk, a service adviser for a busy repair shop. “Once,” he continues, “a mechanic forgot to do this after working on brakes. The brakes failed, and the car ran right into my desk!”

Handling Emergencies

One day Tom noticed that his car was overheating. A hose had burst, and radiator water had escaped. Using a roll of duct tape that he kept in the car, Tom was able to perform a temporary repair by taping the hose and pouring a mixture of antifreeze and water into the radiator. Then, he drove to an auto parts store to buy a new hose. Tom’s experience illustrates the need to be prepared by keeping repair items in your car.

While driving, be alert to any strange noises or smells. Yvonne noticed a strange smell coming from the engine of the car. Her husband opened the hood and saw a miniature geyser of antifreeze squirting up from a tiny hole in the upper part of the radiator hose. Because the problem was detected before the car overheated, Yvonne and her husband were able to drive to a repair shop.

What should you do if your car breaks down on the highway? First, try to get the car as far off the road as possible. Passengers, especially children, should stay inside the car with seat belts fastened. If you must be outside the car, stand as far away from traffic as possible. Turn on the emergency lights. Leave the hood up to signal that you are having car trouble. Carefully set out flares or other warning signs.

If your car’s battery is dead, you may choose to jump the battery with the help of another vehicle. But be aware that car batteries produce highly flammable gas. A spark can ignite this gas, producing an explosion that could shower you with corrosive acid. Therefore, if you or the person who is helping you is in doubt about how to jump the battery, wait for assistance.

As we have seen, maintaining a car is a serious responsibility. Whether you work on your car to care for an emergency or simply to perform routine maintenance, always remember: Being safety conscious is a must!


^ par. 6 If you are performing a task for the first time, try to obtain a copy of a repair manual for your car or ask an experienced friend for help. If your car has computerized or other high-tech components, it might be better to take your vehicle to a mechanic who has the necessary equipment and experience to make repairs.

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Accidents often occur when a person tries to use a tool for something other than its intended purpose

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Items to Keep in Your Car

Spare tire and jack

Jumper cables

Flares or reflectors

Tools and goggles


Extra containers of fluids (oil, water, antifreeze, brake fluid)

Duct tape

Spare fuses

Tow rope (Note: In some places it may be legal only for a licensed wrecker to tow your car)

Box to keep tools neat and containers upright

You may wish to carry additional repair items. However, some automobile clubs that provide emergency roadside service are reluctant to work on a broken-down car if the owner has begun making certain repairs himself. If you belong to an automobile club, find out what type of repairs are permitted.