Safety First!

Professional motor mechanics are trained in safe working procedures. However enthusiastic you may be about getting on with the job in hand, do take the time to ensure that your safety is not put at risk. A moment's lack of attention can result in an accident, as can failure to observe certain elementary precautions. There will always be new ways of having accidents, and the following points do not pretend to be a comprehensive list of all dangers; they are intended rather to make you aware of the risks and to encourage a safety-conscious approach to all work you carry out on your vehicle.

Essential DOs and DON'Ts

  • DON'T start the engine without first ascertaining that the transmission is in neutral.
  • DON'T suddenly remove the filler cap from a hot cooling system - cover it with a cloth and release the pressure gradually first, or you may get scalded by escaping coolant.
  • DON'T attempt to drain oil until you are sure it has cooled sufficiently to avoid scalding you.
  • DON'T grasp any part of the engine, exhauster silencer without first ascertaining that it is sufficiently cool to avoid burning you.
  • DON'T allow brake fluid or antifreeze to contact the machine's paintwork or plastic components.
  • DON'T syphon toxic liquids such as fuel, brake fluid or antifreeze by mouth, or allow them to remain on your skin.
  • DON'T inhale dust - it may be injurious to health (see Asbestos heading).
  • DON'T allow any spilt oil or grease to remain on the floor - wipe it up straight away, before someone slips on it.
  • DON'T use ill-fitting spanners or other tools which may slip and cause injury.
  • DON'T attempt to lift a heavy component which may be beyond your capability - get assistance.
  • DON'T rush to finish a job, or take unverified short cuts.
  • DON'T allow children or animals in or around an unattended vehicle.
  • DON'T inflate a tyre to a pressure above the recommended maximum. Apart from overstressing the carcase and wheel rim, in extreme cases the tyre may blow off forcibly.
  • DO ensure that the machine is supported securely at all times. This is especially important when the machine is blocked up to aid wheel or fork removal.
  • DO take care when attempting to slacken a stubborn nut or bolt. lt is generally better to pull on a spanner, rather than push, so that if slippage occurs you fall away from the machine rather than on to it. DO wear eye protection when using power tools such as drill, sander, bench grinder etc.
  • DO use a barrier cream on your hands prior to undertaking dirty jobs - it will protect your skin from infection as well as making the dirt easier to remove afterwards; but make sure your hands aren't left slippery. Note that long-term contact with used engine oil can be a health hazard.
  • DO keep loose clothing (cuffs, tie etc) and long hair well out of the way of moving mechanical parts.
  • DO remove rings, wristwatch etc. before working on the vehicle - especially the electrical system.
  • DO keep your work area tidy - it is only too easy to fall over articles left lying around.
  • DO exercise caution when compressing springs for removal or installation. Ensure that the tension is applied and released in a controlled manner, using suitable tools which preclude the possibility of the spring escaping violently.
  • DO ensure that any lifting tackle used has a safe working load rating adequate for the job.
  • DO get someone to check periodically that all is well, when working alone on the vehicle.
  • DO carry out work in a logical sequence and check that everything is correctly assembled and tightened afterwards.
  • DO remember that your vehicle's safety affects that of yourself and others. If in doubt on any point, get specialist advice.
  • IF, in spite of following these precautions, you are unfortunate enough to injure yourself, seek medical attention as soon as possible.


Certain friction, insulating, sealing, and other products - such as brake linings, clutch linings, gaskets, etc - contain asbestos. Extreme care must be taken to avoid inhalation of dust from such products since it is hazardous to hea/th. lf in doubt, assume that they do contain asbestos.


Remember at all times that petrol (gasoline) is highly flammable. Never smoke, or have any kind of naked flame around, when working on the vehicle. But the risk does not end there - a spark caused by an electrical short-circuit, by two metal surfaces contacting each other, by careless use of tools, or even by static electricity built up in your body under certain conditions, can ignite petrol vapour, which in a confined space is highly explosive. Always disconnect the battery earth (ground) terminal before working on any part of the fuel or electrical system, and never risk spilling fuel on to a hot engine or exhaust. It is recommended that a fire extinguisher of a type suitable for fuel and electrical fires is kept handy in the garage or workplace at all times. Never try to extinguish a fuel or electrical fire with water.


Certain fumes are highly toxic and can quickly cause unconsciousness and even death if inhaled to any extent. Petrol (gasoline) vapour comes into this category, as do the vapours from certain solvents such as trichloroethylene. Any draining or pouring of such volatile fluids should be done in a well ventilated area. When using cleaning fluids and solvents, read the instructions carefully. Never use materials from unmarked containers - they may give off poisonous vapours. Never run the engine of a motor vehicle in an enclosed space such as a garage. Exhaust fumes contain carbon monoxide which is extremely poisonous; if you need to run the engine, always do so in the open air or at least have the rear of the vehicle outside the workplace.

The battery

Never cause a spark, or allow a naked light, near the vehicle's battery. It will normally be giving off a certain amount of hydrogen gas, which is highly explosive. Always disconnect the battery earth (ground) terminal before working on the fuel or electrical systems. If possible, loosen the filler plugs or cover when charging the battery from an external source. Do not charge at an excessive rate or the battery may burst. Take care when topping up and when carrying the battery. The acid electrolyte, even when diluted, is very corrosive and should not be allowed to contact the eyes or skin. If you ever need to prepare electrolyte yourself, always add the acid slowly to the water, and never the other way round. Protect against splashes by wearing rubber gloves and goggles.

Mains electricity

When using an electric power tool, inspection light etc which works from the mains, always ensure that the appliance is correctly connected to its plug and that, where necessary, it is properly earthed (grounded). Do not use such appliances in damp conditions and, again, beware of creating a spark or applying excessive heat in the vicinity of fuel or fuel vapour.

Ignition HT voltage

A severe electric shock can result from touching certain parts of the ignition system, such as the HT leads, when the engine is running or being cranked, particularly if components are damp or the insulation is detective. Where an electronic ignition system is fitted, the HT voltage is much higher and could prove fatal.