Many car enthusiasts enjoy nothing more than working on, restoring and maintaining some of their favorite classic vehicles. People can make a hobby or even a career out of restoring vintage cars. Because of the non-computerized, mechanical systems involved in older cars, they can also be a great choice for people who want to work in their home garages as well as professional mechanics. However, it is important to keep in mind that dangerous substances can be lurking inside a classic car and take protections for health and safety.
Get the Lead Out
Lead is a toxic substance that can cause degenerative nerve problems; once found widely in a range of industrial products, lead has been linked to a range of health disorders and even higher crime rates. Once nearly ubiquitous in paints of all types, leading to the poisoning of a number of children due to chipping lead paint, lead was also widely found in automotive paints and primers. For cars built in the 1940s and before, lead was also widely used to fill dents in the body, solder electrical connections and seal seams. Some studies have found that workers in auto repair shops are more likely to face dangerous lead exposure as a result.
Watch Out for Plastics
Plastic components are a major part of the construction of many modern cars. However, until the 1970s, many car parts were made with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs were discovered to cause cancer and banned from most uses in 1973. However, car interiors were often built using PCBs before the ban. People who are renovating older cars’ upholstery and seats, dashboards or consoles may want to take protective measures, such as using dust masks and protective clothing.
The Threat of Asbestos
Asbestos is known to be a particularly highly toxic substance, linked to a range of lung diseases and, in particular, the aggressive, rare cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma has only one proven cause: exposure to asbestos fibers. Over many decades, asbestos was used to manufacture a broad array of vehicle components, including brake pads, clutch pads, insulation, gaskets, heat seals, clutch linings, fume hoods and brake drum linings. It was used up into the 1980s in many industrial applications in the United States, especially because of its attractive heat resistance.
Because asbestos is so toxic and mesothelioma still has no cure, asbestos remediation in buildings and homes requires extensive protective equipment in order to protect workers. Professional mechanics, like others who work with asbestos on the job, are at particular risk for asbestos inhalation and the resulting damage. Higher rates of mesothelioma have been observed among auto workers, especially as cancer can develop decades after the initial exposure. In fact, Australia has even banned the importation of many vintage cars due to the risk of asbestos-related diseases.
People working on old cars should take special care to avoid exposure to this deadly dust. Protective goggles and masks that cover nose and mouth are recommended safety equipment. Car enthusiasts should also change their clothes after working on older vehicles before returning to their homes. In some cases, people may want to use modern replacements rather than original classic parts in order to minimize the risk of asbestos exposure.
These are not the only dangerous chemicals that can pose a risk to people working on older cars. Furfural and phenols from old grease, dirt and oil deposits on engines and transmissions can cause nervous system damage; they can be absorbed through exposed skin. Other paint chemicals also pose a risk, especially if their dust is inhaled, such as cadmium or some types of chromium. Using good ventilation and personal protective equipment like gloves, respirators, masks and goggles can help to ensure that enthusiasts can enjoy their vintage car hobby while staying safe at the same time.