Car Maintenance: What You Need to Know to Stay Safe

Julie Weber Trending Topics

QUICK FACTS

    • There are a wide variety of car maintenance chemicals.
    • Review safety precautions and handling practices BEFORE using the product.
    • Follow the instructions on the container.
    • Program the Poison Help number into your phone for immediate assistance: 1-800-222-1222

Whether you are a professional mechanic working in a repair shop, or someone who performs routine maintenance on your own car, hazardous chemicals are likely involved.  Before working with these products be familiar with:

  • How to use the chemical safely
  • First aid for accidental exposures
  • Safe storage of the chemical
  • How to dispose of it properly 

SAFETY FIRST

Working with chemicals requires the handler to know the proper protective equipment needed to stay safe.  Protective equipment can be goggles, the correct type of gloves, air purifying masks, and clothing such as a rubber coated pants and boots.  In addition to the protective equipment, remember these first aid procedures if an exposure occurs:

  • If chemical vapors are inhaled, immediately get the person to fresh air and open doors and windows.  If the exposed person is not breathing, call 911 and start CPR.
  • If a chemical has gotten on the skin, remove any contaminated clothing and flood the exposed skin with water for 10 minutes.  After the irrigation, wash the area gently with soap and water, and then rinse.
  • If a chemical is swallowed, DO NOT give anything to the person to drink until calling the poison center, and DO NOT induce vomiting.
  • If a chemical has gotten into the eye, rinse with lukewarm (not hot or cold) water poured from a plastic cup 2-3 inches from the eye.  Flush the eye for 5 minutes, and have the person blink as much as possible during the irrigation.  Do not force the eyelid open.

In all of these exposures, call the Missouri Poison Center right away for further instructions.

A trip to the emergency department often can be avoided, if proper first aid has been done and the poison center was contacted immediately.  Having the toll-free number for the poison center (1-800-222-1222) programmed into your phone will save valuable time during the emergency.

TYPES OF CAR MAINTENANCE CHEMICALS

Car maintenance chemicals include brake fluid, antifreeze, lubricants, degreasers, paints, solvents, metal cleaners, and more.  Dust and fumes from running motors and heavy metals present in radiators and batteries can be inhaled by the mechanic as well as anyone in the area.  Professionals and bystanders need to be protected from possible exposure, especially individuals with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, who may be more at risk for developing significant symptoms.

For more information about chemicals in the garage such as antifreeze, check out our blog post: https://missouripoisoncenter.org/check-garage-common-hazards/

FOLLOW THESE TIPS

NO SMOKING IN THE SHOP

Vapors from the chemicals used are pulled in through the lit end of the cigarette, and then directly into the lungs.

  • Store chemicals in a well-ventilated, cool, dry and dark environment. 
  • Never store chemicals in open containers, all containers should be closed with a tight and secure lid with the label facing outward.
  • Keep the work area uncluttered and clean up spills immediately.  A spill clean-up kit should be nearby with instructions on its use.
  • Do not eat or smoke in the work area, this can result in residue amounts of the chemical being ingested.
  • Do not use gasoline as a solvent to remove grease from auto parts or for hand cleaning.
  • Do not siphon gasoline or any chemical by mouth.
  • Keep a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) in the work area and ensure all employees know where it is located.
  • Flammable substances and chemicals that react with one another should be stored separately (e.g. acids and alkalis).
  • Store heavier items and corrosive chemicals on the lower shelves.
  • Do not transfer a chemical into an unlabeled container, and do not re-use empty containers. 
  • Buy enough of a chemical to do the job, then dispose of the remainder.

Hazardous waste should be disposed of using a licensed contractor.

SIPHONING

Siphoning gasoline by mouth is not a good idea!  Swallowing gasoline is very irritating to the stomach and intestines.  Expect stomach discomfort, frequent belching of gasoline, and the smell of gasoline in the stool.  The main problem with swallowing gasoline is the potential for aspiration (getting the gasoline into the lungs).  Gasoline aspirated into the lungs poses a risk for breathing difficulties and possible lung infection (pneumonia) which requires medical attention.

  • Do not siphon!  It is not worth the risk.  If you need to remove gasoline, there are devices specifically made to drain gasoline from a tank.
  • Do not induce vomiting, this increases the risk for aspiration.
  • Call the Poison Center right away for expert help. Symptoms can be monitored with follow-up phone calls.  If medical attention is needed, the poison center will let you know.

KEYLESS IGNITION & CARBON MONOXIDE RISKS

CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS DON’T LAST FOREVER!

Replace them every 5-7 years depending on the manufacturer’s label.

Today’s new cars often come with keyless ignitions – the car turns on with a button, rather than turning the key. There have been reports in the news about people forgetting to turn the motor off when exiting the vehicle.  It has resulted in a build-up of carbon monoxide, and for those with a garage attached to their home, the results can be deadly

Having a working carbon monoxide detector on the same level as the garage can help to save lives.  In fact, it is recommended for a carbon monoxide alarm to be on every level of your home.  Keep the detector at least 15 feet from the attached garage, to avoid false alarms.  If an alarm goes off, believe it, and act immediately to open doors and windows for fresh air.  Make sure everyone in your home is safe, don’t forget the pets!  Call 911 or the fire department and stay near the fresh air until emergency personnel help arrives. Check out our blog post about carbon monoxide: https://missouripoisoncenter.org/carbon-monoxide-keep-out-of-home/

For any questions or concerns about these or other car maintenance poisons, call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222. Specially trained nurses and pharmacists are available 24/7/365 to answer your questions. The service is free and confidential.

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