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Why classic car owners need to be wary of asbestos

AutoClassics.com logo AutoClassics.com 2018-10-23 Charles MacGregor
a black and white photo of a truck © Autoclassics

Sleek, attention-grabbing, and with all the right features. You may have just purchased the classic car of your dreams, or already have it in your possession. Regardless, there are some things you should be aware of that hide under that beautiful exterior. Depending on when your vehicle was built, there are a variety of factors that play into how safe the vehicle is, and what materials each component was produced with.

Let’s take a closer look at the dangers that come with owning a classic car and review some safety precautions you should take if you decide to perform repairs and replace parts yourself.

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The age of asbestos production

(Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images) © Getty (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Usage of asbestos, a fibrous carcinogenic mineral known for its unmatched heat resistance, was prominent in the United States from the 1920s til the 1980s. This means that any vehicle built during this time period has the capacity to contain parts manufactured with asbestos. Its heat resistant quality made its usage very common amongst vehicle parts that experience consistent friction. Components like fume hoods, heat seals, hood liners, clutch linings, transmission plates and brake pads & linings were commonly manufactured with asbestos.

What was just beginning to be understood at the time of these parts being produced was the massive effect asbestos has on the human body. Airborne asbestos fibers have the ability to be inhaled or ingested, enabling them to be lodged into the lining of the internal organs. As time progresses, typically over the course of 20 to 50 years, these fibers cause tumours to develop, leading to mesothelioma cancer which has a notoriously poor prognosis.

Mesothelioma has become common amongst automobile mechanics, yet many are unaware of the risks posed by asbestos in their line of work prior to their exposure, an especially unfortunate problem given mesothelioma is one of the limited forms of cancer that is almost entirely preventable.

How does asbestos exposure occur?

(Photo by: Julio Etchart/Majority World/UIG via Getty Images) © Getty (Photo by: Julio Etchart/Majority World/UIG via Getty Images)

Asbestos exposure typically occurs when the asbestos-containing part becomes disturbed. For example, if you were to be replacing the original brakes that came on the vehicle when you purchased it, asbestos exposure could occur. This is most likely due to the brakes decaying, and if the brakes begin to flake, microscopic asbestos fibers may be released into the air, allowing for potential exposure.

Protecting yourself from exposure

© Getty

There are some precautions you should take if you do decide to work on your classic car by yourself. At-home mechanics may not be equipped with the proper safety equipment that would be available in an auto shop, so it is important that you are extra careful. When working on parts that are known to contain asbestos, wearing protective glasses and a mask that covers your nose and mouth is highly recommended. Your clothing may also come into contact with fibers, so it’s important that you don’t bring the clothing into your home where it can potentially harm your family.

You should limit the amount of work you do that involves air compression as this is what most commonly causes mechanics to breathe in fibers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends if possible, using pre-ground ready-to-install parts. While original parts are important to the integrity of your classic car, it is more important to keep your health in check.

Determining how many vehicles contain components manufactured with asbestos has proved difficult but three models in particular are infamous for them; 1970s C1 & C2 Chevrolet Corvettes, the 1938 Plymouth Business Coupe and 1927 Springfield Rolls Royce.

Be cautious

© Getty

If you do own a classic car, be aware of the risks that come with performing mechanic work yourself. Always be sure that you are wearing proper safety equipment and have sufficient ventilation. Limit the amount of air compression you use on your vehicle as this will reduce the amount of asbestos dust that is able to float around your workspace. While owning a car that contains asbestos components isn’t a huge concern, it’s vital that exposure is minimal if you decide to work on your vehicle.

Let’s ensure that our fellow classic car enthusiasts are able to live happy and healthy, continuing to do what they love most.

Related: Video shows classic cars, garage ravaged by Hurricane Michael [Motor1.com]


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