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Health Risk of Your Restoration

This article was provided to us as a public service to our readers. Please read carefully and make sure to apply what you learn to your next visit to your workshop!

Beware of the dangers you face during the restoration of your collector car.

Vehicle Restoration Safety: How to Minimize Hazards When Restoring Your Vehicle


Becoming the owner of the classic car of your dreams can be a surreal experience. However, depending on the condition of the vehicle when you initially purchase it, you may plan on putting in quite a few hours into the restoration. It is important to be mindful of the possible dangers lurking within older vehicles, and to take precautionary steps to ensure you are working safely.


Vehicles that were manufactured during a time of more laid back regulations have a higher chance of being built with parts that contain harmful toxins. It is difficult to pinpoint specific makes and models that contain dangerous carcinogens due to the lack of records and commercial regulations during the boom of the automobile industry (1920 -1970). Here is an overview of what to look out for when restoring your vehicle, and how to limit your risk of being exposed during your restoration, whether this be in a professional auto repair shop or your own personal garage.




Asbestos usage was widespread throughout the United States from 1920 to 1980. With this carcinogenic mineral being extremely heat resistant, it was a favorable component in many vehicle parts that deal with consistent friction. It is important to note that if your vehicle was produced during this time frame, you should understand which parts are most likely to contain asbestos, especially if the vehicle has original stock parts.


Here are some of the vehicle parts that are prone to containing asbestos:


  • Brake Pads & Linings
  • Clutch Linings
  • Hood Liners
  • Transmission Plates
  • Fume Hoods
  • Heat Seals


Asbestos poses a serious threat to the health of your body. When asbestos becomes disturbed, fibers are released into the air, allowing for them to be inhaled or ingested. Once these fibers are in the body, they may become lodged into the lining of internal organs such as the lungs and heart. Over a prolonged period of time, these dormant fibers cause the development of mesothelioma cancer, a rare disease with an extremely low survival rate.


To ensure you are not being exposed to these deadly fibers, be sure to wear protective clothing and properly secured eyewear and respirator mask to limit the substances you are coming into contact with. If you plan on replacing parts such as brakes, do so with caution, as they may be rusted and allow for fibers to become airborne, especially if parts like these are beginning to decay.


Also, you should limit the amount of compressed air you are using, as compressed air enables toxic dust to be moved around easily throughout your workspace. Keep your space ventilated, and be sure to remove any clothing that may have come into contact with fibers prior to entering your home or somewhere where you could put others at risk.


Lead Paint

Similar to asbestos, lead was commonly used in paints up until 1978. The reason lead was used is because different lead compounds create pigments, playing a role in the production of certain colors such as red, yellow, and green. If you are restoring the paint on your car, you should be especially cautious of any chipping or flaking occuring on the exterior. Be careful when removing the paint, and if you are going to be sanding it, do so in an are surrounded by tarping which can easily be removed and labeled as hazardous.


When removing lead paint, lead dust is produced, creating another threat to your health. Lead exposure has been linked to causing abdominal pain, headaches, memory loss, and may even play a role in developing cancer in adults. Lead is extremely dangerous to children, so ensure that they steer clear of your work area.


Again, proper ventilation and protective gear is a must to reduce potential exposure. One of the primary reasons that mechanics and enthusiasts develop health problems is because many do not receive the necessary safety information prior to being exposed to these dangerous substances.


Barn Find or Project Cars are always interesting and maybe dangerous to your health without proper precautions.


While it is easy to get captivated by your classic car and you may be eager to start your restoration, be sure to set up your workspace properly. The hazards associated with older vehicle parts are all preventable if you wear the right equipment and limit the amount of exposure that may occur when dismantling and repairing certain components. Be sure to spread this information to your fellow enthusiasts, as this November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. We want our community to continue to share our passion and in good health for many years to come.


Some of my first and strongest memories from my childhood relate to cars. I still remember when things happened based on what car I was driving at the time. I grew up and lived in Iowa for nearly 40 years before moving to Southern California and now live in Tennessee. I was a Corvette fanatic for years but then re-discovered vintage American Muscle. My wife, Katrina, and I decided we wanted to focus on unique and rare muscle cars. After a lot of research we fell in love with the Ford Blue Oval Aero Cars. These were only built in 1969 and and aerodynamics became an important part of winning races. The only purpose of these limited production cars was to win NASCAR races using the Boss 429 and 427 power plants complimented with a special, wind cheating, aerodynamic body. The Ford Talladega and Mercury Cyclone Spoiler II are terrific and historic cars. This site is devoted to these car and their owners past and present. We provide an Online Registry for recording the long term history and ownership of every remaining Talladega, Spoiler and Spoiler II.

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  1. This is some good advice. Over the years of restoring cars and repairing rust I think I have sprayed every kind of paint there has been on the market. DuPont was our main stay for many years and Lacquer was the first we used till it was phased out here in Michigan. One other area that you should take note of when starting your own restoration is Mice or Rat dropping…..this can be worse than any paint…If your project has been setting in a barn or field or even a garage and Mice or their big brothers have or had taken up home in your project take extra care in removing your interior, headliner, and carpeting their left behind dropping and pee can make you sick, very sick in fact a few years back Old Cars Weekly did a story on this subject that stated it can leave you with a HIV like illness.
    Wear a face mask and a throw away paint suit and heavy gloves and tight fitting hat….I was doing a Shelby one time and it had been stored in a garage next to owners house..the headliner had become a home for field mice…they had headliner sagging so bad it was unreal….one time we had a NOS gas take out side the shop we could hear something in the take as we rolled it around…flipping it over a whole Mouse body came out it was just the bones still all together…No skin, hair, just the bones still in the right place….Kool to look at, but could cause sickness.

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