Shade Tree Mechanics

Having the knowledge, tools, and willingness to repair your own car not only gives you a sense of freedom, it also saves you a ton of money that you would have shelled out to a mechanic. The type of jobs the average shade tree mechanic does depends on his abilities. Some limit themselves to changing the oil and brake pads, while others leap into things like rebuilding an entire engine.

As enjoyable as being a shade tree mechanic is, if you’re working on a car that was built prior to the 1980s or one in which you’re putting old parts into, you may be putting yourself at risk for developing asbestos-related health problems.

The Problem With Asbestos

Some of the parts used in older cars were made out of material that contained asbestos fibers. In addition to being really cheap and readily available, asbestos is also fire resistant and sturdy, making it a great choice for car parts, especially brake pads. Many older components were made with or coated with asbestos to insulate them or to allow them to withstand high heat. It wasn’t until the 1970s that researchers realized that asbestos was causing serious respiratory problems for the workers that encountered the material during the course of their jobs—and even their hobbies.

Whenever material or parts containing asbestos are rubbed, torn, or stretched, a cloud of microscopic fibers is released into the air. It can then be unknowingly inhaled or ingested. The needle-shaped or spiral-shaped fiber (depending on the type of asbestos) then lodges itself into the linings of heart, lungs, or stomach. The body is unable to rid itself of this contaminant, though it certainly tries. Eventually, scar tissue forms over the fiber. This can lead to the formation of malignant tumors, also known as mesothelioma cancer.

Currently, there’s no cure for mesothelioma cancer, which is both difficult to diagnose and very aggressive. The good news is that while they can’t cure it, doctors have learned how to use a variety of treatments that include chemo, radiation, and surgery to slow its progression, often extending a shade tree mechanic’s life by up to 5 years. Most people, particularly if the cancer is caught early, enjoy a high quality of life after they start treatments.

Be Aware of the Risk

Don’t let fear of mesothelioma cancer cause you to give up working on the older cars you love. Just be a little more cautious when handling older parts and working on older cars. Wear a respirator, wash your hands, and work in an area that has very few human or pets in it. Since the fibers can stick to both clothing and hair, wear coveralls and put them into the washer as soon as you’re done working on the car. Vacuum work areas to limit the fiber buildup.

In addition, you should also talk to your doctor about the odds of you developing an asbestos-related illness and what they can do to detect early signs of any asbestos-related diseases.