Any "close calls" while wrenching?

Given that being a mechanic involves working with toxic substances, heavy objects, dangerous power tools, and a vehicle capable of crushing the life out of you–does anybody have a “too close for comfort” story to share?

Here’s mine: About a decade ago, I was putting a motor (around 120#) in a bike. My back was sore from a heavy squat and deadlift session two days prior, but I thought nothing of it.

My back spasmed and I could not get up from a prone position. About 45 minutes later, my GF at the time went downstairs to the garage to check on me and found me unable to move. A trip to the ER on a back board ensued. I left there four hours later with an “AMA” set of crutches (the “canard” told me “I didn’t need 'em” but they let me unload my body weight from my postural muscles onto my arms…) 3 days of muscle relaxants and opiates later I was able to ditch the pills, and the crutches after a week.

That was my reality check–both W/R/T the consequences of repair work and my “no longer a teenager” moment. What’s yours?

Many, many years ago I was replacing the ball joints on a 66 Mustang. Rivets were holding the ball joints on and I was taking them off with a hand chisel. I did not have a ball joint fork so I was using a punch to push the remains of the rivets out and jamming what I could to force the joint off. Most of the time while doing this I was sitting cross legged under the assembly. I got up and got another hammer, maybe a sledge hammer, and gave it a whack or two while my legs were clear and the assemble came loose, with it’s weight and the load of the spring it smashed into the driveway. I was stunned for several moments thinking what would have happened If I my legs were still under it. It would not have been pretty. That was when I was a teenager, since then I have become more cautious being aware of what can crush, pinch, burn etc, but I still end up with scrapes, bruises, stuff in my eye on any major project.

Joe, you’re describing exactly what those of us with degenerative disc disease face on a regular basis. We simply learn to use equipment and techniques to function as best we can with the problem, and learn through experience what NOT to do. I call it “behavior modification”. “I’m not a teenager anymore” evolves from a “moment” to a “lifestyle”.

Oh, and we live on a daily basis with pain killers that the FDA would love to ban.

Sincere best with your back.

Several but the one that still shakes me up is the day that I bought 2 car ramps and used them. I drove the car up the ramps…then slid underneath to inspect a noise in the torque converter area. I was doing the inspection when my wife called me in to take a phone call from my commander (the days of no cell or cordless phones). As I slid out from under the car…both ramps collapsed as flat as pancakes. I took them back to the BX gas station and got a refund. The manager of the station quickly pulled the remainder of the ramps and called the manufacturer. He called me later in the day to tell me that there was a recall already for those ramps but the information was not out yet. This was 30 years ago but these ramps are still sold at HF. In the interest of safety…I’m including a picture. I no longer use car ramps because I use jack stands now…2 pairs on either side of the vehicle.

Good story missileman. And a good warning. I had ramps that looked exactly like that, as almost all steel ramps do, for many years. I now have polymer ramps. With the polymer ramps, all of the weight is supported under compression by the ramp material, the load path is straight through the material, which I feel is much safer.

I’m curious; what type of vehicle were you under?

I don’t trust ramps, but I use them. After I get a car up on ramps, I take jack stands, put them at the front of a suitable spot (often the pinch welds), get them as high as they’ll go and then jam them backwards as far as they’ll go. I actually have no idea what would really happen if the ramps decided to go, but I like redundancies either way.

I did make a set of short ramps for simple things like oil changes where I don’t need a lot of clearance. On the bottom they’re a 2x12 piece of scrap. But on top of that it’s basically a graduated stack of strips cut from OSB sub-floor panels. They’re a little heavy, but there is no way for them to collapse or split. I don’t worry about using those.

mountainbike…it was a 1964 Chevy Impala SS…I had just installed an automatic transmission to use while my 4-speed tranny was being rebuilt. The noise was a torque converter bolt whacking the rock guard that had been bent.

Have a number of them but one of the most memorable and lesson learned type was when I was 16 and performed my first solo brake job.

Rather than do some extensive driveway checks, I headed out on the subdivision road to test them out. I pulled into a neighbor’s driveway and when I tried to stop, the pedal went to the floor.

Did I mention it was a 1966 Chrysler Newport behemouth of a vehicle? There was no stopping it although I opened the door and briefly considered using my foot.

Faced with crashing into the house or garage, I made the snap decision to shoot through a raised garden between them and narrowly missed either structure. I actually gave it gas to keep going and drove through the back yard and up along the side of their house and back onto the street. As I was negotiating through their back yard I happened to glance at the house and saw the old man with his mouth agape watching me drive through their yard. I went to apologize and he laughed it off. I was shook up for a long time and never forgot THAT lesson…the time spent restoring their garden and yard helped to engrain it in me as well…

Sorry to hear about the ramp collapse. I’m glad you weren’t under the car when it happened. I guess that should be a warning to us all to use backup support.

Hmmm. I’ve had my ramps for about 20 years and they look like that. Hopefully that’s a good sign. I’m not sure I would trust a lot of the similar stuff today since you don’t know where it was made, the grade of steel used, etc.

One fine summer day I was working in the bay with a car on the lift. The bay doors were open. One of my employees attempted to drive a car in the bay, the problem was the hood was up and he was peeking through the slit in the base of the open hood.

The open hooded car crashed into the back of the car on the lift.

It cost me a hood and some taillights and we made up a new rule: Don’t drive a car with the hood up, even for a few inches!

The odd thing about the two cars involved was they were both owned by the same person.

This was years ago and fortunately the people involved are still customers.

I don’t like ramps…never did. I prefer just jacking the car up. Yes it takes more time…but well worth it. I have a nice floor jack and jack stands. I feel nice and secure under there.

Sometimes you need it on the ramps though b/c whatever it is you’re doing requires everything to be loaded (or makes it easier). It’s hard, e.g. to get a handle on CV joint play with things hanging. It’s much easier to do bolt-style sway bar links. Stuff like that. But yes, I also jack sometimes instead.

I was having fuel feed problems with a 1964 Dart. So one night I thought I would check for a clog in the line from the tank to the fuel pump. I got under the front of the car with tools and a trouble light. I disconnected the flexible hose from the fuel pump and used the compressed air hose to blow out the line. I heard the bubbling of the air in the tank and removed the air nozzle. Almost immediately, gasoline came gushing out all over me, the garage floor, and the trouble light. After making a quick exit I removed the gas cap and the flow stopped. I disconnected the trouble light cord at the socket; dragged it out; and cleaned up the mess.

I was really lucky the fuel didn’t ignite as I had nowhere to roll to extinguish flames and the car and garage would probablly have burnt down along with me. That reinforced my respect for handling gasoline.

Too many to recall, but a couple:

Small: Lathe job. Heavy part that is a bit asymmetric, loaded, centered and tightened. Start the machine up a couple speeds below target to check balance. No major out of balance, so disengage to up the speed. Wouldn’t you know that the chuck retainer wasn’t threaded up tight (I should’ve checked it. Someone else had swapped the chuck)? Unthreaded when I hit the brake, the chuck and the part walked off the spindle taper and dropped. Fortunately didn’t go far, as the carriage was at the head end to check clearance before powering up. If I hadn’t had both hands clear for the power lever…

Large: Walking a tower section on a heavy repair with a 15 ton utility crane. Operator didn’t see the need to set the jacks on the crane to pick. Would’ve been ok (was in capacity for picking on tires), except that one of the tires was low. Way low. As he picked, the machine squatted on the low tire and missed rolling only because he let go of the hoist lever when he panicked. When he dove out of the cab the rollover warning alarm was having a field day. The operator was instructed that, even a light pick, ALWAYS set the gear.

Silly: Remember at all times: Even when supported with no load on the front wheel, the fork springs on a motorcycle may be under significant compression. When unthreading the cap, follow the manual for guidance, or you may be searching the neighborhood for the spring. It went over the roof of the house, apparently bounced on the next street, and ended up against a house on the next block. If I hadn’t been clear of the path…

I don’t know if its justified or not but I’ve been more afraid of floor jacks giving way than ramps. I guess from now on if I’m using ramps, I’ll put a couple jack stands under it just in case. With a floor jack, I’m never in a position to get hurt if it gives way.

When I was a clever but stupid 20 year-old, I was working on my car which was only supported by a hydraulic floor jack. I had my hand on the engine cradle and felt it move a little. I looked over and saw the jack slowly pivoting on its steel wheels and bailed out from under there just in time for it to collapse off the jack. Where I was, it may not have killed me as all 4 tires were still on, but it would have broken a few ribs at best. I learned the gospel of using jack stands that day, a gospel I preach to every young fool that I see doing the same thing I did.

Another one from my twenties: Not car-related, but I was working on a large commercial mixer that had a continuously variable transmission. A big rubber belt was adjusted by a V-pulley that widened and narrowed by the action of a lever, changing the ratio. I did not realize it was very heavily spring loaded until I took off the belt, causing the halves of the pulley to slam together with a force that would have cost me a few fingers if I’d been only slightly closer. This emphasized the need to RTFM in future jobs.

When I was still working on the army base, we were overhauling M872A3 semitrailers for a time

Anyways, I was in front of the trailer, packing some hubs with grease

Some dope who was working on the trailer dropped the header board on me

Fortunately, it first landed flat on my back, and then the edge of it landed on my steel toed boot

I wasn’t even knocked down, but I could have been killed

I looked up at the dope, and he just said “Oops”

Amazingly enough, lots of people saw him drop the header board on me, and he never got written up.

As I was literally walking out the door, another guy who had actually gotten his finger sheared off . . . because a coworker dropped an axle on it . . . was coming back to work, after getting the finger sewed back on and going through some rehabilitation

We laughed and said something along the lines of “One guy leaves, another guy comes back”

The sad thing is that both injuries were caused by somebody not even trying to be careful

The same dope that dropped the header board on me was constantly doing stupid stuff. One time, he managed to step INTO the solvent tank. How the heck do you do that . . . ?!

When struts were first becoming popular I was changing a set and using a wall mounted compressor. I did everything I was supposed to do and when I ran the top nut off I released the tension on the spring. That’s when I dropped my guard.

I noticed the strut did not come apart, it was still in a compressed state even without the retaining nut.
I reached in to give it a shake and WHAM. It was apart now! I had on brown jersey gloves and my hand got trapped in the assembly. Well my hand was now smarting but not hurting. I completed the job, had a coworker finish the paperwork and went to the mens room to see a crushed hand, and expecting the pain to start after seeing it.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised to see noting but a dirty hand that smarted. Nothing busted, broken or bruised.

Years ago as a young pup I worked the 12-9 shift. The place did service and maintenance for a few commercial accounts, including one oxygen tank company that used Ford Econolines that were habitually overloaded. They would drop the trucks off at 5 after their routes and we would fix them and have them ready at 8 the next morning.

One evening I had to do brakes, but the big 14,000 lb drive-on hoist was tied up. I sure wasn’t going to jack the thing up one corner at a time, so i tried using one of the old single-post inground hoists. It struggled and moaned, but got the van just high enough that the wheels were 4 inches off the ground. Great, I pulled the wheels, did the brakes, and as I tightening the last wheel down the rear 2 lift pads of the hoist snapped. Bang, crash, the van lurched backward halfway out the bay, the hoist legs banging on the floor of the van. Made such a loud noise the other guy came running out of the toilet with his pants around his ankles yelling my name. Scared the crap outta me too, and I learned then to never overload a hoist.

The owner was such a mellow guy when he came in the next morning and saw what happened he just rubbed his chin and said “Yeah, don’t want to lift those vans there.”