Nothing beats the satisfaction of restoring an old car, and many Americans are passionate about car restoration, whether they pursue it as a casual pastime or full-time passion.

However, restoration projects can expose car enthusiasts and their family members to dangerous asbestos particles and have devastating impacts. Get informed about the risks so you can stay safe.

Car Restoration and Asbestos Exposure

Car restoration puts enthusiasts at risk of asbestos exposure because asbestos was used in many car parts. Asbestos was considered a miracle ingredient and took the world by storm until the 1970s when the true dangers of asbestos came into the public light.

Asbestos exposure is directly linked to several diseases, including mesothelioma — an aggressive form of cancer with a very poor prognosis. Mesothelioma mutates cells in the lining of the heart, lungs or abdomen and is challenging to detect until it has already spread to distant sites.

According to the American Cancer Society, only 10% of people diagnosed with mesothelioma had a 5-year survival rate.

Asbestos-Containing Car Parts

Asbestos was a common ingredient in several common car parts, many of which are still present in vehicles today. Asbestos has many desirable traits that made it ideal for automotive applications, including its excellent soundproof, heatproof, and waterproof qualities. It is also inexpensive and can easily be used in many forms, including tapes, sprays, and cloths.

For example, asbestos was used in hood liners to protect the engine components and dampen the sounds of the motor. It was also used in clutch liners, brake pads, and gaskets because it provided the perfect amount of friction, while effectively reducing heat.

The most common asbestos-containing car parts include:

  • Brake pads
  • Clutches
  • Gaskets
  • Hood liners
  • Transmission plates
  • Insulation
  • Various engine parts

Any of these car parts made before the 1980s are likely to contain asbestos. Therefore, when restoring older cars, Americans should assume all cloths, tapes, and pads are contaminated with asbestos and take precautions to protect their health.

Newer car parts are significantly less likely to contain asbestos, but even new parts imported from other parts of the world may still use asbestos. Many countries have regulated or banned asbestos-containing car parts but others have not, and it’s possible for their imported parts to slip through customs.

Auto mechanics and car restoration enthusiasts should source their parts from reputable manufacturers whenever possible.

Avoiding Asbestos Exposure When Restoring Old Cars

One of the most important ways to avoid asbestos exposure when restoring old cars is to minimize the amount of dust and airborne particles. Any time asbestos is disturbed, it can become airborne and pose a risk to those nearby.

Compressed air is one of the most common ways that car enthusiasts accidentally expose themselves to asbestos. Do not use compressed air to clean any part of the vehicle, including engine parts and brakes.

Instead, educate yourself and use one of the two recommended procedures for properly cleaning and maintaining asbestos-contaminated parts:

1. Negative-Pressure Method

Use a specialized negative-pressure box to encase the brake pad, clutch or part that needs to be cleaned. This box will fit tightly around the component and prevent exposure to asbestos and other fine particles during the cleaning process.

2. Wet Cleaning Method

Use low-pressure spray equipment to wet down the brakes or other vehicle parts and collect runoff in a basin used only for this purpose. Keeping the environment wet minimizes the risk of airborne particles. Specialized equipment should be purchased for this task.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also recommends using ready-to-install parts when asbestos may be involved, such as brake pads.

Put Your Health First

No hobby or job is worth your life. It’s your responsibility to put your health first and ensure that you and those around you are protected from the dangers of asbestos.

Asbestos causes severe illnesses that can jeopardize your quality of life or be fatal.

If you have been restoring old cars without taking precautionary measures against asbestos-containing car parts, you should learn the symptoms of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. It can take decades before the first symptoms appear.

If you previously worked as an auto mechanic and developed mesothelioma as a result of that work, you may be entitled to legal compensation. Talk to our Justice Support Team to find out more.

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Laura WrightWritten by:

Lead Editor

Laura Wright is a journalist and content strategist with more than 15 years of professional experience. She attended college at the University of Florida, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2008. Her writing has been featured in The Gainesville Sun and other regional publications throughout Florida.

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    My Car Quest. (January 20, 2017.) Asbestos In Older Cars – How To Protect Yourself. Retrieved from

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