Do-it-Yourself – And be a Green Backyard Mechanic
Do-it-yourself auto maintenance can be a rewarding hobby or – depending on the year and make of your car and your financial resources – a necessity. The trick, according to Click and Clack, the "Car Talk" guys, is to not blow anything up, not break anything, including yourself, and to actually fix something. The other trick is to prevent leaving a mess behind for the environment. Every year, backyard mechanics spill or improperly dispose of oil, antifreeze, gas, and other fluids, which unfortunately end up in our drinking water.
It is not just the deliberate dumping of auto fluids that pollutes our waters. Any pollutant that spills or leaks onto the ground or your driveway can eventually find its way to a water body or groundwater. As water runs off your driveway during a storm, it picks up oil, antifreeze, gas, and cleaners, along the way and these pollutants then flow through ditches or storm drains and ultimately can contaminate drinking water wells, public water supplies, and surface waters.
It doesn’t take much to pollute drinking water and create an environmental mess. One quart of oil or ½ cup of gasoline can contaminate as much as 250,000 gallons of drinking water. It takes only one pint of oil to produce a one acre slick on surface water, which will kill plants, fish, and other wildlife. In addition, restoring contaminated groundwater can cost millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars.
Backyard mechanics can easily help prevent water contamination by following a few simple practices, which are easy to follow and usually cost nothing but a little time and effort.
- Never dump used oil, antifreeze, gasoline, or solvents on the ground or down a drain. Keep motor vehicle wastes unmixed by carefully pouring them into individual containers. You can purchase specially designed containers at an automotive store, or you can reuse sturdy, clean, plastic milk jugs with screw caps. Label the containers appropriately, i.e., Used Oil, Used Anti-freeze, Waste Gasoline, etc. Recycling motor vehicle wastes is important. Many recycling facilities accept used oil on a regular basis, and some accept used anti-freeze. However, waste gasoline and used solvents should be stored until they can be delivered to a household hazardous waste collection event. Contact your municipality to see if they recycle motor vehicle wastes. Alternatively, contact the NH Department of Environmental Services Used Oil Program, 1-888-TAKEOIL, and/or the Household Hazardous Waste Program, (603)271-2047, regarding recycling options.
- Refuel or repair engines over an impervious surface such as a concrete garage floor or a heavy duty tarp on the ground. Always use a drip pan large enough to contain the motor vehicle or power equipment fluids being replaced or drained.
- Completely drain warm, used oil filters overnight over a drip pan or pail before disposal (puncture the dome-end to hasten draining). Some municipal transfer stations accept drained filters for recycling. When a recycling option is not available, you can add absorbents directly into drained filters then seal them in a can or bag to be disposed with your regular trash. Pails or coffee cans can be used to store filters.
- Always use a funnel or similar device when transferring new or used motor vehicle fluids from one container to another or from a container to the vehicle.
- Store as little gasoline or kerosene as possible around the home and always in UL-listed containers stored under cover and on an impervious surface. Make sure the containers’ built-in spouts pour without spilling. Check all containers of motor vehicle fluids for leaks, at least once a month.
- Drain all fluids from used motor vehicle parts before removing them from the vehicle – do this over a drip pan or impervious surface – and store them on an impervious surface under cover or inside a covered leak-proof container, such as a large lidded tub.
- Keep absorbent materials such as pads, speedee-dri, kitty litter, or other clay-based products handy to the work area and clean up all spills as soon as they occur. Dispose of all used absorbents immediately in a leak-proof receptacle.
- Sweep your work area when done rather than hosing it down.
- Clean parts with rags/absorbents and dispose of in a leak-proof receptacle.
Salt, dirt, and detergents rinsed from cars and trucks can also pollute our waters. When it’s time to wash your newly tuned car, consider taking it to a car wash where the water is typically treated and discharged to a municipal sewer system before being discharged to surface waters.
Minimize your environmental impact by fixing leaks promptly, limiting storage of hazardous materials, recycling motor vehicle wastes, and staying in tune with pollution prevention.
Additional information regarding pollution prevention and other waste recycling programs can be found at www.des.nh.gov/waste_programs.htm. Tips on safe management of gasoline can be found at www.des.nh.gov/factsheets/co/co-10.htm. And for more information on drinking water quality, contact the NH Department of Environmental Services at (603) 271-2947.