How To Prepare Your Garage for a Classic Vehicle

If you ask a typical classic car enthusiast, you’ll probably hear that there is little use in owning a classic car unless you have someplace to work on it. For a great many classic car owners, being able to wrench  on your own vehicle is a key differentiator from your daily driver. From weekend tinkering to a winter-long tear-down, you need plenty of room, protection from the elements and sufficient ventilation.

For most classic car owners, the family garage is the workshop. Some well-heeled enthusiasts might have, or will construct, a dedicated building. Still others, like Jay Leno, may need a couple of warehouses to do the trick. Whatever the available space, the requirements for outfitting it are similar. Make it comfortable and fun. This is your hobby. Enjoy it!

Basic Garage Functionality and Ventilation

Whether you’re pampering a vintage car or building a pavement-pounding hot rod, the more open space the better. Find an alternative space, such as an attic, cellar or closet to store whatever non-automotive items are jammed in the garage now, or perhaps rent some space from a nearby storage facility. Depending on your climate, you may want to re-evaluate your garage’s insulation. If your garage interior walls mostly consist of pink fiberglass and wall studs, you may want to seriously consider covering the walls with wallboard, or its cheaper alternative, plywood. You want your garage to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer, much like the rest of your house. For extreme climates, you may need a boost from a space heater and/or a room air conditioner.

Exhaust fumes are a common by-product of many car projects, so consider proper ventilation a top priority. As a minimum, you can open the garage door(s) wide while running your vehicle. This works but it doesn’t guarantee needed air movement. A strategically placed 30-inch or larger industrial fan usually does the trick. Note that most consumer-grade 20-inch box fans are inadequate for garage ventilation use. If you have the vertical space, a ceiling fan can be a nice addition for both ventilation and regulating temperature. 

Electricity and Lighting

Electricity and electrical outlets are also major considerations. Extension cords are disasters waiting to happen. Consider having a qualified electrician install outlets along all walls and even the ceiling, preferably on several dedicated circuits rather than on a single circuit. A 220-volt circuit could be helpful as well, especially for large equipment like an air compressor.

As with electrical outlets, there is never enough lighting. When placing ceiling lights, consider that a lot of your work will be along the sides of your vehicle. Light coming from just the center of the ceiling will produce frustrating shadows.

Garage Safety

A fire extinguisher is mandatory. Having two on opposite walls wouldn’t hurt. Ten-pound rechargeable models are often recommended. Also mandatory is a carbon monoxide detector. Another important safety consideration is fireproof storage for flammable items like paint thinner, paint, gasoline, oil, lubricants, and oily rags.

Storage and Accessories

Now we’re getting to what probably came up first in your head—a worktable, storage for hand tools and power tools, and other garage essentials. There is no shortage of options for these, so feel free to spend as much or as little as you see fit. For optimal efficiency and flexibility, we suggest that all your storage, wastebaskets, stools, tables and other major furniture be on wheels or casters.

Once you’ve finished building out the functional aspects of your garage, you can turn to the fun stuff like decorations, audio/video electronics, and other accoutrements that transform your garage into a true man cave. But that’s another article…

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