My Car Quest

October 6, 2022

Vintage Classic Cars and Their Dangers

by Mike –

The subject here is not one that I normally cover but it is an important topic.

This guest article is by Brian Turner

Rebuilding vintage classic cars is a popular hobby for many of people around the world. It is also a big business and can be quite profitable. Finding some interesting old wreck and bringing it back to life as a classic antique through a lot of hard work and craftsmanship can be a reward in itself, but commanding high dollars for all that hard work is nice too. For the non-professional hobbyist who does classic restorations, whether for fun or profit, it is important to remember that older cars often contain toxic substances that can pose a hazard.

In cars built before WWII, lead was often used as solder for electrical connections, to seal radiator seams and to fill and repair body dents. Lead can also be present in many paints and primers on very old cars, and care should be taken to minimize the risk of lead exposure when restoring old body surfaces. Lead is toxic and can accumulate in the body causing degenerative nerve disorders. There are other toxic substances in old automotive paints that can be problematic, including cadmium and hexavalent chromium, which can be quite dangerous if inhaled.

Cars from the 1950s through the 1970s contained an increasing percentage of plastics, and many of these older plastic formulations can contain polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a carcinogen banned from widespread use in 1973. The interiors of many cars from these decades were constructed with materials containing PCBs, so care should be taken when removing old upholstery, seats, headliners and dashboard components. Take steps to reduce the amount of dust such restoration work might kick up, and wear proper protective clothing and dust masks.

Another highly toxic substance found in all older automobiles is asbestos. Asbestos is highly carcinogenic and has been proven to cause mesothelioma and asbestosis, particularly malignant and aggressive forms of cancer.

Asbestos was universally used in cars for brake pads, clutch pads, brake drum linings, gaskets and insulation, so when working on older models care should be taken to avoid exposure to asbestos dust. Particular care should be taken when tearing apart old brake systems and transmissions, as asbestos dust may be highly concentrated in such areas. Again, wear dust masks, gloves and appropriate clothing to minimize the risk of exposure.

Older cars can accumulate a great amount of dirt, grease and oil deposits on engines, transmissions and drive assemblies, these deposits contain highly toxic residual phenols and furfural, substances that can be absorbed through exposed skin or inhaled and cause damage to the central nervous system.

The problems posed by these toxic substances in old cars can be mitigated by taking a few common sense precautions, such as using proper ventilation in the work area, using respirators or dust masks and wearing protective gloves and clothing.


Brian Turner has an interest in all types of cars; classics, tuner, muscle, import, supercars, etc… He also researches and writes about inherent toxic hazards in automobiles and is a staff contributor to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog where he writes about the cancer risks that toxins such as asbestos pose.



  1. Andrew Lin says

    Hi. I recently had body work done on my car, but this is a collision center that probably does not handle classical cars. Should I be concerned about these same chemicals? I’ve been very worried ever since seeing the condition with all the dust in the interior!

  2. Wallace alfred Wyss says

    I remember going to a body shop in Bellflower about 20 or 30 years ago to see them work on a rare car, a Bizzarrini spyder, and was shocked to see this old grey haired man working with lead, which was illegal even then. I was surprised he lived long enough to grow grey hair considering the toxic material he worked with. Even the shop owner didn’t want to work with the material, and he had to retire from early dementia , probably cause by prolonged exposure to led.

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