Asbestos In Classic Cars

EMS are able to provide vehicle asbestos surveys to detect the presence of asbestos in classic cars

Asbestos in Classic & Vintage Cars

Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals that can be separated into fibres which are strong, durable and flexible. It is also heat and fire resistant and these fantastic thermal and insulation properties meant it was heralded for a variety of construction and industrial uses. Historically. Asbestos was used in a variety of building products including residential, industrial, scientific, maritime and automotive.

We are here to help, and able to provide advice and guidance on asbestos in classic vehicles as well as asbestos inspection reports for your classic car.

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Asbestos in the Motor Industry

Asbestos was commonly used in the motor industry in the twentieth century for these reasons and therefore had significant uses in automobiles during this period.

Asbestos containing components were just as useful to the construction and engineering of a motor vehicle, for the same reasons as it was excellent for construction activities.

Therefore, it is a very common component found in classic cars manufactured in the. twentieth century. Use of these components was prohibited in 1999, when the UK introduced a ban on all importation and manufacturing of asbestos materials. However, there was an exception to this in that pre-1973 vehicles could continue to be fitted with asbestos containing brake shoes until 2004.

The automotive industry used asbestos heavily. This was largely due to the fact that asbestos possesses the unique ability to both insulate and prevent heat transfer due to its fantastic thermal properties. This makes it ideal for use in a wide variety of automotive applications which are centred around the internal combustion engine and friction-based brakes.

Amongst the most common car parts to contain asbestos are brake pads and shoes, gaskets, internal combustion components, clutches, heat seals and insulation. It is possible that older and classic cars could contain asbestos containing parts.

What Precautions Should Be Taken?

Care must be taken when replacing any of these parts in an older or ‘classic’ car, and it is recommended that you presume that they may be asbestos. These parts must only be replaced with non-asbestos containing parts. Caution must be exercised when purchasing or selling second hand car parts via the internet or other methods. Fitting of asbestos parts is illegal and selling asbestos containing parts is also illegal. The HSE states that ‘The supply, possession for supply and fitting of asbestos products to motor vehicles and trailers is now banned.’ You should ensure that you have parts tested for asbestos if you are in any doubt about them. You will then be issued with a certificate for the product which will illustrate whether the component is asbestos-containing or not.

The HSE also recommends that all brake and clutch dust is potentially harmful, so it is important in all cases to never blow dust out of brake drums or clutch or clutch hosing with an airline, always use properly designed drum cleaning equipment to prevent dust escaping, or use clean wet rags to clean drums or housings. Likewise, the HSE also recommends that any component which is suspected to contain asbestos including the rags used to clean the drums or housing should be disposed of as ‘asbestos waste’. For further information on how to dispose of asbestos waste see the HSE’s guidance sheet for Disposing of Asbestos.

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Where Could I Find Asbestos?

Listed below are some of the most common places to find asbestos in classic cars:

Brakes are the most common place to find asbestos. Asbestos was used in brake shoes, pads and rotors and are still used in countries where asbestos is legal to use. Brakes rely on the forces of friction to function properly. Friction releases heat which the asbestos insulates against.

Hoodliners Asbestos was perfect for use as hoodliners in classic cars as it protected the underside of the cars hood from damage due to engine heat.

Clutches are built to withstand a great deal of friction and grinding, therefore asbestos was commonly used within clutch components.

Gaskets were used in automobile hoses and engine parts. Asbestos was used to both increase durability and prevent heat transfer

Heat seals were used to protect against heat transfer among many different engine and automotive parts

Valve Rings and Packings Asbestos packings were used in piston rings intended to reduce wear upon the cylinder walls of the cars motor

Engine Components Internal combustion engines release heat. Engine components must be protected against heat to function properly. Asbestos was used in the engine parts components to serve this purpose

Body Construction Asbestos is also durable making it attractive for inclusion in fibre glass or plastic compounds from which auto-body parts were made

Insulation Asbestos was used to keep the inhabitants warm or cool depending on the outside temperature

Car Batteries Asbestos was used as insulation in car batteries, both as loose fill asbestos between casing walls and in the casing itself.

Australian Importation

An Australia-wide ban on the manufacture and use of all forms of asbestos took effect on 31 December 2003. A border control for asbestos was enacted at the same time to prevent the unlawful importation of asbestos, and goods containing asbestos.

The importer of a vehicle (the ‘owner’ for the purposes of importation) must:

Know the history of that vehicle to ensure it does not contain any asbestos before it is shipped.

This applies whether the importation is for commercial or private purposes, or of a temporary or permanent nature.

Owners should be aware that many countries have tolerances in vehicle parts and components if the asbestos content is: below a certain level, or present as trace amounts in raw materials used for producing those parts or components. Tolerance levels for asbestos set by other countries will not be accepted at the Australian border.


Who Does This Apply To?

The import prohibition applies to all vehicles of any type, age or value.

If the Australian Border Force (ABF) identifies an imported vehicle as at-risk of containing asbestos, the owner will be required to provide sufficient assurance that the vehicle, including all parts and components, does not contain asbestos.

Owners declaring “no” to asbestos content in their vehicle, and all parts/components, must only do so if they are certain that it does not contain asbestos.

This includes the presence of asbestos by design, or by the use of naturally contaminated ingredients during manufacture, whether original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or aftermarket in type.

What Do You Need To Do?

Sampling and testing at the border can be avoided if owners provide sufficient assurance that their vehicle does not contain any asbestos. Unlawfully imported asbestos may result in prosecution action and/or fines. In order to comply with Australian Border Force regulations, the ABF recommends that:

Owners must obtain sufficient information and take necessary action to ensure asbestos is not present in the goods before shipment.

Claims of OEM parts containing no level of asbestos content should be supported by technical evidence sourced from the relevant manufacturer. A ‘face value’ letter from the supplier, or the supplier’s mechanic, merely stating there is no asbestos content is unlikely to provide sufficient assurance.

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What Records Should You Keep?

When at-risk parts and components containing asbestos are identified and removed before shipping, the owner should retain all work records.

The make, model and structural content of those new parts and components, which proves no asbestos content, should also be retained. These records should be available to provide to the ABF as required.

If sampling and testing is undertaken overseas, the owner should ensure that the process is carried out to meet Australian requirements for laboratory reporting.

The owner is advised to carry out due diligence, including knowing the materials used in the manufacture and maintenance of the vehicle they are importing. If this matter is not taken seriously by the owner, and sufficient assurance is not provided, the owner will face delays and be responsible for costs incurred if the vehicle is held at the border for sampling and testing.

If this occurs, the owner will be required to engage a qualified, independent competent person to undertake identification of suspect parts and the removal of samples for testing. The ABF are not qualified asbestos professionals and may only supervise the collection of samples while the goods are under customs control. The ABF cannot undertake or assist in this work.

How Do You Ensure Your Vehicle Complies?

Factors such as the make, model, country of origin and any other relevant circumstances must be taken into account, and therefore the ABF will risk assess all vehicle shipments and related assurance documents for asbestos.

Owners might need to consult OEM part suppliers, maintenance providers or records of the particular vehicle where available, to identify if the vehicle’s components are likely to contain any amount of asbestos (including trace amounts).

Owners should then take action to test or remove such components before importation. This highlights the necessity for the owner to know the vehicle they are importing, to understand where asbestos is likely to be present, and to be able to provide evidence of having addressed that risk.

Re-Importing Australian-based Vehicles

Owners intending to temporarily export a vehicle from Australia, with the intention of re-importation, such as for the purposes of participation in an overseas rally, must be aware that: The importation of that vehicle back into Australia is prohibited if it contains any level of asbestos.

To facilitate the return to Australia, the owner should identify any parts or components with asbestos and replace them before export.  


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