Should you be worried about asbestos in cars?


Australia is stepping up its enforcement of a ban on asbestos entering the country, causing significant headaches for classic car owners and buyers. The Australian Border force, which polices the ban that began in 2003, has already seized more than 50 classic vehicles this year. Ranging from Mustangs to Jaguars, a majority of the vehicles caught originated from the U.S.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2017/12/08/asbestos-in-cars


OK, so I am curious , doesn’t the seller of parts in the USA have to tell the buyer that asbestos is in the part? And other then brakes and clutches, that new new ones no longer contain, and I am pretty sure not many would buy used ones, where am I running into asbestos containing parts on my restoration??


Some pre-war cars that are still in original condition or waiting to be restored in a barn or warehouse somewhere will most likely have lagging material around the exhaust piped that contains asbestos. Many times, as on Rolls Royces, this lagging is covered under sheet metal half pipes held by clamps. Owners of these should be aware of this at the time of disturbance of the material.


There seems to be this general belief that brake pads and clutch linings sold in the U.S. no longer contain asbestos, but this is incorrect.

In 1989 a law was passed that banned asbestos in most products, but this ruling was overturned in 1991 and has not been revisited.

You can walk into your nearest auto parts store today and buy a shiny set of new brake pads that contain asbestos. Even worse, there’s no law that required manufacturers to identify products that contain asbestos, so you should assume that ALL brake pads etc contain asbestos when you’re working on a vehicle.

See this EPA article for more information:


With all this scary talk about asbestos I guess I should have been dead a long time ago. It was all over the place when I was growing up and into my early adulthood. I replaced many brakes and clutches quite often breathing in the dust. Maybe that wasn’t good but too much is made about the dangers of general use of this naturally occurring mineral. Just like lead in gasoline and elsewhere. I remember refueling cars for 3 hours straight for the fleet I worked for in my early adult years. My hands were grey from the lead in the gasoline that was all over the handle. I agree getting it out of gasoline was good but again, too much is made of the dangers of lead. And Mercury. another element. OMG! Call an ambulance! My father once brought home a 12oz bottle half filled with mercury. We would play with it. Put some on the floor, hit it with a hammer then herd the little balls of it together and put it back in the bottle. We would put some in the palm of our hand and coat pennies. To think what I did as a kid, we all did, given the scare tactics of government today it is a wonder we are alive to talk about it. So sorry, I don’t buy all the nonsense about asbestos. I’m just waiting for the day when the ambulance chasers run out of pockets to pick clean with their lawsuits and try to sue God who created all this hazardous material.


Timkuehl2000 is a lucky man, so far. I have lost 2 friends to mesothelioma and both of their families paid dearly in medical and emotional costs. The fact that we were ignorant to the side effects of so many products in the past doesn’t mean we should continue that behavior into the future.
These health and environmental effects are based on science, they DO exist. To ignore what HAS happened to others is at one’s own risk, I personally would like to enjoy life and our hobby in a healthy condition for a longer and happier life rather than in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank and hose wrapped around my head for a much shorter lifespan.
I miss those friends I’ve lost to asbestos exposure but not what they went through the last couple years of their early 60’s years.


Both sides are going to extremes in this question. Asbestos is dangerous, but the danger is mostly to people who work in the asbestos industry (INCLUDING garage workers who install brakes, since these are often turned to fit the drum). There’s no danger to the USER of a vehicle with asbestos brake or clutch linings. Also, some asbestos goes into the air when these linings are uses, but there’s so little spread over such a large area that there’s no danger to the public at large.

The only time a classic vehicle owner could be exposed to asbestos would be when fitting new brakes. Dust in drums, etc., should be cleaned in the open with care not to breath it.


Agree. I think you’d have to be in your 60’s to not have been aware of the dangers of AIRBORNE asbestos and not had safety equipment at least available. Legal interests have pretty much milked the old trusts and are always in search of additional sources. I think that’s where the danger lies for our hobby. Any company still relining brake shoes, clutch discs etc. still flirts with legal liability even if they produce them robotically and make the end consumer sign waivers.


Yup, I used to clean parts in leaded gasoline without gloves, but that doesn’t mean it was a good idea. We used to blow off brake parts with compressed air, too, and that wasn’t a good idea either. Have I got cancer as a result? No (or at least not so far). But a single data point is almost meaningless. After all, if the stuff was so immediately toxic that it caused instant death, obviously nobody would be careless with it. And the fact that asbestos is “naturally occurring” doesn’t mean a damn thing. The plague and arsenic are natural as well.

So we are dealing with substances that WILL cause death and disability on a percentage basis, roughly proportional to the exposure. The reasonable approach, then, is to limit our exposure. Brake parts should be cleaned with gloved hands using rags and sparingly with “brake cleaners” (which have their own hazards, but sure work well, eh?). The more careful among us would use dust masks approved for asbestos as well (likely not the typical throwaway sort, but I don’t know this).

Finally, the issue of brake dust in the environment: I once attended an SAE paper presentation that as i recall purported to show that brake lining asbestos changes form when it is heated via the friction of stopping the vehicle, and therefore isn’t hazardous once it sloughs off the pad or shoe or clutch disc. Considering that so much b.s. has been slung on behalf of those who have a vested interest in selling toxic stuff, I am skeptical of such claims. Obviously there is a LOT of such dust in our environment; it won’t surprise me to find that this is a driver of at least a percentage of cancer cases in the general public. I am not a toxicologist, chemist, or epidemiologist, however.

It would behoove us all to take reasonable precautions, including when dealing with wire looms and insulation, which often in the old days contained asbestos. And it is true that there is no USA restriction on asbestos in brake pads, for example, although you can buy “asbestos-free” pads. All of life involves tradeoffs; let’s be sensible and try to hit the “sweet spot” of care and economy vs. hazard.


I am a OEM gasket maker, and have been for 60 plus years. Asbestos, as noted, is only dangerous when airborne. When it gets into your lungs. You can mix it with ketchup , and eat it with a hot dog with no ill effects…:}. Yuck!

With gaskets, the asbestos is emulsified into the gasket material. It is not airborne to the touch. When we used to diecut the material, masks and vacuum systems were used, as dust may occur from the diecutting process. Today, we can’t compete with China or India, so no more gaskets. Instead, we diecut other materials. Tim mirrored my own childhood, only, instead of pumping gas, I made thousands of lead bullets in a closet, loved the sweet smell of lead…and chasing those mercury droplets down the driveway sure was fun. Yes, many friends have passed away, but we are born, we live, we die, and go on another path…

My 1938 MGSA Tickford has an asbestos firewall, (those little oval raised panels are full of asbestos) safe since they are enclosed … wonder if Australia would figure that out and ban it…:}


Agreed. Thing is most anything in a powdered form that gets inhaled is quite dangerous. People die from working in grain silo’s, after inhaling grain dust for years. Chemicals can give of toxic vapors. The standard careful method of dealing with any brake or clutch type dust is to spray it wet before disturbing, and then wipe it away andseal in a plastic bag for the garbage. The world if full of much more dangerous things than potential asbestos fluff from old cars.


Asbestos fluff worries from old cars…Just more EPA Liberal hype…Much more to be concerned about in the real world. …PS! “Look out, the sky is falling.”


@morelists - You are correct about handling the dust. OSHA outlines that wetting the material and wiping the dust away is best practice for most persons working on projects that potentially contain asbestos.

There are more high-tech methods recommended also, but for the home mechanic you outlined the right process.


@davecolquhoun - There is no requirement that I could find outline the need to disclose the presence of asbestos on a vehicle when sold. It is the purchasers responsibility to ask if.

Even new brake and clutch materials can contain asbestos, the US does not have a ban similar to Australia in that regard. Regarding classic vehicles, asbestos is commonly associated with brake, clutch, insulation, some wiring insulation, and undercoating, though it can vary based on giving production. You might have to do a bit of research on a given year/make/model to know where is concern on a particular vehicle.

So what happens down under if your car is impounded and subject to time consuming and expensive testing and nothing is found. Who pays ??? Better bring in some Vaseline too.