Automotive repair is messy work. There is a reason that mechanics often affectionately refer to each other as “grease monkeys.” As cars age, they tend to accumulate dirt, grime, and debris from the road. Couple this with a few oil or coolant leaks, and all of the grime sticks to your engine and condenses into a thick, dark, tarry sludge. If you’ve worked on cars for any length of time, you know exactly what we are talking about. You also know that it takes a whole lot of scrubbing, Gojo juice, and a long shower before it comes off your body and that it is pretty much impossible to get out of your clothes.
Fortunately, mechanics got tired of this problem in the early days of working on machines and started wearing coveralls. Coveralls are a one piece garment that covers both the torso and the legs. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and fabrics and have a large variety of features. Their main advantage is that they protect the wearer from grease, grime, and fluids by covering exposed skin and clothing, especially when paired with a good set of mechanics gloves. The following is a breakdown of some of these attributes to help you select the best coveralls for your application:
Short Sleeve vs. Long Sleeve
When choosing between long sleeve and short sleeve coveralls, there are a few considerations. The biggest consideration you must make is that you are trading cooling for protection. Short sleeve coveralls keep you cooler as your arms are exposed and they don’t retain as much body heat. They are also typically made from thinner, more breathable fabrics. Along with short sleeves comes decreased protection for your arms, meaning that they are more susceptible to coming into contact with grease or fluids.
Long sleeve coveralls address the issues with short sleeve coveralls in that they protect the arms. As you would expect, fabrics in long sleeve coveralls tends to be a little bit thicker and tend to retain heat a little better.
There is one major concern to be aware of if you choose to wear long sleeve coveralls. When working with rotating machinery, including a running engine, wearing long sleeves can pose a potential danger (this also pertains to when using lathes, saws, drill presses, and mills). The reason you must take extra care under these circumstances is because baggy sleeves are at risk of becoming caught or entangled in rotating machinery which can lead to serious injury or even death.
Cotton vs. Blended
When it comes to materials, cotton coveralls and blended polyester/cotton coveralls are the two most common types (although you can find nylon, wool, and a few others if you look hard enough). The reason that cotton coveralls and blended coveralls are the most common is that the fabrics are the most affordable.
The biggest pros to blended coveralls are that they tend to wrinkle less and tend to resist fluids a bit better. 100% cotton tends to be a little more abrasion resistant and tends to withstand heat much better (flame, sparks, etc).
In general both are fine for automotive work, however if you are working specifically with electric cars, there are likely more stringent requirements that require you to wear electrical-protective coveralls.
There are a few other features to be aware of, although they rarely are applicable to weekend work in your garage. Perhaps the two most notable features worth mentioning are that coveralls can be had with high visibility features that make you easier to spot while you are performing your work. This is advantageous if you work at night or in a busy work environment. The other notable feature is that some coveralls are flame resistant. These tend to be used more heavily in other industries outside of automotive (such as work involving petroleum or electricity). We probably wouldn’t pay extra for these features if you are just performing routine synthetic oil changes in your garage.
When it comes to choosing a pair of coveralls, we have always worn Dickies with good success. Either their Basic Blended Coverall or their Basic Cotton Coverall are sufficient for most automotive work and they tend to hold up pretty reliably. They also have a few color choices for those of us who like to look extra suave when working on our cars. There are a few other brands we like such as Carhartt and Red Kap, but in general we have always found that Dickies offers one of the better values out there for basic automotive needs. You can take a look at all the coveralls that Dickies offers by clicking here.
Before we close this article out, we want to add a couple final notes. Wearing coveralls helps keep you separated from the grime and fluids from routine auto work, but they don’t make you “Walter White yellow suit from Breaking Bad” impervious to chemicals. As such, even when wearing coveralls it’s still important to clean yourself up after you are done repairing your car. Another note is that you should also wash your coveralls occasionally. We recommend washing them alone or potentially even sending them out to get laundered as grease can tend to leach into other clothes in your washing machine.
We hope that this article has been helpful in terms of deciphering what features might be valuable to you in a set of coveralls when working on your car. While we have our preferences, we know that there are lots of other great options out there so if you feel like our recommendation isn’t the right call for your situation, have a look at some other coveralls options by clicking here. Happy wrenching!