One thing about a redneck, at least this redneck, whom my wife married thirty years ago by mistake, they want to do all the stuff, wreck things build things etc., but they also want to die of natural causes in bed at home. The story of the life of a redneck is about strong forces in opposition. I have made seventy years old, so in a world of confusion and general upset, I think about that a lot. A redneck has to stay alive to be a good redneck. There is no such thing as a dead redneck. Consequently, there is a philosophic challenge to being a redneck. For instance, say you like working on cars, it is redneck to work on cars, and one way or another in consequence of need or enthusiasm, you end up working under cars without the wheels on more than you'd like, that is a challenge to staying alive. It is a challenge to staying redneck. Therefore, it is worth thinking about. Did Solomon think about it? I guess not. But Solomon was a despot, and a redneck is a freedom loving man; the one thinks about this, the other about that. On the other hand, though Solomon wouldn't know a cam from a crank, he might know his dromedaries.
To put it in a philosophic framework, your redneck, when he or she--because nowadays we have redneck girls--a friend of mine was bragging to me about his gearhead daughter the other day, she is a carting champ and he is proud of her--when he or she arrives at a purple dot day, such as when he reaches seventy, he wants to continue on to the next purple dot day, such as when his eighteenth grand kid will be born. And so on. And he ain't gonna do that if he is crushed one lazy afternoon under a two ton vehicle.
I think it is philosophic and well worth thinking about, and I have thought about it a lot over the years. How can I jack that thing up so I can get out that nasty assed leaky gas tank without the car falling on me? You've got Descartes and Wittgenstein and Spinoza, Plato and Aristotle, but you've also got to jack that car up and muscle out that freakin gas tank. Sorry! That's the real world.
For what it is worth to all you gearheads, garden variety mechanics, shade-tree bullshit artists, this is the system I have worked out.
First off, if you can leave the wheels on, do so. That is nice, and there is a lot of work you can do on a car with the wheels on. Some people even build platforms with raised chocks, like aircraft chocks, made from sturdy two-by-sixes, to lower the wheels onto. With handbrake on and engine in gear, the vehicle is not going anywhere.
For a long time I liked the idea of cinder blocks. You set them up as you would if you were building a wall. They are supposed to bear the weight of a wall, that is what they make them for. The compression strength of a cinder block is 1900psi. That means that if you put it down holes up, as you would if you were building a wall, and put a sturdy board over it and 2 two-by-fours all common sense would seem to indicate that it wouldn't crush under the weight of a common automobile and certainly not under my 3,000 pound Focus. I wouldn't prop up a cement truck or a six-wheel Silverado or an F-350 that way, though. So it depends on what you are planning on propping up.
But gearheads warn about cinder blocks. They crush. Apply any lateral force and they may tip and crush. If you are banging on and manhandling an exhaust system, what you will be applying is lateral force. But I like the way they set up. They make a solid base on any surface. Since I don't have a cement driveway, I have a packed-down gravel driveway, I cut 3 foot by 2 foot squares of 3/4in plywood to set the blocks on, and a board and two 2 bys and I made a slotted 2 by to prevent crushing the door sills on the vehicle. I think that would be fine for jobs when you don't work underneath. You do most jobs from the side. The gas tank or filter you have to work underneath. They are buried somewhere in the middle of everything. You've got the tires off, and throw them underneath, too, and if worst comes to worst, you won't be under it, and you'll have a good place to catch and jack it up again.
Even if the tires are on, cars nowadays don't tend to have much clearance. Even the skinniest person I know can't crawl under my Subie or my Focus. You have to jack it up and if either of them did fall, it could hurt. The Subie has about 6" clearance. You might not die right away. If nobody knows you are under there, a redneck somewhere in the back 40, you could be in for a long stay, and then die slowly. You might have awhile to say your prayers.
Given the gravity of the possibilities, you might do some thinking about it. Garages have lifts, and the contractors build them under rules. Back yard mechanics have to think about it because they will normally end up protecting themselves. If they have a friend who shares their interest, that is always good. I have found friends are helpful to a point, and then, since the vehicle doesn't belong to them, they would after awhile rather depart. Even professional mechanics each have their own harrowing stories. Every so often in rural Maine somebody gets in a bind that way. The wifes go out and buy six ton jack stands and three ton jacks. The stupid redneck they married is always under the fucking beast tinkering on something.
When you put this problem to them, no matter how enthusiastic they are, every mechanic will say, "So yeah. It can get bad." The "so yeah" is pregnant with a thousand possibilities. "Well, I tend to get them on the jack stands, and I kick them and shove on the car enthusiastically, then if it doesn't seem to bother, I take off the tires and get to work." "So yeah", don't use cinder blocks.
Here is my method, and after seventy years I am still alive. First of all, you can't tell me not to crawl under a car, I am gonna do it as long as I figure the odds are in my favor because I am too cheap to pay the friendly neighborhood mechanic, who isn't too bright anyway; and whether he'll fix my car is debatable. But I look at the situation, whether tires are on or off, wonder if I scream "Help" will it mean anything to an uncaring world, or whatever. So yeah, this is what I do. Get a nice heavy duty jack. I spent a little extra for mine. I didn't buy the rock bottom el-cheapo version. Find good solid jack points. The owners manual will help you some, for the rest there is always common sense. The oil pan, for instance, does not make a good jack point. But any chassis part does. So find a good, solid chassis part, which I hope isn't bedeviled by body rot. I once put a hole through the floor of an Oldsmobile, thereby ending its practical life. But it had an extreme case of body rot anyway, and it was on its last days. Luckily when the jack went through I wasn't underneath, though I was in a seriously bad and reckless mood at the time, having observed that the Olds, which still ran fine, probably would never pass another inspection. It was a '96, and I had driven it for the better part of ten years and now was the end of a good thing. (Great in the snow.)
After jacking her up, you can place the jack stands in a good solid place where they won't slip off. The place I like to use is where the owners manual tells you to put the jack when you are changing a tire. But that isn't all I do. Then beside the jack stands I put a cinder block and load 2 bys till they reach within a quarter inch or so the height of the jack stands. I figure if the jack stands wobble and shift, the car will fall on the cinder block and that will hold it long enough for me to squirm out. I am a great believer in backing up. If one thing suddenly doesn't work out, perhaps the other one will. I am convinced that when I do it this way the car won't fall on top of me. You can't tell me otherwise but I know it is still a theory and though it has worked for me since I first started banging on cars fifty years ago, it may not work for me tomorrow. That's the way it is. It is true philosophy. Sometimes people say, "Well, as a rule." Meaning, though it has worked a thousand times there is no definite proof that it will work the one-thousand and first time.
So yeah, you get into these situations. A nut is seriously stuck. You put a pipe on a breaker bar, but you can't swing it because damned if the jack stand is in the way, and you are not in a good mood and maybe the car stopped suddenly on a little hill. It's these details that make the difference on that first time after the thousand. So yeah. When a neighbor met his maker he was sitting up under it, and the car crushed down on him, bending his body over like a pretzel. I hope that he didn't suffer for very long.
So yeah, think about your jack stands every now and then. When you get too old to wiggle around under cars, then metaphysics.