Third in a Series of Occasional Posts on Shop Maintenance

Photography and Story by Jim Marotta


A clean temperate climate and a consistent flow of electricity

Where would we be today without our computers? They power our shop management systems, provide our diagnostic and service information and enable us to order parts without picking up the phone. The only thing they require is a clean, temperate climate and a consistent flow of electricity. What most shop owners don't know is that the electrical power supplied from the wall outlet may not be stable enough to power their computers.

Depending on where your shop is located, power line disturbances strong enough to disrupt computer operation can occur frequently, resulting in hardware damage and more importantly, lost data. Unfortunately, equipment like your compressor and brake lathe are electrically "noisy" enough to cause disturbances.

Installing an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to the power supply for your computer equipment will not only provide backup AC power, allowing an orderly shutdown of computer equipment in the event of a power failure or blackout, but better units will also condition the electricity and allow for an uninterrupted supply of power.

The UPS system (left) used on this shop office computer provides backup AC power in the event of a power failure and conditions the electricity, allowing for a consistent supply of power to the computer. (Photography by Jim Marotta.)

Keep it clean

Shops are dirty, especially for computers. Use a computer vacuum or clean, dry, low pressure shop air monthly to prevent dust from accumulating on the power supplies, fans, heat sinks and vents. A gentle cleaning with appropriate cleaners will keep all surfaces of the computer, keyboard, mouse and screen fresh. Consider covering equipment when not in use.

Computers used on the shop floor require regular maintenance to prevent dust and dirt from accumulating on the power supplies, fans, heat sinks and vents. (Photography by Jim Marotta.)

Update and backup regularly

Now that the outside of the computer is maintained, let's turn our attention to the inside. For security and reliability purposes, update programs regularly. Install large updates, such as Service Packs, only after checking with software vendors to make sure there are no compatibility issues. Update your anti-virus software regularly, as the software is fully protecting the computer only if it is receiving updated virus signatures.

What would happen if you lost your building and all its contents to fire? You may be able to temporarily relocate but how would you contact your customers if all their information was on your (now melted) shop computer? Backup daily and weekly to insure none of your data is lost. Here is how to do it:

  1. Contact all hardware and software vendors for documentation regarding which files to back up.
  2. Perform daily on-site backups of all computers containing shop management and accounting software data files to correct accidental deletion of files, hardware failures, and system crashes.
  3. Perform weekly backups of all computers containing shop management and accounting software data files and keep these discs in a secure place offsite to recover from catastrophic disasters such as fire or flood.
  4. Both Microsoft and Apple provide free built-in backup utilities that are more than capable of satisfying the backup needs of all but the most complex computer systems and networks.


Every day the consequences of neglected maintenance appear on the vehicles that roll or are towed into the shop; the reasons for maintaining your shop equipment are equally clear. Protecting and maintaining our computers includes the simple tasks of keeping it clean and temperature-controlled, giving it an uninterruptible power source, and updating and backing up regularly. When you subscribe to Chilton for your automotive service, repair, and estimating information, Chilton takes care of the updates and backups for you. Just sign on to and, anytime.

A muscle car enthusiast and drag racer, Jim Marotta is a freelance automotive writer with more than 20 years experience in the automotive industry.