Making the most out of the least: Your tiny garage.

My first garage was, well it wasn’t really a garage. The place where I spent many a weekend wrenching on my first rally car was a small shed at the end of the driveway at my friend Sean’s house. Always fighting for space , we had to remove the bags of lawn waste, lawnmower, and gardening supplies before we could even think about bringing a car in there. Once a car was in there, good luck opening the doors or doing anything easy. Shelter from the weather and a place to wrench on cars with the help of good friends was what made that place special. I longed for a garage of my own.

Subsequent sheds, borrowed garages and driveways followed. I convinced my Dad that my brothers and I could insulate the garage in a weekend and a propane heater made the difference between working on the cars in the winter and a mission to the outer reaches of space. Have you ever changed brake pads when it was 14°F out? It is a whole new level of preparation and commitment. Fluid, tools, and physical tasks are completely different at that temperature.

Once on the West Coast, we got with an eclectic group of folks that rented warehouse buildings in the garment district of LA. Lots of space to be had for $200 a month, but you never wanted to leave your good tools there, and you could never really call it home. Because of course; the guy with the blacked-out caddy already called it home, he had been living out of his car for over 2 months. 😐 When we found that out, we bailed pretty quick. Transmission swaps in the UCI graduate student housing parking lot gave way to some rented shop space for $350 in San Clemente. Access to real tools, a lift, a tire mounter, etc. For a time this was as good as it gets. Then the economy tanked and the rent had to go up. I stuck it out while my space got smaller and smaller, eventually everything had to be on wheels, everything had to be mobile (including the rally car). This is a pain in the ass when you have a long term suspension and engine swap planned. It was time to save my cash, stash the rally car at a buddies house, and move the tools back into a plastic shed behind the apartment and buy a house – with a garage!

What do you get for a reasonably priced short sale in a nice neighborhood? You get 250 square feet. Now subtract space for the washer, the dryer, and the water heater. Ready to get all those extra car parts up on the shelves? How about you start with the 15 paint cans, the bucket of plumbing supplies, and the box of house fix-it stuff that you refuse to place on the hood of the rally car. Here’s my suggestions for surviving out of a tiny garage.

  • You have to start somewhere. Label the box of random house stuff – ‘House Stuff’. That way you won’t spend two hours digging through it looking for O2 Sensors. Put subsequent labels on it later. ‘House Stuff’ can become ‘House Stuff, Painting Prep, Door Hardware’. Call the P-Touch label maker geeky, but when you and your friends can find (and return) every tool in your tool chest, it’s worth cash money in time saved.

  • Put it on wheels. Become mobile and flexible.
  • Being able to quickly roll work areas and tools around keeps things potentially more flexible then the huge garage with every tool needed in the large immovable chest. Harbor Freight furniture dollies work great for bins of spares, and FWD transmissions. Have some spare dollies in anticipation of your next project. Consider building a smaller mobile work table covered in scrap sheet metal with heavy duty wheels.

  • Get it off the ground. High shelves for stuff you use less.
  • If you are a man – you no doubt consider the floor ‘a low shelf’. Now that everything is mobile in your garage, even 1 bin of parts not on wheels will be frustrating when you go to move everything around for a project. Since a box truck will never fit, why not use the magic space over 5 feet for wall shelves along the length of your garage. Consider a one foot deep shelf with angle brackets tied to the studs. Just like your sugary sweet cereal isle, put the stuff you use most at eye level, ‘good for you’ parts lower, and the super healthy un-used items up above.

  • Unfinished, cluttered, and hot. Invest in small money, big upgrades.
  • Don’t have the time for drywall? Consider ‘Thrifty White Shower Paneling’ for the walls. It’s like $9 a sheet and you get three pretty good benefits: 1. You can hose it off. 2. You can write on it with whiteboard markers (and erase). 3. It makes pretty good projector screen material for Rockband or Rally games on the Xbox. 😀 Rolls of insulation are cheap, and even in Southern California – consider an insulated garage door. My garage door faces the SW and even on the hottest of days the garage is cooler then outside.

  • Setup your old PC or laptop.
  • We’re not building a media center here. We just need access to and mp3’s. WiFi and $9 speakers makes the garage so much more productive. Most OBD software can run on a 486, so that old P4 with a gig of RAM will do just fine.

  • Other ideas:
  • Build a storage loft! Span Calculator
  • Front load washer / dryer = a temp work table on non-laundry days
  • Standardize your bins, various sizes that are all stackable
  • Got your own small garage ideas? Hit up the comments!
  • 2GN Progress Report

    The interior and extra weight is out. I need to get a couple extra grinding discs and wire wheels to get the drivers side door metal out and the extra thick seam sealer in the hard to reach spots. The air-box for the heat and AC is dependent on the heater core and I’ll need to drain the coolant before pulling that out and re-engineering it.

    Draining the coolant means that it’s just about a good time as any to pull the motor. The motor has to go if we’re going to seam weld, plate, and strengthen the front end. To keep it easy I’m going to cut the radiator support out and we’ll be changing that up anyway. I don’t know if I’m ready to put “tubular K frame” on the to-do list, but it’s being considered.

    This weekend some friends and past crew members will be giving me a hand. Soon the 2GN will become more of a shell then a car. Rally prep at the garage is well under way!