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Tires and Brakes!

These are the only things between your vehicle and an accident.
Cartoon graphic of a vehicle hitting a tree.

I don’t know how many times I have said to my daughter during her 15+ years of driving, “Don’t go cheap on your tires and brakes.” This is a principal I learned from my dad, who knew I had a penchant for driving old vehicles. “Don’t go cheap on tires or brakes,” he would advise, “Those are the only two things between you and an accident.”

So, for the past 30 or so years, I have spent a lot on quality tires for my vehicles…great, sticky “summer” tires, and expensive Finnish snow tires. I regularly replace my brake pads and will spare no cost to keep parking brakes functional.

So why did I skip that on my truck?

Last week, I was doing one of those projects that requires at least three trips to the hardware store to complete. On my third trip, I realized the store was closing in 10 minutes. Despite an early dusting of snow on top of the previous day’s hard-packed snow, I pushed the speed just a little harder than I knew was safe. I had the truck in four-wheel drive, figuring I could use that front wheels to pull me out of any situations.

I was wrong.

While my plan was sound (accelerating out of a slide usually pulls you straight again), what I hadn’t figured into my calculations is that I had never really paid much attention to the condition of the tires from the time I inherited the truck from my spouse’s mother. So, after topping a slight rise and descending into an off-camber right turn, the truck started to slide off to the left. Instinctively, I accelerated. But the truck didn't respond by pulling out of the slide. Counterintuitively, I slammed the brakes. 

As I was only driving at about 25mph, I had ample time to see what was going to develop. Though I wasn’t scrubbing off any speed, I could see that I was, indeed, going to come to a stop — an abrupt one, when I met a tree with the dead center of the hood.

After the impact (what about air bags? Why didn’t they go off?), I pushed open my door, and dropped down into the snow. A glance at the busted radiator and v-shaped bumper and hood coupled with the fact that I had to push darn hard to get my door open all told me one thing: The truck was totaled. It was my first “civilian” accident in about 35 years (when I was Rally racing, I was involved in a LOT of accidents, each of those is another story!).

What went wrong?


Texas National Guard maneuvers in Louisiana. Changing a tire is no different in the army from anywhere else. It's hard work unless you are a graduate of an automobile service station. Shown as they wrestle with a recalcitrant front tire of a big army truck are, left to right Private Jack Morrow, Sergeant T. M. Newman and Private John Powers, all of First Battalion, Headquarters Battery, 131st Field Artillery.

Texas National Guard maneuvers in Louisiana. Changing a tire is no different in the army from anywhere else. It's hard work unless you are a graduate of an automobile service station. 

As I mentioned, I inherited the truck. My Mother-in-Law had been meticulous in maintaining it. She literally drove it to the store and church each week — just the kind of vehicle for which we long.

I’ve had the truck at my cabin for about 2.5 years. I used it about once a month  for driving in the woods to haul wood or down to one of the area lakes to go fishing. In that time, I probably only put on about 1,200 miles and had the oil changed twice.

Because the truck sat most of the time at the cabin, I fell out of the routine of my periodic inspections. Weeks between services turned into months. In a word, I became “lazy.”

So, when I exited the wrecked truck and walked around, I was appalled to see that the tread on my tires was very — VERY — shallow. Clearly, had I any traction available to me, the little mishap would have been avoided. What was going to be a 10-minute run into the hardware store turned into having to haul away a wrecked truck and shopping for a new one.


British MRAP. Maybe my next truck?

Maybe my next truck? 

I can’t do much about my situation. My big brother was quick to remind me, “Could of, would of, should of…I don’t waste time with that self-flagellation.” But, I am sharing my pretty stupid error with you as a gentle reminder

Just because your historic military vehicle ran great when you last drove it into the garage, keep in mind that may have been days, weeks, or even months ago. A little pre-flight inspection can go a long way to preserving your investment.

I understand that if you had the sudden idea to “hop in the Jeep” to drive down to the root beer stand (or hardware store), it is hard to remember to give your vehicle a once-over before pressing the starter. If nothing else, simply repeat the Dad’s admonition as you approach your vehicle, “Tires and Brakes! Those are the only two things between you and an accident.”

Keep ‘em rolling,

John Adams-Graf

Editor Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader 

You may also enjoy

*Basic historic military vehicle maintenance

*Parking brake maintenance and service

*Brake system basics

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