Up In the Air

Time off during the Holidays. Oh, how I was looking forward to spending time with the family in the Pittsburgh area. My wife and I grew up in Steeler country and it has been our family tradition that Santa comes to Pittsburgh. Well, our family has grown over the years and it was necessary for us to take two cars this year.

My wife decided to leave a week earlier than the rest of us, so Santa packed the SUV and off she went. Before she left, however, I checked the fluids, had the oil changed, checked the tire pressure and made sure general maintenance issues would not hinder the trip. She made it in record time.

I stayed behind to drive with my daughter, her husband and my granddaughter. My granddaughter is 17 months old and cute as a button (but you don't really care about this). We left at 9:30 PM for an eight hour drive so she could sleep all night...

Just an eight hour driveā€¦ Meaning that if all went well we, bloodshot eyes and all, would be talking with parents, siblings and cousins the next morning.

At 4:30 on the night of departure a winter storm rolled across Chicago and we received about five inches of snow, and another hour of freezing rain just to make sure the roads were questionable to even the bravest of souls. I drove for the first few hours and succeeded in staying on the road by following one of your drivers. Even in the worst weather, the trucks were still moving. Nonetheless, and for some strange reason, the car began swerving. It would drive just fine and then all of a sudden the right front would move left and the backend would break loose. I assumed it was the icy conditions but quickly began to realize the problem was repetitive and nearly identical each time. I thought I had a steering failure about to happen at 2:00 am in the middle of Indiana.

It was only then that I asked my kids what maintenance checks they had done on the car for the trip.

None! "Why?" they asked. Only because of reading the importance of tire pressure in this magazine and listening to experts at shows, it occurred to me that our problem might be simply solved.

We got off at the next rest stop to check the tires. Fortunately, I had put a tire gauge in each of our cars (even if this one hadn't been used lately). The back tires were at 20 psi and the fronts were 28 and 30.

Did I mention the car was fully loaded and most likely exceeding the manufacturers suggested weight? It was no wonder we were weaving all over the road.

A little preventative maintenance goes a long way. But I bet you thought the story ends here. It does and it doesn't. You know, for 75 cents you can get air on the turnpike--if it is working. The attendant was kind enough to let us go around back to where the trucks are. "The air should be working and it's free," he said.

Free is good.

But, the free air hose was not working either. The attendant was nice enough to tell us that the next rest stop was 43 miles away but that a truck stop was open down the street if I wanted to sneak out the back gate. But he made it clear that if a trooper stopped us, he knew nothing.

I snuck out. We anxiously made it to the main road without seeing any police and made our way to the truck stop where we paid our 75 cents to fill our tires at 3:00 AM.

Since everyone was now hungry, we had a meal at the 24-hour Wendy's. Once back on the turnpike, the car handled just fine.

A little preventative maintenance goes a long way, and every driver on the road should be expressing their thanks to you for the care you take in keeping your trucks safe.