CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 WARREN “BENNY” EZELL
A Company, 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion
Louisiana Army National Guard
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Like many Soldiers, I purchased my “deployment gift” while on rotation — a new suspension lift for my 4x4 pickup. I’d installed several of these on some of my previous vehicles, as well as for some friends, so doing my own maintenance wasn’t foreign to me. Still, I know that all the experience in the world won’t save you if you fail to incorporate safety into the job.
I started by doing my research on the project and gathering all the appropriate tools I’d need to install the lift kit. I also doubled-checked the weight of my vehicle and compared it to the ratings for the floor jack and jack stands I would be using. Since our driveway had a significant incline and wasn’t safe for this type of work, I’d be doing the installation in my mother-in-law’s garage. The only problem was I wouldn’t be able to close the garage door because my truck was just a little too long. This put some pressure on me to get the job done as quickly as possible.
I started by raising the truck on the jack stands. I felt that everything was secure, but then I recalled the words of my old motor sergeant: “Specialist, you better rock that thing back and forth before you crawl under it." I chuckled to myself and rocked the truck back and forth and side to side. Knowing with certainty that the truck was secure, I got to work.
I followed along with the instructions on my tablet, and everything was going great on the left side. However, when I moved over to the right side, I discovered the lower ball joint was wearing out. I figured I’d work on that problem once I changed the suspension, which went quickly after a friend stopped by to help.
Once the suspension was complete, my buddy left and I began to address the worn-out ball joint. After some quick research on the lower ball joint removal and installation process, I went to an auto parts store to get what I needed to finish the job. The guys at the store were kind enough to loan me a ball joint press. I removed the ball joint quickly but installing the new part with the press attached didn’t give me the clearance I needed to clear the clamp with the concrete floor. I would have to adjust the jack stands to a new height to make room for the C-frame press.
During the process of lifting and adjusting the jack stands, I ran into another problem — they wouldn’t be tall enough unless extended all the way. I wasn’t comfortable with this, but I found a way around it by putting the stands on the cross tubes that ran to the front of the transmission. The tubes were thick, round and fit perfectly in the notch on the jack stands. I lifted one side and then the other. It was time now to check my clearance to see if my adjustments would work with the C-frame.
I reached for my tools and the clamp, but once again my motor sergeant’s voice popped into my head. So, I rocked the truck back and forth, ensuring everything was secure. As I knelt next to the truck to start working, I realized I didn’t rock the truck side to side, so I grabbed the step rails and pushed.
The truck immediately slipped off one of the jack stands and came crashing to the garage floor. I jumped back and just stared at my truck leaning over on its side, the lower control arm now resting on the busted concrete. My wife and mother-in-law rushed out of the house to see what had happened. Fortunately, I wasn’t injured and there wasn’t any damage to my truck or jack stands. Only my ego — and the concrete floor — was bruised.
Working with jacks and jack stands can be dangerous if you fail to incorporate risk management. Here are some do’s and don’ts for whenever you’re performing maintenance underneath your vehicle:
- Do place the jack stands under the part of the vehicle near the floor jack.
- Do find the proper place to position the jack for your particular vehicle; check your owner's manual. If you don't have a manual, ask the service department at your dealership to show you the proper placement. If your manual isn’t comprehensive or lacks jack placement information, try to place the jack so it touches either the vehicle's frame or the big bar that supports the front wheel suspension.
- Do rock the vehicle back and forth and side to side to ensure it is resting securely on the jack stands. If it moves at all, reevaluate the situation.
- Do choose a flat, smooth, concrete surface. Asphalt can be troublesome, especially in the warmer season because the jack stands can sink into the softer surface with a ton or more bearing down on them. Dirt is the worst possible choice.
- Don’t get under the vehicle before checking the stability of the jack stands.
- Don’t use wood or other materials between the jack stands and the vehicle frame for extra height. They can slip out or break while you're under the car.
- Don’t use the floor jack without jack stands. The rubber seals could fail, causing the vehicle to come crashing down.
- Don’t jack up a vehicle without blocking the wheels after securing them on the jack stand. Do not rely on the parking brake or the park gear position either.
For more information on jack safety, visit http://www.military.com/off-duty/autos/how-to-use-a-jack.html.
If you think what happened to the author is a rare event, you’re wrong. Over the past decade, there have been several reported off-duty and on-duty mishaps involving jacks and jack stands. In one incident, a Soldier was killed while performing maintenance on an M1114. The vehicle fell off the bottle jacks, pinning the Soldier underneath.