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I was out picking up a headlight bulb and some washer fluid for the car this morning. When I came out of the store, there was an older couple in the parking spot next to me. He had his cane leaning up on their car, and was working away at jacking up the left front corner to deal with the obviously flat tire there.

He looked like he could use some help, so I offered it. He declined, but I couldn't go any where with him working, so I hung around a minute. When he got up to take a break, I jumped in and took over the jacking. Got their Focus up just high enough to get the wheel off, then took it over to their pickup truck and set it in there for him.

While I did that, he proceeded to pick up his lug nuts and the couple of tools he had out. He opened the door to set them inside the car, and leaned on it a bit as he did so. That was just enough.

The car rolled forward a few inches, pushing the jack over. It fell with that awful "thunk" sound you never want to hear.

We had been taking the front tire off of a front wheel drive car. With one wheel off the ground, being in park no longer meant anything. Dollars to donuts, the parking brake wasn't set. (Sometimes it feels like I'm the only person I know who still uses it.) And, of course, there were no wheel chocks in place.

The good news is that no one was injured. The couple seemed oblivious to the potential disaster that we witnessed. I was startled, knowing I had been working right there less than a minute ago. With a hand in the wrong place, either of us could have lost a finger or an entire hand when the car fell.

The point here is that safety never takes a minute off. I am religious about safety when jacking a car up at home. Wheel chocks are right at hand and are installed at every wheel that's not leaving the ground. The parking brake is always on anyway, but I double check it before jacking. I think about - and prepare for - the car moving a bit when I lift a drive wheel.

But when jumping in to help out this couple, safety never crossed my mind. I didn't check anything. I just started jacking. That was a big mistake that missed being a disaster by sheer dumb luck.

Please be careful out there. Even when you're not at your usual place.

--Peter
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