FORT HOOD, Texas - It was April 2005, and I was preparing for my first permanent change of station move to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., from Fort Bragg, N.C. During my monthly checks of my 1999 GMC Sonoma pick-up, I noticed my brakes would soon need replacing. Since I was about to take a long drive across the country, I figured I would replace the front and back brake components beforehand. I had no idea how much that preventive maintenance would later pay off.

After the repairs were complete, my best friend, who had flown in from Phoenix, and I set out on our cross-country adventure. On our first day, we took our time and stopped at a few places along the way, never in too much of a hurry. The second day of our trip put us on the long, open stretch between San Antonio and El Paso, Texas, where there's nothing but open fields and highway. Little did we know we were about to face what we in the military call a "significant emotional event."

While traveling along I-10 at the posted speed limit, we came upon a semi-truck in the right lane in front of us. The truck driver was traveling under the speed limit, so I decided to pass him. We entered the left lane well behind the truck to ensure the driver could see us, and proceeded to pass. We'd just made it up to the cab when it everything went wrong.

The driver suddenly decided he wanted to be in our lane and started to move over. My friend noticed the truck encroaching upon us and told me to watch out. I laid on the horn to let the driver know he was drifting toward us, but he continued into our lane. At this point, we were traveling at a rate that would not allow us to speed up or slow down sufficiently to clear the truck. Our only option was to hit the median at 65 mph!

I veered off the road and stomped on the brakes. The brakes groaned and clacked for what seemed like forever until my little red pickup finally came to a stop in a cloud of dust and dry grass. As the dust -- and our hearts -- settled, we realized we'd come to rest about 100 or so feet from where the median dropped into a two-lane underpass. We looked at each other and got out of the vehicle to settle our nerves and see if there was any damage to my truck. Satisfied that everything seemed to be in good order, we got back in the truck and continued our trip to Phoenix without incident.

Had I not inspected my truck before I left Fort Bragg, I wouldn't have noticed the brake system needed servicing and might not have been able to stop in time when the semi cut us off. Just as we require regular inspection and servicing of our military vehicles, equipment and aircraft, we must also inspect our privately owned vehicles and motorcycles just as thoroughly. Regular POV inspection and servicing can prevent you and the ones you love from being another highway statistic. Here are a few tips to ensure your personal vehicle is up to snuff:

•Follow the manufacturer's scheduled service intervals. Even older vehicles have items that should be inspected and serviced after so many miles or months.

•Set up a personal inspection schedule (a car day) to catch problems in-between regularly scheduled maintenance.

•Have a supervisor inspect your vehicle prior to any trip. This means not just "checking the block" and having them sign a false inspection.

•Regardless if you are mechanically inclined, if something feels or sounds wrong with your vehicle, get it checked out by a qualified mechanic.

•If you do decide to do the work yourself, ensure you use the correct parts for your vehicle and the required torque for all fastening hardware.

Regular POV and POM inspection and servicing exists for a reason. Do not let your vehicle leave you stranded on the side of the road or, worse, six feet in the ground. Take care of your ride and it'll take care of you.