Kids growing up in rural Midwestern towns with a lot of gravel roads develop a certain proficiency at changing tires. You tend to get really, really good at it at a young age, particularly if you’re a kid like I was.
My parents ran the local livestock auction in Leon, Iowa, and we used an old, beat-up International pickup truck (it was made by the old International truck manufacturer) to run along all of the auction’s alleyways and bring feed to the cattle. That truck always picked up sharp gravel and nails. Always.
We often had to replace the tires two or three times a month, and naturally we would have a load in the back when we got the flat. That meant unloading the truck, changing the tire, reloading it and then carrying on with the day’s work. Man, it took longer to unload and reload that truck than it did to change the darn tire.
I was probably 16 or 17 the first time I changed a tire. I was pretty good at it, and I did it the right way–no shortcuts. I would never recommend shortcuts, because they can make a bad situation worse. (Just imagine a poorly secured spare tire coming off on the freeway. Enough said.)
It was common for kids to know how to change a tire in those days, especially out in the country. There was no such thing as a cellphone, so if you had a flat and couldn’t change it, you had to walk down the road and knock on someone’s door.
When I was a bit older and had my kids, I tried to teach them all how to do it. But I also quickly learned that the success of this enterprise can depend on the kid. My boys are more than 6 feet tall and physically strong. I also have a daughter who’s 5-foot-3…and they’e each very handy. However, while I’d like for her to know how to change a tire, I’m also very aware of safety issues for a young woman… especially in unfamiliar areas at night.
So I’ll share with you what I’ve told my own kids. For starters, always carry the appropriate safety gear in your vehicle; important items include a flashlight, extra batteries and a jack. Make sure to check on your spare tire, as well. Too frequently, a driver has a flat tire and heads for the trunk, only to discover that the spare is flat or missing. Not good.
Next, be part of a motor club, whether it’s an independent organization or a program that’s affiliated with your auto insurer, like Allstate Roadside Assistance. That way, if you don’t feel comfortable with your location or with the task at hand, you can simply make a phone call and wait in your car or in a nearby diner or gas station until help arrives.
Finally: Always have a game plan. Think about what steps you’ll take if you have a flat tire, or any sort of car trouble at all. Then, when things go pear-shaped, you won’t panic and can simply launch your plan.
It’s so important for young people to know what to do if they have trouble on the road, even if it’s just a matter of knowing that it’s OK to call home for a ride if something has gone wrong. Parents and kids need to have an understanding, particularly as those kids get to driving age and young adulthood. Let them know what your expectations are, give them the tools they need to be successful, and reassure them that you’re always just a phone call away.