When was the last time you had a flat tire on your car? It’s probably been awhile. In fact, if you’re young enough, you might never have had to open the trunk to look for the spare – or call the auto club for help, depending on your expertise.
It’s been a long time for me, too. It was the time I ran over a screw that caused a slow leak. Even that was a few years ago. It was odd having to put the spare on, the spare that was smaller than the four tires on my car and was meant as a temporary fix. (Remember that, you driver of the Chevy who was driving down the highway at high speed the other day on your tiny “doughnut” spare, all the while yapping away on your cellphone.)
Tire technology has improved greatly over the decades. Some cars today even have run-flat tires that can go for miles after they lose air. Many new cars come not with a spare but with a can of emergency sealant.
Before I was born, some cars carried two spares because of the likelihood that a rock or nail would gouge through the rubber. When I was young, I would watch my father take a wheel off his car, pry the tire off the metal wheel and pull out the inner tube to patch it. It was a laborious process, and I was not much help to my father. Sometimes his tubes appeared to be made of patches more than original rubber.
The benefit of having tubes was that we would inflate the extra ones on the weekend and drive down the road to a spot where a small river came close to the road. We would float around in snake-infested water under low-hanging branches, the closest our farming family ever got to a vacation.
When tubeless tires became prevalent, it was a loss for swimmers but a boon for drivers. Those tires kept air in them without that inner bag and were easier to replace.
It wasn’t really all that hard to change a tire, anyway. Block the wheels with rocks. Loosen the lug nuts. Jack up the bumper. Remove the nuts and pull over the lame tire. Roll the spare over to take its place and reverse the process.
Just about anybody could do it. My early cars always carried a jack and a spare, even if there was little gas in the tank and dents in the bumpers.
There are many things I miss about cars of the past: Those little vent windows that let you ventilate the car as you drove down the road. The gauges that told you your engine’s temperature and voltage instead of the “idiot lights” so prevalent today. True pillarless hardtops and convertibles instead of the sedans and SUVs we all drive now. Manual transmissions that are more fun to work than automatics. Real horn rings that were easy to hit when we needed the horn than the button on the wheel that is impossible to find in an emergency.
You will never hear me, though, long for the good old days of flat tires.