There are certainly some privileges to being female. One is that nobody ever really expects you to be able to change a flat tyre. If you’re lucky, you have your father, brother, husband, son, or male friend with you when you discover the flat, and they grumblingly take responsibility for getting the flat tyre off and replacing it with a healthier spare. If you’re unlucky and you happen to be alone… well, with a bit of distressed hand-wringing, help can usually be found. If merely the allure of helping a damsel in distress is not enough, help can sometimes be obtained with the promise of a cash reward. Sometimes, even just a smile will do.
I must confess, I haven’t often been in the unlucky situation. In ages gone by, when flats were common enough, when cars were ancient enough and tyres were often completely bald before anyone even thought of getting a new set, it was my father who changed the tyre. In those days, we always had an extra 15 minutes in hand when driving to the railway station (and it was always the railway station, never the airport, for who could afford flights back then?). And 15 minutes was all it took. If we were lucky enough to be in a taxi, then seven minutes were sufficient.
I never did much to help my father change the tyre. Usually, we women stood around and passed unhelpful and perhaps infuriating comments. Well, nothing helpful can be expected from the mouths of those who’ve no practical experience in a task.
Once we got married, it was, of course, Amit’s job to handle such eventualities. I don’t think we had flats quite as often by then. For one thing, once we were done with the family heirloom Fiat, we got a new car with new tyres. And in those days, I didn’t drive the car that much, especially not alone – if I was going somewhere on my own, I took my two-wheeler. And then tubeless tyres came along. So now you could actually drive with a punctured tyre; as long as you didn’t stop, it would be ok. My first experience with tubeless tyres was on my last bike (by which I mean, my motorcycle) and it was a relief, because motorcycles don’t even come with a spare. Which was especially great, because it also meant that you didn’t have to bother about keeping the spare tyre inflated.
So I haven’t had too many opportunities with flat tyres in recent years. And those I have had, I’ve happily passed up. I mean, like I said, nobody really expects you to be able to do it, anyway. It’s quite ok to wave one’s hands, look hapless, and summon up help.
But then again – why shouldn’t I be able to do it?
All along, I’ve had this sneaking suspicion that it would be really tough to change a flat. I didn’t think I could. But Amit has been telling me for a while that I jolly well should be able to change a flat on my own.
So here’s how things went on Friday. I was at the tennis court when I noticed that one tyre was really low on air. I started to drive back home, wondering about it. It was 7 a.m. so the chances of getting it fixed right away were nonexistent. I did manage to get it pumped up, on the way home. But I was pretty sure it was a flat. I had had my tyres checked just recently, so there was no reason for the air to be low unless it was a flat.
I resolved to change the tyre when I got home. Myself, I thought. This time, I’ll do it myself.
In fact, it was the perfect opportunity. Amit was home to help me (I mean, advise me). I was not getting late for anything more critical than work. I was already sweaty and ready for a shower. And I even had a serviceable spare.
Or did I? Actually, come to think of it, when was the last time I got that tyre inflated? And why didn’t I think of doing it when I stopped to pump up the punctured tyre just now? Well, it would just have to do.
I got home, got Amit, got a cup of coffee, and set to work. Managed to take the jack and spare tyre out of the boot. Managed, after fiddling around for a bit, to find the proper place to fix the jack. Managed to figure out, after quite a bit of head scratching, how to operate the jack. Was advised by Amit to loosen the nuts before jacking up the car, which little trick I would have never figured out on my own. And then I even actually managed to loosen the nuts on my own. Of course I used the time-honored technique of standing on the spanner. There are some advantages to being overweight, who’d have thought? Next, I struggled to place the spare on the rim, manouevred it into position, and put the nuts in. Jacked the car back down.
And found that the spare was much, much lower on air than the punctured tyre had been.
It’s not that the process thus far had been as physically strenuous as I’d feared. But I certainly didn’t fancy doing it all over again, to remove this spare. And once I did that, what then? Either walk or drive one or both of the tyres to the petrol bunk to get it (or them) inflated. Or replace the punctured tyre and drive on it.
Maybe we can pump it up with the cycle pump, I suggested.
Amit dismissed the idea out of hand, but both the alternatives were so unappealing that we tried it anyway and guess what? It worked! When I finally drove to the petrol bunk and got the tyre inflated, it was at 27 psi, compared to the ideal of 33 psi. Not bad at all, eh?
So, lessons learned: Loosen the screws before you jack up the car. Check the picture on the jack to figure out where exactly it should be placed. Make sure your spare tyre is inflated (and if not, keep a cycle pump handy). And at any rate, it’s not as tough as it looks.
Oh, and one more thing. It’s never too late to learn. Or, in other words, yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.