When I was learning to drive as a teenager, my dad ensured I knew the basic ins-and-outs of my 1988 Blazer. My brother drove the truck before me, and I’m sure many people drove it before him. The Dust Buster leaked oil all over town and was known to die if it idled too long. But for a teenager who barely passed her driver’s test and wouldn’t be traveling far, it was perfect. I learned how to use jumper cables and check and top off the oil and other fluids. Somehow, though, my lessons didn’t ever quite make it to the tires.
The Dust Buster finally croaked, and I upgraded to increasingly more reliable vehicles as I grew older. When we found out I was pregnant, I upgraded again. I didn’t want to be forever reliant on AAA to bail me out of any tire emergencies, so I knew changing a tire needed to be on my List. Unfortunately this also meant waiting on a flat tire, which seemed silly, so I went all in on rotating all four.
I started where any person in 2016 begins something new: I googled “how to rotate tires.”
And man, did I learn some things! I learned there is an actual pattern I should follow, that I don’t just switch the front tires with the backs. I learned that in America, we tend to take left turns faster than right turns, and that the the front tires carry 60% of the vehicle’s weight. I learned that it was not recommended to use the jack that came with the vehicle, as that is typically included for emergency use only. I learned good car jacks cost about $100, and that I would need jack stands for about $30. I learned I wasn’t sure if my car had rear-wheel, front-wheel, or all-wheel drive and that directional tires are a thing.
I stared at my computer screen completely discouraged and overwhelmed. I almost gave up for the first of many times throughout this experience.
Generally, I am a terrible problem solver. If my plan or idea doesn’t work the first time, I will either give up immediately or do the same thing over and over until I become unreasonably upset and then give up. Either way, I’m giving up. I knew one of my goals for this Thing should be to fight this tendency to its death.
And so I began problem solving, one step at a time. I took my notebook out to my car and immediately saw the “4WD” emblem. First problem solved. Nailed it. My owner’s manual detailed the recommended rotation pattern (a rearward cross). I googled the name of my tires and found out they were non directional (which I learned probably wasn’t relevant but good to know anyway). I still had the issue of the jack and the jack stands, but I figured I could just plug the spare tire in the first tire, then rotate them all around and end with the spare again, securing it back in its hole in the back of the car. Brains! Problem solving! I was doing it!
With the help of YouTube’s Tool Dude Tony and the Art of Manliness, I felt ready to begin. Shoutout to any one else who has watched mechanic videos on YouTube while hooked up to a breast pump.
“How to Fix Sh#t 101” said this was an easy 15-minute job that would save me some money. Let’s all go ahead and laugh at that.
My first victory came when the car was jacked up and the first tire came off. It amazed me that a few small tools and I had lifted a large vehicle off of the ground. It felt awesome. Before then, I’d always been the damsel in distress waiting for my AAA hero or knight of a husband to come rescue me. I wouldn’t have to be that any more. It took much longer than I had anticipated because I had forgotten to use my brain again. The picture on the car jack showed the long rod-like screw being loosened with pliers. I thought this was dumb, but had pliers in the garage, so I grabbed them and went to work. Forty-five minutes later, my knuckles were bloodied and I had basically stripped the screw. There was no way this could be the efficient way to do this. It was another setback and another time I wanted to give up. This is wear the pink bandana becomes important. If Rosie the Riveter could do it, so could I. I was tough and adorable because look! I’m wearing a pink bandana! And oh my gosh the lug wrench fits the screw on the jack as well as the lug nuts… face palm.
The process continued smoothly (Rafe did wake up early from his nap with the help of his furry big brother, but with a little more rocking he went back to sleep). Until the third tire.
Those lug nuts were not moving. I used every muscle in my body, everything I know about lifting weight safely. Not a single budge.
I’m not sure how long I fought those lug nuts. Of the five on the tire, three of them were stuck. I kept thinking that I even if I got one loosened, there would still be two more. I was sweaty, hungry, thirsty, and had to pee. I was afraid if I went back into the house, I would wake up the baby and be forced to abandon the project completely. I clenched my phone in my hand fighting the urge to yet again call AAA. Parts of my car were strewn all over my driveway. I had grease and dirt all over me. The whole scene was ridiculous. But maybe if I slipped the the guy a twenty he wouldn’t laugh at me and promise not to tell him buddies. I imagined Big Rafe coming home from a long day at work and being frustrated at the mess I had made.
Again, I fought my urge to give up.
In the movie The Martian, Matt Damon’s character is faced with a big problem. Yes, I’m equating being stuck on Mars all alone with having a stuck lug nut. He takes a step back from his problem and uses his brain until he comes up with a solution, then delivers one of my favorite lines of any movie ever: “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option: I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”
I owe my knowledge of this science to my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Leep and her intriguing unit on simple machines. I had a piece of PVC pipe that fit nicely over the lug wrench, increasing the length of the lever, giving me more torque (did I use all those words correctly?). A bit of oomph and I had scienced the shit out of all three lug nuts.
The next tire went great and the last one was just replacing the spare where I had started.
Three and a half hours later, I had rotated my tires for the first time. More than that, I fought my urge to give up to its death. The rest of that day, I felt unstoppable. I am still pretty sure there’s nothing I can’t accomplish as long as I have my brain and Matt Damon.
**I also want to add that the baby took a record-smashing four hour nap this day. He woke up about five minutes after I got out of the shower. God bless him.