Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Truth About Tires

I was in high school the first time I ever changed a flat. It was on my grandma’s 1965 Ford Galaxy, and as I jacked it up, my imagination took over and I was on the crew of a Nascar racing team. The tire was changed in under fifteen minutes, and I was filled with pride as I drove off.

But my bubble quickly burst when the car started wobbling like a cow with a hurt leg. I stopped driving, and discovered that I hadn’t screwed a couple of the lug nuts tight enough. Nothing was damaged, but I had failed one of the biggest tests of a farm boy’s life.

It became the truth to me; that I was ignorant when it came to working with my hands. I was the runt of six boys, and would never be as gifted as my older brothers were at changing a tire. All of them could do so flawlessly with their eyes closed, while simultaneously eating a plate lunch, dribbling a basketball and shooting a bird out of the sky.

So for the next several years, fearing that my incompetence might be revealed, I stepped back any time a flat presented itself. This was surprisingly easy to do, because there was always someone else around ready to take care of it. Either they knew of my disgraceful first attempt, or they too were imagining being on a Nascar tire changing crew.

But a couple of weeks ago, I had to face my fear head on. My momma and I had just gotten back from running errands in her car, when I noticed that there was a flat on the back of mine.

“You told me that you used to pick cotton when you were a little girl,” I said to my momma as we stared at the flat. “I don’t guess during that time you learned how to change a tire?”

“We didn’t have a car then,” she said. “I can show you how to change a wagon wheel.”

I thanked my momma for her generous offer, but knew I had to face the flat alone. So for forty-five minutes of self-doubt, I clumsily changed the tire as I thought back to all the times I watched someone else do it. My hands were dirty, my face was sweaty, and I think I swallowed a pebble. But at the end, I changed it.

The next morning my momma and I drove to Kaplan so I could get my flat tire fixed. As she sipped on a soft drink, I tightly held the steering wheel wondering if I’d done everything correctly. My biggest fear was that the spare would fall off and the car would suddenly drop to the ground, causing both shame and my mother’s Diet Cherry Coke to splash all over me.

I made it to Big D and Little F Tire Center successfully, but needed reassurance from a professional that I hadn’t endangered people’s lives. So I confided in a man named Rufus Harrington as he jacked up the car.

“I was a little scared that I put the spare on wrong,” I said. “Did I do everything right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s fine.”

It wasn’t an A+ or a sticker with a smiling face, but I felt proud for getting the seal of approval from him. It inspired me to learn more, and so I revealed my ignorance, and asked him about the best place to put a jack.

“It depends on the car,” he said. “Some of them, like yours, have grooves that the jack fits into. If they don’t, you want to put it under something solid, or it could cause damage.”

I felt smarter when I left, but realized that there was so much more to learn. So a week later, armed with my pad and pencil, I went back to Big D and Little F and interviewed the owner, Davis Harrington.

“The D stands for Davis, and the Little F is for my daughter, Francesca,” says Harrington. “It’s always been my dream to have my own business, so when this opportunity became available, I went for it.”

Started in 2005, Big D and Little F sells both new and used tires. Their services include 24-hour roadside assistance, and repairing, rotating and balancing tires.

“The biggest mistake people make when changing their own tires is starting the lug nuts wrong,” says Harrington. “This can strip the threading on the stud, and it will need to be replaced.”

According to Harrington, the best tire for your automobile is the one suggested in the manual or on the interior of the door. The wrong size or model can negatively affect gas mileage, and cause an inaccurate speed odometer reading.

“You should rotate your tires every 3,000 miles or whenever you get your oil changed,” says Harrington. “People also need to pay attention to their spares. If it’s a small one kept in the trunk, check the air pressure in it every two to three months. If it’s a big one exposed to the outdoor elements like in the bed of a truck, it may dry rot after a few years.”

Rufus Harrington, Davis’ brother, and the man who’d given me the seal of approval on my tire changed, brought my information-gathering interview to the next level. With a machine that looked like the child of a giant pair of pliers and a fancy walnut-cracking device, he showed me how to remove the tire rubber from the rim. Although I can’t explain the process to you, rest assured that unless you have one of these machines, it’s not information you’re going to use too often.

By the end of my visit with the Harrington brothers, confidence had filled me. I would probably never run a tire business or challenge any of my brothers to a competition. But I gained knowledge and something else even more important; the truth that unless you give up trying, you never truly fail.

For more information on the products and services offered by Big D Little F Tire Center, call 337-643-8310. For 24 hour roadside assistance, 337-652-0447.

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