Not Born Yesterday

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Sense and the Single Girl

We Can Do It!

You may have heard that real men don't eat quiche, and real women don't pump gas. A new insurance survey says we don't change tires, either. Only half the women surveyed had ever changed a tire, compared to 90 percent of the men. Why? One suggestion is that we don't like to get our knees dirty.

Oh, please. We have just as much sense as men when it comes to doing what needs to be done. Women by the thousands rolled up their sleeves and went to work in the factories making ships and planes during World War II. "Rosie the Riveter," whose motto was "We can do it!" didn't mind getting her knees dirty.

My father taught me how to change a tire and do simple car maintenance before I went away to college. You couldn't always count on having a man around, he warned, and you shouldn't depend on strangers, even if they are eager to help.

Today's woman carries a cell phone. Now if her car is disabled the first thing she might do is to call her husband for help. But what if she doesn't have a husband? The single girl still needs to look after herself on many occasions, and changing a tire is one test of our competence. What about the Auto Club? Roadside emergency service is available, provided you belong, and provided there is good cell phone coverage where you've had a flat.

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Yet knowing how to change a tire yourself, rather than calling a tow truck, can avoid an auto insurance claim and possibly a raise in rates when you renew your policy.

But back to the survey. A thousand men and a similar number of women were asked about their ability to deal with simple car-related maintenance. All were married homeowners, and that might account for the answers they gave. In most cases, wives rely on their husbands to deal with maintenance of the family car, so they may never have learned how. Why didn't they ask single women instead of married ones? Or at least some of each?

I don't claim to know a lot about cars, but I do know how to check the tire pressure and everything under the hood. I could probably still change a tire, too, if necessary, though it's been a long time, and I might be flummoxed by those dinky little spares, like oversized doughnuts. How do they work? (When all else fails, read the Owners Manual in the glove compartment!)

While even a diminutive woman can do minor maintenance, today's tires and steel wheels can be heavy, and the lug nuts are often tightened with power tools in garages, making changing a tire a challenge for many of us. That's still no excuse for not knowing how  to do it.

The survey suggests that women's unfamiliarity with emergency repairs may be a sign of the times. Eighty percent of drivers over 55 said they had changed a tire at some point in their lives, compared to only half under the age of  55.

Another conclusion drawn by analysts of the survey is that American car culture remains stubbornly male. That's no surprise. Advertising is mainly geared toward men, giving women the idea that they don't need to know much about cars.

All these years later I am still grateful to my father for teaching me how to change a tire and do minor car maintenance. He was right. You can't always depend on a man to do it for you. My husband knew less about cars than I did.

E. E. Smith is a playwright and book author. Her new series of murder mysteries debuted in 2013. The first is titled Death by Misadventure. 

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