Changing a Flat

The most I have ever paid for a car is $4,000. The six other cars I've gone through over the years each cost about $1,000 or less. Every one of them was a bargain, but involved a bit more maintenance than newer cars.

I've never driven on a new tire in my life, and the old ones have given me my share of roadside adventures over the years. As a public service, I've compiled a list of advice about changing flat tires.

* Always have a four-way steel lug wrench in your car. That flimsy wrench-like object that comes with the car is about as reliable as a drummer in a funk band.

* Always consult the manual to find where the jack slot is. Auto manufacturers NEVER make the slot easy to find, and it ALWAYS is in a different spot than it was with the previous car you had. Finding the jack slot is not at all like having sex. You can't just slide up and down until you find the right spot. If you are in a hurry and try jacking up from any old surface under the car, the jack will ALWAYS slip and you will have to start over after getting up and referring to the manual anyway.

* Understand from the very beginning that there is NO CHANCE that you will change your flat tire without lying down on the filthy street at some point. Changing a flat is not a stand-up-and-bend-over job. If you try to avoid lying down because you are dressed in pretty clothes, you are just wasting time. Either resign to getting your clothes dirty right away, or leave your car where it is and call for professional help.

* If you keep a lot of stuff in your trunk, be prepared to hate yourself when you get a flat. Whatever you will not be taking out to help change the flat will become a major annoyance as you wrestle to keep it out of the way while you wiggle your spare out of its tight compartment.

* Most importantly, you should know that every fifth time you get a flat, one of the lug nuts will be stripped. When that happens, you are totally helpless and should immediately give up.

Paul Lundgren is a newspaper columnist and a very nice man. He wrote the sexual metaphor in the fourth paragraph on purpose, but the rest were happy accidents. His e-mail address is paul [at] geekprom.com.