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Why women don't change tires

By Karen Aho Posted : 06/11/2014

Insurance.com car care survey resultsWomen apparently don't see a reason to kneel in the mud. According to a newly released survey by Insurance.com, only half of female drivers said they had changed a tire before, and a third said they wouldn't even know how.

By contrast, nine out of 10 men said they had changed a tire, with only 6 percent admitting they didn't know how.

"There was a time before cell phones when you had to know how to do these things," Insurance.com Managing Editor Des Toups says. "Even now, knowing how to change a tire rather than call emergency road service could keep you from making an auto insurance claim."

The car insurance comparison website asked 1,000 men and 1,000 women about their abilities to deal with car-related maintenance and problems. These also included checking the oil, jump-starting a car and checking a tire's air pressure. All the respondents were married homeowners with children.

While men bested women in all four areas, the greatest discrepancy was in changing tires.

Could it have something to do with the strength required? That's what Jennifer Newman, an assistant managing editor at Cars.com, wonders.

"I thought, Oh my God, I'm one of these women: I've never changed a tire," says Newman, who could recall having only two flats. "Both of these times I was in a big SUV and just trying to loosen the nuts on the wheels, I couldn't even get them loose. … I called my husband."

Garages use power air wrenches and often tighten lug nuts beyond the recommended torque. Newman's 200-plus-pound husband had to stand on the wrench to jimmy the nuts loose. "If he's struggling, then certainly I'm going to struggle with it," she says.

And once the nuts are off, there's the matter of maneuvering the tire. The entire wheel component can weigh 45 to 80 pounds, says Sarah Robinson, a technical marketing manager for Michelin.

"The steel wheels that come on a lot of base model cars are very, very heavy," she says. "When you consider the rim weight, it's not easy."

Nonetheless, these aren't good reasons for all drivers to not at least know how to change a tire, say these and other female auto professionals. Cell phones aren't always in range, strangers can't always be relied upon, and multiple claims on your auto insurance for towing or emergency road service can eventually affect your rates.

"I'm a little surprised that more women don't say they know how to do it," says Newman, noting that women today influence 80 percent of car-buying decisions and clearly are well-versed in other aspects of preventative auto care.

Sisters are doing it for themselves, mostly

The Insurance.com data largely bears this out, with a majority of women professing to other regular maintenance checks. The survey found that:

  • 78 percent of women had checked their car's oil, compared with 93 percent of men; only 13 percent of women said they didn't know how to check the oil, compared to 4 percent of men.
  • 76 percent of women have checked the air pressure in their tires, compared with 93 percent of men; 15 percent of women said they didn't know how to, compared to 4 percent of men.
  • 65 percent of women said they had jump-started a car, compared with 88 percent of men; 26 percent of women said they didn't know how to jump-start a car, compared to 7 percent of men.
  • In a roadside emergency, women were most likely to call their spouse (58 percent) or roadside assistance (27 percent); men were slightly more likely to call roadside assistance (38 percent) than their spouse (31 percent).

That so many women aren't familiar with emergency repairs may also be a sign of the times.

In the Insurance.com survey, only 60 percent of all drivers under age 55 said they had changed a tire, whereas 80 percent of those 55 or older had.

"People always believe, 'I've got my cell phone, I'll be fine'," says Robinson.

You don't have to love it

Meanwhile, American car culture remains stubbornly male.

"A lot of the information that's out there seems to be geared toward men: the manner in which it's written, the pictures that are used, the terminology," says TerriAnn van Gosliga, editor of DrivingMamas.com. "You still have these scantily dressed women modeling these cars. How often do you see a half-dressed, ripped guy lying on a car?"

Van Gosliga created her own downloadable instruction cards on emergency repair after she said she was unable to find simple graphics online that would appeal to women.

"There are a lot of women who think you have to be really into cars to know these things. You don't," she says. "It's OK and it's good to learn about these things. It doesn't mean you're all of a sudden a motorhead."

Besides, these women say, self-reliance is contagious. Robinson, who races cars in her free time, always included roadside repair in the teenage driving courses she taught.

"I've seen the tiniest 15- or 16-year-old girl muster up the strength to change her own tire," she says. "It's just working smarter not harder… and having the determination to do it."

"When they realized, OK, I can actually change my own tire, there was a sense of accomplishment there," she says.

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