When The Rubber Hits The Road

Meaning:

1. When a theory or idea is put to the test to see if it actually works.

​Example: Tim built a small boat that he plans to use for fishing, but he’s unsure if it will float or not. This weekend is when the rubber meets the road because that is when he will test it on the water for the first time.

2. When things become serious.

Example: We are about to face an experienced team, they actually have a perfect record, so I hope you’re ready. This is where the rubber hits the road.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
Other phrases that mean “to get serious”:
1. Knuckle down
2. Pull out all the stops
3. Buckle down
When the rubber hits the road, car wheel on side road.
The rubber wheel of a car about to meet the road.

The Origin Of ‘When The Rubber Hits The Road’

Pop quiz! What drives on the road? Cars, of course! And yes, there are trucks, motorcycles, and bikes driving out there as well. Do you know the one thing all of these vehicles have in common? They have wheels, wheels made out of rubber. Thus, it seems highly likely that this phrase is referencing a car’s rubber wheels making contact with the road.

So… John Boyd Dunlop is considered to be the first one to invent the rubber wheel in 1888. Which means this phrase must have originated sometime after that year, right?

The earliest I could find this phrase (with its figurative meaning) is in the mid-20th century. For example, it makes an appearance in a 1956 newspaper called the Mt. Vernon Register News. To give some context for he following quote, the writer of the article explains that in order to be successful in advertising for radio and TV, one has to speak their language. He then he goes on to list a “collection of stylized phrases” that advertising men might use:

“How much is it going to cost?:

‘Let’s get down to where the rubber meets the road.”

Notice that the expression in the quote is written with the word “meets” instead of the word “hits.” This is simply another way to say this phrase; both versions are commonly used. An early recording of this other form (where the rubber “hits” the road) appears in The Modern American Usage: A Guide by Wilson Follet, first published in 1966:

“Lately, speakers of weak imagination have taken to saying ‘where the rubber hits the road’, evoking an image of cars falling or bouncing.”


Example Sentence(s)

  • I’ve had months of training for this upcoming marathon. It starts tomorrow, so that’s when the rubber hits the road and I finally get to see how prepared I really am.

Tip: While it’s a bit of a bummer, sometimes it’s unclear where these commonly used phrases and sayings come from. Yeah, and if their origin is unknown, what you might see on the page instead are theories that talk about how the expression came about. Keep in mind, though, that these are merely theories.
 
Additionally, the quotes on the page containing the expression usually are taken from old books or newspapers. Their purpose is to give you, the reader, an idea on how far back in time the expression goes.