When a theory or idea is put to the test or when things get serious.
Example: Tim made a small boat that he plans to use for fishing. This weekend that’s coming up is when the rubber meets the road because he’s testing the boat in the water for the first time. He hopes it will not sink.
The Origin Of ‘When The Rubber Hits The Road’
What drives on the road? Cars, of course! Well, there’s also trucks, motorcycles, and bikes too. All of these vehicles have one thing in common: they have wheels, wheels made out of rubber. So this phrase is likely referencing a car’s rubber wheels making contact with the road.
The earliest I could find of this phrase being used in a figurative way is in the mid-20th century. For example, in 1956, the newspaper Mt. Vernon Register News uses the phrase with the meaning of ‘getting serious.’ In an article the writer explains that in order to be successful in advertising for radio and TV, one has to speak their language, and 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.”
If you noticed, the expression above is written with ‘meets’ instead of ‘hits.’ That’s just another way in which this phrase is said. An early recording of this other form, where the rubber ‘hits’ the road instead of ‘meeting’ it, 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.”
- I’ve been training my body for months for this upcoming marathon, and it starts tomorrow so that is when the rubber hits the road and I find out how in shape I really am.
Tip: The origins for many common phrases and idioms are not known, which is a bit of a bummer. However, while it’s not the case for every saying, what you’ll often see are the more popular theories that are around that talk about how an expression came about. Keep in mind, though, that these are merely theories, and are not a 100% confirmation!
Additionally, the quotes you see coming from old books, plays, newspapers, and so on, are there to give you, the reader, an idea on how far back in time some of these idioms go. Consider this also: If you see a quote from William Shakespeare, and he’s using some popular expression, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the one that came up with it. Maybe he heard it from a friend, who really knows!