When The Rubber Hits The Road


1. A theory or idea that is put to the test to see if it actually works.

Example: Tim built a small fishing boat, but he is unsure if it will float. This weekend, however, is when the rubber meets the road because he plans to put the boat on water for the first time.

2. When things become serious.

Example: We are going up against a basketball team with a winning record. I hope we are ready; this is where the rubber hits the road.

In terms of ‘becoming serious’:
1. Buckle down
2. Knuckle down
3. Pull out all the stops

When the rubber hits the road, car wheel on side road.
iStock.com / JasonDoiy
The rubber wheel of this car is about to meet the road.

The Origin Of ‘When The Rubber Hits The Road’

What do cars, trucks, and motorcycles all have in common? Many things! For example, they are all vehicles, they drive on the road, and they all have wheels made out of… rubber! Yes, this phrase seems to be referencing the rubber wheels of a vehicle hitting, or making contact, with the road.

Of note, John Boyd Dunlop is considered to be the first person to invent the rubber wheel in 1888. Therefore, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that this expression originated sometime after that year, right?

So what is the earliest example of this idiom in print? The earliest I could find is from the year 1956, in a newspaper called the Mt. Vernon Register News:

“How much is it going to cost?:

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

Notice in the quote how the expression is written with the word ‘meets’ instead of ‘hits.’ This is another way the phrase is said. An early recording of this other common 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 Sentences

  • I’ve been training two months for this upcoming marathon. It starts tomorrow, so that is when the rubber hits the road and I finally get to see if my preparations paid off.

Similar Examples (as in ‘taken seriously’):

  • I need to rake up thousands of leaves in my backyard; no more delays, it’s time to buckle down and do this.
  • Her kids lacked a nutritious diet, so she knuckled down and changed that.

Tip: There are more commonly used phrases on here for you to see and read about. ‘But where are they?’ you might ask. Well, all you have to do is scroll up; there is a menu at the top. After you pick a letter from the menu, you should be taken to a list of phrases. From there, start exploring!