Submitted by ceilming  •  October 16, 2004

rubber meets the road?

Could someone explain to me the meaning of “when rubber meets the road?”

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Spock is correct. As far as tires go, they are always on the road... Where it happens is where the "magic" is.

What about, "where the metal meets the meat"?

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Wow!
I had the same question.
Thanks everyone.

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"When the rubber hits the road" is irrelevant.
"WHERE the rubber hits the road" is the true expression with meaning.

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Don't mean to help hijack the thread, but I always understood "when the shit hits the fan" to mean something like "the moment when the consequences of someone's inept or stupid actions are visited upon everyone in the area, including innocent bystanders."

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"Where the rubber meets the road" and "When the shit hits the fan" have entirely different meanings.

"Where the rubber meets the road" refers to the real heart of the matter, what's most important. For example, "In a good sound system, where the rubber meets the road is the speakers."

"When the shit hits the fan" refers to inevitable chaos or turmoil, when things get messy or out of control. For example, "He's fine when business is slow, but when the shit hits the fan he's nowhere to be seen."

I don't think I've ever heard or used the expression "WHEN the rubber meets the road." A Google search returns about 53,000 hits for "WHERE the...," while a search for "WHEN the..." returns fewer that 5,000.

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I think the same as Frank.

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I think it's the same thing as saying "when the shit hits the fan".

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No, I've heard it most often as "when," too. It must derive from the "where" version. I work for a large (multinational) organization, too.

The way "when the rubber hits the road" is used is to mean the same thing as "when the chips are down" or "when the going gets tough, the tough get going." In other words, "the crucial moment of action."

pardon the choppy style. Four fifths of my brain is attending exclusively to Beethoven's Eighth, and eight ninths of the rest to looking out for the boss...

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I think you're right. It's hard to expound on the meaning of idioms when they're considered abstractly, outside a particular context.

I was thinking of it by analogy to "when the shit hits the fan", but I think that was misleading.

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I beg to differ. Where (not when) the rubber meets the road is where the real work happens. Implication is that the rest of the car -- rear window, seat belts, radio, etc. -- is less relevant to motion than the tires moving down the road. Is routinely used in large organizations to remind senior managers (this is particularly true in the US federal government) that where the organization deals with its customers is where the rubber meets the road. Is there a simple example, hmmm? Um, the people who process applications for social security and mail out checks are where the rubber meets the road, and the HR dept or receptionists are (important, don't get me wrong, but) less relevant to the impact of that mission on customers.

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Usually "when the rubber hits the road" refers to the moment when something happens to make a situation become volatile.

For example, if I accidentally spilled coffee all over my mom's favourite rug, I'd say, "When Mom gets home, the rubber'll really hit the road!", i.e. she'll find out and get mad.

Presumably the metaphor is something to do with car tyres -- perhaps the friction/heat caused by the rubber when a car sets off on the road?

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