Spare tyre - Stepney

Why is a spare tyre called a ‘Stepney’?

If you’ve driven in India long enough, you’ve probably heard the word ‘stepney change’ once in a while. ‘Stepney’ is a colloquial term used in India (and some former British colonies) for the spare tyre of a car. Notably, this peculiar term isn’t commonly used to describe a spare wheel in modern-day England. Read on to trace the history behind the ‘stepney’ wheel and how Indians came to adopt the British slang term in their own everyday language.

The story of the stepney

Until the early 1900s, all motor cars were manufactured without spare wheels. Hence, a puncture was an event dreaded by all drivers. Note that wheels back then were bulky metal or wood constructs unlike today. Thomas Morris Davies found a solution to their concerns by inventing a spare wheel. His brilliant idea was to make a spoke-less metal wheel rim fitted with an inflated tyre. The driver simply had to clamp it to the rim of the wheel that had a flat. Davies teamed up with his brother and they were soon in business. They called their invention, the Stepney Spare Wheel, after the location of their workshop in Stepney Street*, Llanelli, Wales.

Pretty soon, the brothers became very wealthy men and set up their ‘stepney’ outlets across Britain. They further marketed their wheel all over Europe and to the colonies of the British Empire. The Stepney wheel became such a resounding success that they were seen on nearly every car on the road.  Eventually, the term ‘stepney’ became synonymous with a spare wheel in many countries like India.

All good things come to an end

The days of the patented spare wheel slowly came to a close as car manufacturers began providing spare wheels with all new cars. The actual business is said to have died out sometime after the 1st World War. However, the brand name lived on long after the last original ‘stepney’ wheel was made.

Stepney today

Today, as mentioned, ‘stepney’ is an everyday name for a spare wheel in India. For British people today, Stepney only means the London suburb. Interestingly, stepney has evolved even further in India to refer to an incompetent employee who drags his team back and even as a slang term for one’s mistress!

*A street named after a prosperous English family who moved to Wales from London and derived their surname from an east London suburb called Stepney. The word has had an interesting linguistic journey!

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About Rescue 24/7 Roadside Assistance Bangalore

What is Roadside Assistance?

A guide to Roadside Assistance, its origins and history.

Roadside Assistance or Breakdown Assistance is an assortment of vehicle services that primarily assist motorists who are stranded on the road. The aim of Roadside Assistance is to get the vehicle moving again after fixing the issue on the spot, either to the original destination or to the nearest service station in case of a major issue.

Roadside Assistance could be described as a form of vehicle insurance. Popular companies whose primary business is to provide Roadside Assistance include the AA and RAC in the UK, and AAA in the USA. There has also been a rise in on-demand breakdown services in recent times. Urgent.ly in the USA offers emergency vehicle services without a subscription fee. Rescue offers both membership-based Roadside Assistance and on-demand breakdown services in Bangalore. Automobile manufacturers may also offer such breakdown services free for a period after the purchase of a new vehicle.

A brief history of Roadside Assistance

As automobiles became more complex machines, early motorists found it harder to perform repairs by themselves. This slowly led to the formation of private clubs and groups of motorists to help each other out when they faced issues on the road.

The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) which was formed in 1897 and The Automobile Association (AA) which was formed in 1905 (both in the UK) began offering repair services to their members on the spot, or towing services to a local garage or the driver’s home if nearby. The American Automobile Association (AAA) was formed in 1902 and Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club (ADAC) was formed in 1927 offering similar services in Germany. Most of these early associations are pioneers in the field of Roadside Assistance and in existence to this day, some even branching out successfully into other allied services. These clubs provide their vehicle services through a fleet of assistance vehicles – traditionally motorcycles but today, increasingly in well-equipped vans and trucks.

As communication technology improved, a network of emergency phone boxes, placed by the roadside, was introduced in some countries. The widespread ownership of mobile phones has now eliminated the need for an emergency phone network. Further advancements in mobile technology have led to the development of app-based breakdown services with precise location tracking and other features making Roadside Assistance quicker and more efficient than ever.

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