“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Though Thomas Paine was thinking of the late 18th century instead of February 2009, the sentiment still seems to fit.

In addition to today’s economic issues, I have been thinking about more predictable ones, namely, the seasons.

How’s your winter going? As a Chicagoan who received, among other things, an oven mitt-style ice scraper for Christmas, I should know better than to expect anything other than snow, cold, and more snow, but somehow every year it comes as a mild surprise when the white stuff keeps on coming.

As I drove to work today in yet another snowstorm-I would like to call it a blizzard, but that might be a little strong for today’s projected 4 to 8 inches-I was following a pickup truck whose tire treads kicked up a lot of snow. I was drawn to them because my speed wasn’t even registering on the speedometer, so I had plenty of time to get a good look; and my tires have been having some issues as of late.

After hitting a pothole a few weeks ago, my mechanic told me I needed a new wheel for my car. According to the mechanic, the wheel is en route from Florida and should be here “any day now.”

Unfortunately, the wheel seems reluctant to leave the warmth of the Sunshine State and find use here in the Midwest, because I have been driving on a spare tire for 15 days now. A few more days and I may fly to Florida and pick up the replacement wheel in person.

But as I stared at the pickup truck’s wheels on the road ahead of me during my suddenly long commute, I thought about how much effort goes into vehicles that keep us safe.

A materials testing machine manufacturer once told me that their products ensure that the steering wheel stays on the steering column, saying that the alternative would be a bad way to start your day. I decidedly agree. Having a tire rim bend is one thing-having the steering wheel come off in your hands is quite another.

Luckily the parts on these cars have been extensively tested. In snowy conditions on busy roads, with tow trucks, cars by the side of the road or down a ditch, it may not appear this way, but imagine the alternative. While we can’t control the weather, it is comforting to know that some elements can be carefully controlled.

Though the economy may be frightening, it is even more frightening to think of the consequences of lowering quality standards. No matter what industry you work in, it does society a service to have quality be a standard that is continually being addressed and improved.

While Detroit’s automakers have been catching more than their usual amount of flack lately, I think it’s important to consider what is going right. Those of you testing those car parts for quality, thank you.

And if anyone has seen a lone wheel rolling north, please send it my way.

My only other winter complaint is that I got a little beat up sledding recently-but I guess I have only myself, and that fence, to blame.