You’re all dressed up and on your way to an important event, when suddenly your car decides to betray you with a flat tire. Obviously, it’s never a good time to get a flat tire, but it does seem these accidents mostly happen when you got places to be, doesn’t it?
Well, wherever you need to be and happen to be at the moment – don’t panic. Changing a tire is really not that hard. With our helpful tips, you’ll be able to fix that tire in no time and get on with your day.
Before we get into the details of changing a tire, let’s cover the basics first.
- Be prepared
Planning is essential as it can save you a lot of time and energy. Make sure you keep an emergency kit in your car’s trunk along with a spare tire. Throw in a flashlight with some spare batteries (nothing worse than changing a tire at pitch-black night!), some mechanic gloves, wheel wedges, a rain poncho, as well as a hand cleaner and some paper towels.
- Find a safe place
When the tire goes flat, don’t hit the brakes immediately, don’t turn the wheel and don’t start panicking. Flat tires happen to everyone and it’s important not to lose your head, but stay calm and collected so you can do the job properly.
Just slow the vehicle down (under 30 mph) and drive to the closest side of the road. Make sure you’re parked safely, away from all the traffic. You can use the line that separates the traffic from you as a guide – your car should be parked so that you have enough space to change the tire without being hit by anything. For instance, heavy trucks can create a suction in their wake that can pull you off your feet, so make sure you have enough space.
Also, don’t park on the grass – stay on the shoulder, as the surface is solid and straight, which is exactly what you need to jack up a car.
- Make yourself visible
Turn on your four-way flashers to make yourself visible. This is important at any time of the day, but especially at night or in the rain. It’s also a good idea to use flares to give a long range warning that a broken car is ahead.
Getting the Job Done
Now that you have everything you need with you and you’ve parked at a safe location, it’s time to get to the core of the problem – getting the old tire out and a new tire on.
- Read the manual
You may have changed a tire a few times before, but if you’re driving a new car now, it’s a good idea to read the manual. Every car is different, and knowing your vehicle specifics and requirements can save you a lot of stress as you can ensure you don’t make any mistakes. Seriously, read the manual – you’ll thank us later.
- Use wheel wedges
Apply the wheel wedges in front or behind the tires to ensure the car doesn’t roll while you fix the tire. If your rear tire is flat, place the wedges in front of the front tires, and if your front tire is the problem, place them behind the rear tires. Speaking of car rolling, here’s an obvious but important tip – always, always make sure you apply the parking brake before replacing the tire.
- Remove the hubcap
It’s always easier to lift the car with jack if you first remove the hubcap that covers the lug nuts. To remove the cap, use the flat end of your lug wrench. If your hubcap requires a different tool to come off, you’ll need to use it. That’s why reading the manual is important – it will tell you all about he specifics of your car.
Of course, if your vehicle doesn’t have a hubcap and the lug nuts are already exposed, skip this step.
- Loosen the lugs
Before you can lift your car, you need to loosen the lug nuts. You’ll do this with the lug wrench, turning the lugs counterclockwise. You may need to use force here, so be prepared to put some muscle into it. Some lugs (usually just one) will need a special key adapter. You want to loosen the nuts only, not remove them at this point – we’ll do that when it’s time to remove the tire.
- Place the jack
To properly place the jack, you need to find the right place to position it. This is usually beneath the car’s frame, alongside the tire you’re changing. The ‘jack place’ is actually really easy to find as most plastic frames have an exposed metal area or a notch specifically left like that for the jack. If you’re having trouble finding the right place, consult your manual.
- Raise the car
It’s time to lift the vehicle slowly. Start turning the jack handle clockwise until you reach the desired height. You want the car to be high enough so you can not only to remove the flat tire, but also be able to place the new one.
- Remove the lugs and flat tire
This is the time we remove the lug nuts completely. Since you’ve already loosened them, you should be able to unscrew them easily. Once you remove them, place them somewhere you’ll easily find them. Now, this is where the fun begins – grip the flat tire by the threads and slowly pull it toward you until it’s free from the hub. You want to be careful here as most tires can be really heavy.
- Place the spare tire
Get the spare tire and mount it on the lug bolts (line up the wheel studs with the holes). Now push gently until the bolts show through the rim and tighten the lug nuts by hand. You may need to use your foot to hold the new tire in place while you do that and that’s fine. But do not tighten the lug nuts with the wrench at this point- just tighten them properly by hand.
- Lower the car and tighten the lugs
Use the jack to lower your car (turn the handle counter-clockwise) so that the tire rests on the ground. Don’t lower the car completely though, as the full weight of the car shouldn’t be on the tire while you’re tightening the lugs.
Use the wrench, turning it clockwise, to tighten the lugs completely. It’s important to do this properly, so it’s likely you’ll have to use the full weight of your body to tighten the lugs.
- Lower the car completely
Finally, lower the car completely using the jack. Now check the lug nuts by pulling them with the wrench to ensure they’re properly placed and really tight.
You’ve installed the spare tire! But we’re not done yet.
- Remove the jack and replace the hubcap
If the hubcap you removed earlier fits your spare tire, put in place. If it doesn’t, stow it away along with the jack.
- Stow all your equipment
Along with a hubcap (only if it doesn’t fit the spare tire), you should also stow the jack, a lug wrench, wheel wedges, and that unfortunate flat tire. Make sure everything is cleaned up and safely packed in your car.
- Check the spare tire and replace it
Before you drive away, check the pressure of the spare tire. If it’s ok, it’s all good, but if it needs more pressure, make sure you drive slowly and carefully to a service station.
Speaking of driving slowly, if your car has a spare tire, you shouldn’t exceed the speed label marked on the sidewall (around 50 mph). These mini spares are temporary tires, meaning you’ll need to change them as soon as possible into a full sized tire (you can either replace it or fix your flat tire).
Extra Tips on Changing Tires and Safety
- Maintain your vehicle: knowing how to change a tire is necessary but so is maintaining your vehicle. It’s much better to prevent such accidents, if possible, than to waste your time in the middle of the road, fixing your flat tire. So monitor the tires for tread wear and keep them properly inflated.
- Keep your phone charged: sometimes, things don’t go as planned no matter how hard you try. If you can’t change a tire to save your life, it’s crucial to have a way to call someone who can do it for you. So, if you plan any major road trips but you’re unsure about your tire-changing capabilities, make sure you have a charged cell with you.
- Accept assistance: if you’re new to changing tires, stuck in rain, or even worse, a desert, accept assistance from people who offer it. Often, Good Samaritans will offer to help if they see a stranger stuck changing a tire all by himself, so don’t be shy accepting their help. Of course, be careful – not all people who offer to help actually want to help you (haven’t you heard of Flat-Tire murders?), so it may be best to listen to your gut in situations like this.