Mastering the Basics: How To Change a Tire
Everybody eventually gets a flat tire. Know how to deal with it.
Time Needed: 20 Minutes, Difficulty: Easy, Cost: Less than $40
Changing a car’s tire is an emergency scenario that most people will face at some point during their tenures as motorists. Though you also need to know how to change a tire to rotate your rubber, the most common reason you’ll need to do a swap is a flat tire. With a flat, you will need to install a spare to safely drive to a mechanic’s shop to have the tire properly patched and plugged or completely replaced if need be.
Luckily, due to the emergency equipment that’s often fitted to a vehicle from the factory, it’s a generally easy and smooth process. There are just some key safety issues to keep in mind whilst in action changing out the bum tire.
Let’s go over everything you need, as well as all the precautions you need to take, to properly change your car’s tire.
The Safety Brief
There are two key components to safely raising a car off of its deflated, punctured tire: being on a level surface, and ensuring the jack is properly fitted. Consult your owner’s manual for where the jacking points are on the car, and always ensure it has sure footing that won’t slip.
If the jack slips, the vehicle may fall and either crush a foot or leg and/or cause significant damage to the vehicle. It’s very difficult to lift up a vehicle with a jack that’s fallen on its brake disc.
Also, absolutely never lie underneath a car that is only supported by a jack. You almost never have to while changing a tire, but if you do find yourself in this scenario for some reason, support the car with a jack stand. It doesn’t hurt to double up and support it with a jack stand and a jack, too.
If you are forced to change the tire on the side of the road or on the highway, it’s also crucial to consider the traffic that’s driving by. If possible, pull as far over on the shoulder as you can and if you have any road flares or reflectors, place them in front of your car to alert incoming drivers of your presence.
The Tools & Parts You Need to Change a Tire
At the minimum, you will need your vehicle’s lug nut wrench, a wheel key (if necessary), a jack, and a spare tire.
An annoying reality is that many modern cars don’t come equipped with a compact spare tire, lug nut wrench, or portable jack. They often just have a can of fix-a-flat and that’s it. If you would like to buy these items, they’re all usually very inexpensive, especially a quality scissor or bottle jack. Also, wheel chocks are a good extra safety measure as they ensure the vehicle absolutely will not roll away.
Spare compact tires, often referred to as “donuts,” can cost a little more depending on your vehicle’s wheel size. Or, you could even buy another wheel and tire that’s the same size as your vehicle’s (referred to as a full-size spare), which would make tire changes much more stress free, as compact spares have mileage and speed limits. For this information, refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines, or your owner’s manual.
Extra items that make the job easier and cleaner: a good pair of mechanics gloves, flashlight, torque wrench, ½-inch ratchet wrench with a socket that’s the right size for your vehicle’s lug nuts, and jack stands.
The Task: How To Change a Tire
Follow these step-by-step instructions, and you’ll have your tire changed in no time.
1. Ensure you’re on firm, level ground.
If you’re unable to find level ground, you might have to call a tow truck to tow your car to a shop to properly repair or change the tire. Keep in mind that a car can really only roll a few feet, possibly less, on a completely flat tire before the inside of the tire and wheel rim are damaged.
Rolling on a flat tire could end up costing more money in repairs. If the tire only needs a plug and a patch to be 100% repaired, then the extra damage incurred could mean the whole tire needs replacing.
Also, do everything you can do to pull over in a well-lit, wide space. The corner of a parking lot is good, as it’s off the street, but any large shoulder on a straight stretch of road is far better than a narrow shoulder on a curvy road. You want to be as visible as possible, so it’s also a good idea to turn your hazard/flasher lights on.
2. Ensure the vehicle is in park, and the e-brake is engaged.
This helps keep the vehicle secured once part of it is raised to remove the bum wheel. If the car has a manual transmission, ensure the e-brake is tight and that the car is in gear. It’s a good idea to chock the wheels that aren’t being removed, too. Chocks are cheap, but a large rock or chunk of wood can work in a pinch.
3. Ready your tools.
Gather your spare or other tire, wrench, jack, jack stand, gloves, light, and torque wrench. It’s always a good idea to ensure your spare tire is properly aired up, so check its pressure every other month or so. Keeping an inexpensive portable air compressor in your car is a good move, too.
4. Loosen the lug nuts with the vehicle on the ground, while the wheel is weighed down.
This prevents the wheel from spinning, making the experience far more efficient. Start by breaking all of the lugs loose.
5. Raise the vehicle with the jack.
Before beginning to remove the wheel, ensure the jack is firmly in place by gently rocking the vehicle from different angles. You want to make sure the vehicle won’t slip off the jack when it’s in the air. If you have jack stands, insert them beneath jack points or under the frame.
6. Continue to loosen the lug nuts until they’re completely off, then carefully remove the wheel.
Depending on where you live, it might take some effort to remove the wheel from the hub, especially if you live in a colder climate. If it won’t come off with some light pulling, then it’s best to re-install the lug nuts, lower the vehicle back down, tighten the lugs up, and call a tow truck.
7. Fit the spare wheel.
Support it with your hand while you lightly finger-tighten the wheel lugs (or bolts, depending on your vehicle’s hubs). If the wheel is too large and heavy, you might try just putting one lug in to hold it in place, and then continue with the others.
8. Tighten the lugs a tad more in a star pattern.
Be sure to do this, as well as make sure the wheel is flat on the surface of the hub. Start at the top or bottom, then go across to the opposite lug, then back across, and continue until they’re on. Once the lugs are tight, pull out your torque wrench, if you have one. Use it to tighten the lugs to the manufacturer-specified torque, which can be found in your owner’s manual.
9. Ensure everything is clear.
Double and triple-check that nothing will get squashed by lowering your vehicle back onto Earth’s pavement-covered crust. This includes hands, feet, tools, small animals, etc.
10. Gently lower the vehicle.
The keyword here is gently. If you missed a step, or maybe forgot a lug, the slow transfer of weight onto the spare will not cause any potential issues. Unfortunately, not all cars have air jacks.
10. Continue tightening the lug nuts.
Ensure they’re good n’ tight. You don’t have to stand on the wrench, but you want to make sure they’re secured. Again, tighten in a star pattern.
11. Put tools back where they came from.
Don’t be like me, where you just throw them in the trunk and continue on your merry way. Put the tools back in their fitted positions. This will ensure you do not damage the tools or other things in your trunk, and they won’t be clanging around when you take a corner.
12. Safely drive away.
From there, drive to as close of a mechanic’s shop as you can find. Remember, compact spare tires have mileage and speed limits. Though, if you’ve got a full-size spare, you can have the damaged tire/wheel repaired or replaced at your leisure.
FAQs About How to Change a Tire
Based on data from search engines, as well as considerations of what we’d want to know, we’ve gathered frequently asked questions that should help you understand the process of changing a tire.
Q. Why are there so many safety concerns? Can’t I just put the car in park and start working?
A. We’re of the opinion that it’s better to be safe than sorry. An inexpensive wheel chock, or a quick double-check of a jack’s firmness, is less of an investment than repairing a bent wheel hub or going to the hospital with a crushed foot. Always approach working on a car with caution and safety in mind.
Q. Why do so many manufacturers not include a compact spare tire, jack, and lug nut wrench in their cars these days?
A. Because they’re cheap. But also, flats are less common than they used to be due to improved tire technology. Plus, some tires are designed with run-flat technology, meaning they can be driven on for a short distance even after they are damaged and lose all air pressure.
Q. I bought all these extra tools to effectively and efficiently change a car tire, what’s the best way to store it all?
Q. Is there an easier way to change tires?
A. If you’re away from home, then you’re likely going to have to manually change your tire. However, power tools and pneumatic tools will always make the process of changing tires simpler and easier. If you’re so inclined, you could always carry a battery-powered impact wrench in your car, but that’s one more thing that could break or get stolen.
Watch This Video Tutorial on How to Change a Tire
For the people who prefer visual learning, as opposed to text, we have you covered. The video below goes through the process of how to safety and correctly change a tire.
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