Changing a tire is no one’s idea of a good time, particularly because flats happen at the least opportune moments: Inevitably, it’s when you have to get the kids to school or when you’re on your way to a job interview or first date.
If you own a car with run-flat tires or a tire pressure monitoring system, you can avoid this chore. Maybe your car has no spare at all, but instead carries a tire repair kit. It’s not hassle-free, but it requires less muscle. Roadside assistance plans from carmakers or auto clubs also can save you the trouble. Failing all those measures, you might someday have to tackle the roadside tire change. It doesn’t have to be a bad experience.
Steps for changing a flat tire
- Get to a safe spot
- Find your spare tire, jack and tire iron
- Loosen the wheel lugs
- Jack up the car
- Remove the flat tire
- Install the spare
- Lower the car and tighten the wheel lugs completely
- Important details about compact spare tires
Get to a safe spot
You’re driving along, and you suddenly hear a loud bang and the telltale thumping noise of a dead tire. Carefully pull off to the shoulder of the road. Check to make sure no other motorists are going to run you over, get out of the car and inspect the tire.
Find your spare tire, jack and tire iron
The first step is to find your car’s spare tire, jack and tire iron. The spare tire is almost always located underneath the floor mat in the trunk. If you own an SUV, minivan or pickup, though, the spare tire is often mounted on the back of the tailgate or underneath the vehicle itself.
Once you have found the spare tire, remove it from the car. If you have an air pressure gauge handy, you will want to check the spare tire’s pressure. If this tire is flat, too, you’re in a bit of trouble. But let’s just assume you have been keeping tabs on the spare tire’s health, and its air pressure is perfect.
Because the next step will involve removing the flat tire, make sure that the car is in “Park” (or in gear if it has a manual transmission). Set the emergency brake. The car should be parked on a flat piece of pavement. Do not attempt to change a flat if the car is on a slope or if it is sitting on dirt. It’s also a good idea to block the tire opposite of the flat tire. Therefore, if the left front tire is flat, it would be a good idea to place a brick or other large, heavy object behind the right rear tire. Blocking the tire makes the car less likely to move when you are raising it.
Loosen the wheel lugs
Use the tire iron (the L-shaped bar that fits over the wheel lugs) to loosen each wheel lug. The wheel lugs are almost certainly very tight. You’ll have to use brute force. Loosen them by turning them counterclockwise.
At this point, you don’t want to actually remove the lugs. You just want them loose. Once you have accomplished this, move the jack underneath the car. If you don’t know where the proper jacking points are, look them up in the owner’s manual. Moments like these are why you keep the manual in the car, not at home.
Jack up the car
Maneuver the jack underneath the jack point and start to raise the jack. Most car jacks these days are a screw-type scissor jack, which means you simply turn the knob at the end of the jack, using the provided metal hand crank. Raise the jack until it contacts the car’s frame. Continue expanding the jack. Raise the car with the jack until the flat tire is completely raised off the ground.
Remove the flat tire
Once this is finished, remove the wheel lugs completely. Depending on how tight the lugs are, you might be able to remove them by hand. Set the lugs aside in a secure location where they can’t roll away. Next, remove the flat tire and set it aside in a secure location also
Install the spare
Position the spare tire over the wheel studs. This is the most physically challenging part of the whole process. You’ll have to hold up the tire and try to line up the holes in the wheel with the protruding wheel studs located on the brake hub. One trick that might help is to balance the tire on your foot while you move it into position. You may have to jack the car a little higher than you had it in order to fit the new tire on, since the flat tire will have been lower than a fully inflated one.
After you have the spare tire hanging on the wheel studs, screw each of the wheel lugs back on. You’ll want to start them by hand. Make sure you do not cross-thread them. The lugs should screw on easily. Once each of them is snug and you can’t tighten them any further by hand, use the tire iron to finish the job. At this point, you don’t need to get the lugs super tight. You just want them snug for now. Make sure that the wheel is fitting flush against the brake hub.
Lower the car and tighten the wheel lugs completely
Once the spare tire is on, carefully lower the jack. Pull the jack away from the vehicle. The final step is to tighten down the lugs completely. The reason you tighten the lugs now is because the tire is on the ground and it won’t rotate around as it would if it were still hanging in the air.
Wheel lugs have a specific torque rating to which they are supposed to be tightened, but there is pretty much no way you can figure that out using a simple tire iron. The general rule here is to tighten down the lugs as much as possible.
That’s it. Put the flat tire where the spare had been. Put back the jack and tire iron. Most compact spare tires are smaller than regular tires, so it is possible that the flat tire won’t fit in the spare tire well.
Important details about compact spare tires
Compact spare tires have a limited top speed, which will be written on the tire’s sidewall. Don’t exceed that. Compact spares also have limited road life, so use them only long enough to get home or to the nearest service station or tire store. If your vehicle has a full-size spare, there’s no problem.