By Dawn McCaslin
It happens to everyone: the dreaded flat tire. At best, it happens near home in a neighborhood without a ton of traffic. At worst, you're on the side of a high-speed road, in bad weather, wearing your best outfit and you're trying to make it to an appointment.
Not to worry! With this guide and video, you will learn how to change your tire quickly and easily.
Basics Of Tire Changing And Safety
It's smart to keep step-by-step instructions (see below) on how to change a flat tire in your vehicle in case you're ever in that situation. For all you visual learners out there, we've put together this how-to video that demonstrates the basics of how to change a tire safely and effectively.
IMPORTANT: A spare tire is not meant for extended travel, so only use your spare tire to drive to the nearest tire shop or home. Make sure you always have a spare tire, and check it a few times a year to ensure the air pressure is at a drivable level.
Essentials For Changing Your Tire
Keep these items in your vehicle at all times:
- Paper coveralls to protect your clothing (found at paint stores)
- Spare tire
- Car jack and tire tool
- 2-3 foot length of open-ended pipe that fits snugly on end of tire tool
- Gloves (great for any car troubles you may have)
- Flashlight (hands-free is best)
- Wipes for cleaning yourself off
- Vehicle owner's manual
- Even if you are an expert at changing flats, getting a flat tire can be nerve-wracking and stressful. Most important - do not panic. Engage your emergency flashers to indicate to other drivers you are in distress and maneuver to the side of the road as safely and quickly as possible.
- If you have a choice, pull as far off the road as possible and on the flattest and firmest ground you see. The more level and solid the ground, the better.
- Call for help if you are in an emergency lane or center lane on a main street or highway. It is not safe for you to work on the vehicle unless you are well off the road with plenty of room to work. If your only option is a soft surface, do not attempt to jack up your vehicle as this can pose major safety concerns. Call for help.
- Once in a safe location, have all passengers exit the vehicle and stand as far away from moving traffic as possible.
- Set the car in park and set the emergency brake. If you have a manual transmission, leave the car in 1st gear or reverse.
- Consider placing a brick, large rock or log behind one of the undamaged tires to prevent the vehicle from rolling. This is especially important if you're on an incline. If your vehicle is facing uphill, place the object behind the tire to prevent back-rolling. If your vehicle is facing downhill, place the object in front of the tire.
- Locate your spare tire and tools (in a sedan or coupe, these items are typically in the trunk; in an SUV, they are often mounted on the back or underside). Set the items you need near your work space. Try to stay as far away from moving traffic as possible. Put on your coveralls and gloves.
- If the lug nuts (the things that hold your tire on) aren't exposed and visible, you'll probably need to remove the hubcap. Use the flat end of the tire tool to pry the hubcap off, being careful not to dent or bend it. This should reveal the lug nuts.
- Don't jack the car up until after you've loosened the lug nuts. Otherwise your tire will spin in the air making lug nut removal impossible.
- Lug nuts need to be loosened using the tire tool. Sometimes these are on so tightly they're very difficult to unscrew. This is where the pipe comes in. Slip the tire tool over the first lug nut then slide the pipe onto the end of the tire tool. The pipe gives you extra leverage, making you extra strong. Don't be afraid to put muscle into it. Some people will even use their body weight on the tool to get it to turn.
- Once the first lug nut is loosened, leave it on for the time being. Skip every other lug nut working your way around until all lug nuts have been loosened. Remember: righty-tighty, lefty-loosey.
- At this point, you're ready to jack your car up. Slide the jack under your car frame and pump or turn the lift. It should be fairly easy to operate. Only lift your car until the tire is just barely off the ground. It is very important to reference your owner's manual for proper placement of the car jack.
- Completely remove the lug nuts and place them in your pocket or hubcap for safe keeping.
- Remove the tire by pulling straight away from the car. It may be heavy so do this slowly and with care.
- Lift the spare tire onto the screw prongs, lining up the screws with the holes in the tire. Remember that the air valve should be facing OUT. Screw on the lug nuts by hand, alternating as you go with every other one, just until they're all secured. Then go back with the tool and tighten them slightly.
- Lower the car with the jack just enough so that the tire doesn't spin.
- Using your tire tool, tighten the lug nuts in the same pattern as you loosened them. Turn them to the right to tighten and put some strength into it!
- Lower the vehicle all the way and remove the jack.
- Reinstall the hubcap if you have one.
- Put everything back in your car, clean yourself up and drive carefully to the nearest tire shop. If the flat tire is too heavy to lift, move it off the road and come back for it later with help.
For additional information and details for changing your vehicle's flat tire, reference the owner's manual for your vehicle.
Print these easy-to-follow steps and keep them in your glove compartment for quick reference!
See our schedule below for future articles. If there's something you would like to learn about, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we may use your idea or question for a future article!
Schedule of Articles
Winter 2008: Part 1 - Jump start a vehicle
Spring 2009: Part 2 - Check tire pressure and replace wiper blades
Summer 2009: Part 3 - Change a flat tire
Fall 2009: Part 4 - Checking fluids and review the 'Check Engine' light