There’s really no other way to say it: Getting a flat tire sucks.
At the bare minimum, it’s inconvenient. Whatever you were planning to do, wherever you were driving is now a moot point. Everything becomes inconsequential, as you at the bare minimum have to stop and change the tire.
Worst case scenario, you’re driving on the freeway during rush hour. You’re already running late, and you have children in the backseat on a 100-degree day. You’re probably wearing a brand new white shirt, too. A flat tire can be not just an inconvenience, but full-on dangerous.
Therefore, it is a great idea for every driver to understand how to do a tire change. It will take less time and thereby be less inconvenient if you are familiar with the tools and process. And, while it won’t make it suck any less, knowing how to change a flat tire will at least make the whole thing a little more bearable.
Step 1: Get to a Safe Place
This may be easier said than done for some motorists. If you’re driving through a peaceful suburb, then you can just lightly limp over the side of the road. If you’re out and about doing errands, put on your flashers and find a quiet corner of a well-lit parking lot. A service station is a ideal place to experience a flat tire, but the chances of having a breakdown of any kind within spitting distance of a gas station are miraculous.
If you’re on the highway, again, put those hazard lights on right away. Do not slam on the brakes. Slow down, and steer slowly to a safe location. That location might need to be a wide shoulder or berm. Don’t try to push your wheels to the limit by coasting on your rims.
Once you locate a safe spot, be sure to turn off your car and apply your parking brake. If you have wheel chocks/wheel wedges, use them to stabilize the tire opposite the flat. If you don’t have chocks, use large rocks or sticks for the same purpose. Just make sure your car can’t roll while you’re working on the flat.
Step 2: Locate Your Spare Tire and Car Jack
In many cases, the spare tire and car jack are located in a compartment in the trunk. But, you do want to check on this right now. Some cars don’t actually come with a spare tire, or the jack doesn’t include a lug wrench. The lug wrench is generally included as part of the jack’s lifting mechanism. Like those little multi-tools at IKEA, it’s designed to pull multiple duties in the process.
If your car does not have a spare tire, jack, and lug wrench combination, and you are standing beside your car right now, on the side of the road, stop reading this article and look up the phone number for roadside assistance.
If you at home and just discovered that you don’t have a spare tire, fix that immediately. While you’re at it, you might want to invest in a roadside hazard kit, which generally includes some tools, those reflective triangles, and handy things you wouldn’t necessarily think of, like a poncho or wheel chocks.
Step 3: Remove the Hub Cap
Use the lug wrench to pop off the hub cap.
Next, you’re going to use the wrench to loosen the lug nuts. You want to do this before the car is jacked up, because it will not be easy to loosen the lug nuts. You may need to slam your entire body weight on the lug wrench. Stepping or hopping on it with your full weight is a common choice, though you should exercise caution when doing this. Swearing up a blue streak that would make your granny blush may occur. Attempt to stay calm.
Do not remove the lug nuts. Just loosen them. That part is coming.
Step 4: Jack ‘Em Up
Using a car jack, especially the dinky portable roadside version that comes with most spare kits, is practically an art form. Always consult your owner’s manual to determine where on the vehicle’s frame you should place the jack.
You’ll want to make sure the tire is several inches above the ground in order to remove it and replace it safely.
Now it’s time to remove the lug nuts. Put them somewhere safe, where they won’t roll away or fall or get dropped. We’ve all seen A Christmas Story, right? Put your lugnuts in a safe place.
Step 5: The Old Switcheroo
This is possibly the easiest part of the whole process. Carefully remove the flat tire by pulling straight off the lug bolts, and put the spare on by lining up the holes in the rim with the bolts.
Make sure that your spare tire stays with you so you can dispose of it properly. Don’t be that person who leaves their tire at the side of the road.
Next, screw the lug nuts (which you kept safe and sound during the process) back onto the lug bolts. Use the lug wrench to make sure they’re super tight.
Step 6: Lower the Jack
You’re almost done. Slowly lower the car back to the ground.
Once you’ve removed the jack, give the lug nuts another check with the lug wrench to ensure your spare isn’t going to abandon you next.
Pick up all of your tools, your flat tire, your hubcab, your reflective triangles, and release your wheel chocks. Pack everything up neatly, and hop back into the comparatively safe and serene cabin of your car.
That was it. That was the whole process. We could get into “release your emergency brake, merge safely into traffic” and all of that, but you get the idea.
Remember, a spare tire is usually not considered a permanent solution, so be sure to find a service station as soon as you can. You’ll need to start looking at a new tire immediately. It’s not ideal, of course, but hey — you survived the tire change. Congratulations.
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