Learn how to change a flat tire quickly
One minute you’re driving along listening to your favorite song and the next minute you hear that flap-flap-flap sound that can mean only one thing: you’ve got a flat tire. Handling this situation can be as easy as calling a repair service like AAA or even your local dealer.
They’ll send someone out to your location and do the job of changing your flat tire for a small fee. The other option is to get your hands dirty and change that flat tire yourself. Here are some helpful tips and a step-by-step guide.
Tools and Equipment You’ll Need:
- Spare Tire (usually located in the trunk or underneath the frame of the vehicle)
- Lug Wrench
- Flares or Emergency Road Signals
- Wheel Wedges
- Gloves (optional)
GUY TIP: The spare tire, lug wrench and jack should come with your vehicle as standard equipment. Check your spare tire regularly to make sure that you have adequate tire pressure. 60 PSI is the normal amount of air pressure for most spare tires. You could get a flat tire at any time of day so make sure that you carry a flashlight with working batteries.
Even better, get yourself a wind-up flashlight like this one.
Step One: Pull Over Safely
Immediately put on your hazard lights and reduce your speed. This alerts other drivers that you have a problem. The first thing you’re going to want to do is find a safe place to change your tire. Check road signs and billboards to see if there is a service station or a rest stop near you.
Other ideal places are a wide shoulder or a side street that doesn’t get much traffic.
Your vehicle can most likely drive a mile or two with a flat tire at low speeds, but any more than that will risk damaging the wheel itself. You don’t want to add that pricey fix to your bill. Pull the vehicle over, engage your parking brake, and set up your emergency flares or road side hazard indicators.
Avoid hills and inclined roads. Try to pull over onto a stretch of straight pavement. Put wedges underneath your tires to prevent the vehicle from rolling off the jack. For example, if your rear passenger side tire is blown, you should put wedges behind the front wheels.
GUY TIP: If you don’t have wheel wedges, you can always use heavy rocks or bricks. Take a look around your area and chances are high that you can find something heavy enough to do the job.
Step Two: Set up Your Gear
Organizing your tools and gear in an orderly fashion will make this a 20-minute task and not a 2-hour one. There’s nothing to it if you start by laying out all your essential items in a manner that makes everything easy to find and reach. Keep that flashlight handy if you’re changing your tire at night.
Pull your spare tire out from its housing. This might be as simple as picking it up from the recess of your trunk, but you might have to unscrew a fastener, as is the case with some SUVs like the Toyota 4Runner. Next, get out your lug wrench and jack. These items are usually paired together. They come in all shapes and sizes. The lug wrench might have a single bar or four bars arranged in a cross.
The jack will have a distinctive accordion-like feature and a crank that can be operated by hand or foot.
Step Three: Prepare to Remove the Tire
A crucial error that people make when changing their own tire is raising the vehicle before you’re prepared to remove the damaged tire.
If you put the vehicle on the jack first, then the tire will just keep spinning when you try to remove the lug nuts. Remember: 20-minute task vs. 2-hour task. Start by removing the hubcap or wheel cover.
Related: Why am I dreaming about driving?
Some vehicles don’t have covers, but you want to be able to visibly see the lug nuts. The wheel cover will come off easily by placing a flathead screwdriver or even your car key in the notch. It just pops out. Then, attach the lug wrench to one of the lug nuts and turn counter-clockwise.
Avoid hurting your back by using leverage instead of brute strength. You don’t need to remove the lug nuts, just loosen them. Move to the opposite lug nut of the one you first worked on and loosen that one, too.
Work in a star pattern. Loosen the opposite side of the configuration to avoid putting too much strain on any single lug nut.
GUY TIP: The wheel cover is a great place to put your lug nuts so that they don’t get lost.
Step Four: Jack It Up
Now, search underneath the vehicle on the side where you have a flat tire. You’re looking for a notch or a flat section of the metal frame that is specifically designed for raising the vehicle.
Be careful here.
You could damage the frame of your car if you place the jack in the wrong location. Most vehicles put indicator arrows there, so you can see it easily.
Line up the jack plate and use the crankshaft to unwind it. Make sure that you are directly vertical at a 90-degree angle with the pavement. Once you make contact with the frame, the jack will take some elbow grease to raise. Use your strength and don’t jerk it. Never raise the jack to its fullest extension either.
You just want enough height so that you can slide off the damaged tire and slide in the spare.
GUY TIP: Keep an eye on those wheel wedges while you’re raising the vehicle. This is the most dangerous part of changing the tire because if your jack loses contact with the frame then your vehicle could abruptly fall back down to the pavement.
Step Five: Change the Tire
Now, finish unscrewing the lug nuts with just your fingers. Place them somewhere safe and slide off the damaged tire. Place the spare tire by giving it a bit of a lift so that it lines up with the bolts.
Use the star pattern again to tighten the lug nuts back onto the new tire. Hand-tighten one lug nut and then move to the opposite side of the configuration.
Do this until all the lug nuts are hand-tightened. Now, you’re ready to lower the vehicle back down to the pavement. Turn the crankshaft in the opposite direction as before until it’s so low that it can easily slide away from the frame.
Then, pick up your lug wrench and turn the lug nuts in a clockwise direction. Use the star pattern and tighten them until they’re nice and firm.
Clean-up Because You Did It
That’s it. You’ve changed your own tire in five easy steps. Hopefully, it didn’t take you a very long time. Just clean up the work area and double-check to make sure you didn’t leave anything harmful by the side of the road.
Everybody knows that you didn’t have to do it yourself. You could have easily whipped out your mobile device and had a professional serviceman do this job for you, but you’ll find that it isn’t difficult at all.
Once you’ve changed a tire, every other time gets easier. It also comes with a sense of personal satisfaction from a job well done and a few dollars saved.