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How to Change a Flat Tire: Step-by-Step Guide

Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

Flat tires happen. In fact, this unfortunate phenomenon can happen to absolutely any driver at any time. Whether it is caused by a valve issue, tire leak or, more commonly, running over a sharp object, a flat tire can cause you to go from driving normally down the highway to pulling over suddenly at the sound of a flapping tire.

Many drivers protect themselves against this unpredictable event by purchasing a roadside driving assistance membership service that will arrive at their location after a brief telephone call to change the tire. Others are left to their own devices to figure out the best way to cope with the situation. You can save yourself a lot of valuable time and expense by simply learning how to change your own tire. This guide will explain the process to personal roadside assistance step-by-step.

Be Prepared Before It Happens

Even if you know how to properly change a flat tire, there is absolutely nothing that you can do if you are not adequately prepared each and every time you drive. For this reason, it is best that you keep a bag of the appropriate tools, along with a spare tire, in your trunk at all times.

Although there are a variety of tools that will help with this process and your best options may depend on the make or model of your vehicle, some of the necessary tools to change your tire include:

  • A jack to lift the vehicle
  • A lug wrench with a pry bar on one end and a socket on the other
  • Mechanic gloves to protect the hands
  • A flashlight, preferable waterproof for tire changes in the rain
  • A tire block
  • A reflective triangle or flares

If you have the proper tools at your disposal, the possibility that you will successfully change the flat tire is much higher.

Step 1: Find a Safe Spot

You cannot choose where you tire will flatten. You may be driving down a crowded city street, you may be speeding down a four-lane freeway, or you may be out for a leisurely trip on a backcountry road.

As soon as you realize that your tire is flat, you need to move to the side as quickly and safely as possible. On the freeway, you may need to get to the next exit or pull across the shoulder to get out of the way of fast-moving vehicles. Remember to check that you and your car are not hidden on a curve or behind a large sign that could prevent oncoming traffic from seeing you.

Choose a spot that is as flat as possible so that you can effectively use the jack to lift the car. Remember to set your parking brake, and if you have a manual transmission, leave the car in gear before beginning to change the tire.

Step 2: Warn Other Drivers

Image courtesy of redi-medic on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.
Image courtesy of redi-medic on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

Changing a tire on a busy road or on the freeway is very dangerous, so one of the best things you can do is place a reflective triangle to warn other drivers that you have a disabled vehicle that is stationary on the side.

While placing one of these warning indicators is a great start to providing a safe area for your tire change, keep in mind that oncoming traffic, especially heavy trucks, create enough suction to pull you away from your vehicle if you get too close. Always leave a proper distance between yourself and the rest of the road.

Step 3: Loosen the Lug Nuts

Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.
Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

Use the lug wrench to begin detaching the flat tire. The pry bar end can be used to help lift and remove the hubcap and gain access to the lug nuts themselves. Some vehicles require a manufacturer’s adapter to remove the nuts from the tire.

Place a floor mat from the car’s interior on the ground to more comfortably kneel next to the flat tire, and use the wrench to turn the lug nuts counter-clockwise until they are loose enough to remove.

Step 4: Jack Up the Vehicle

Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.
Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

It is a good idea to begin by blocking the tire opposite from the one that you are replacing; this will help prevent the vehicle from moving while you are working on it. Once this has been done, you will need to read your owner’s manual to understand the correct location for the placement of the jack on your particular vehicle.

Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.
Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

When the jack is securely in the proper place, pump the jack until the vehicle is about six inches off the ground so there is enough room to swap tires.

Step 5: Remove the Lug Nuts and the Flat Tire

Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.
Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

When the jack has lifted the car securely, use the lug wrench to completely remove the lug nuts. Keep these nuts (preferably inside the hub cap) nearby so that they will be easily put back in place when you change the tire.

Step 6: Install the Spare

After all the lug nuts are off, the flat tire can be removed, and the spare tire can be installed. You will most likely find the spare in the trunk, on the back door of an SUV or even under the back end of the vehicle.

Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.
Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

Place the new tire on the nuts by carefully positioning it over the wheel studs. A simple method for doing this is to use your foot to balance the tire while you maneuver the spare into the right location.

Step 7: Replace the Lug Nuts

Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.
Image courtesy of robmba on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

Begin replacing the lug nuts by hand-screwing them back into place, turning them until you physically cannot make them any tighter. Do not use the wrench while the car is lifted; over-tightening can rotate and damage the tire before it is back on the ground.

Step 8: Lower the Car 

Carefully lower the jack until the vehicle is back on the ground, and then remove the jack. This is the time to use the wrench to completely tighten the lug nuts; however, this tightening must be done in the order that is specified in your owner’s manual. Once this is complete, your spare tire is ready for travel, and you can pack your tools and the flat tire into your vehicle.

Important Tips for Driving on a Spare Tire

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0

A spare tire is not the same as an everyday one. It is a temporary solution to help you get home or to a place that can help you. Most spare tires should not be driven any faster than 50 miles per hour, although the exact speed is usually printed on the tire. Never exceed the specified limit.

Have you ever changed a flat tire yourself? What have you learned as a result of that experience?

The spare tire is also not intended to be a long-term solution; it will begin to fall apart at high speeds and mileages, especially if it is a compact spare tire. Get a full-size replacement tire as soon as possible.