Changing a flat tire can certainly be an inconvenience, but it’s also manageable if you’re prepared with the right tools and know-how. Fixing a flat is something every driver should know how to do.
Knowing these basic steps can help you get back on the road and potentially avoid an emergency.
- Put Wheel Wedges in Place
- Remove the Hubcap
- Loosen the Lug Nuts
- Raise the Car
- Remove the Lug Nuts and Flat Tire
- Mount the Spare Tire in Place
- Tighten the Lug Nuts
- Lower the Car
- Tighten Again
Steps for Changing a Flat Tire
If you have a flat, stop somewhere safe. The best area is away from traffic, on a flat, firm surface — not somewhere that has grass or soft dirt — and not on a blind spot or curve, advises Consumer Reports. Be sure to engage the parking brake (sometimes called the emergency brake) and turn on your hazard lights, even during the day, to help other drivers see you, Cars.com says.
After you’ve stopped safely, you may want to review your owner’s manual. The Humble Mechanic states that these manuals typically have great information about changing a tire on your car.
You’ll typically need the following tools to change the wheel:
- Wheel wedges
- Lug wrench
- Car jack
- Pressure gauge
- Portable tire inflator
Once you have the appropriate tools ready, follow the standard steps described below to change the flat tire:
1. Put Wheel Wedges in Place
Wheel wedges, also known as chocks or wheel blocks, are triangles made of a sturdy material that you wedge under tires to help prevent a car from rolling. They go against the front and back of the tire that’s diagonally across from the one you need to change, according to Cars.com.
2. Remove the Hubcap
As you begin the process of removing the tire, The Humble Mechanic cautions that the hubcap, lug nuts and tire may be hot to the touch due to the friction created while the car was moving — you may want to wait a few minutes until they cool down.
If your hubcap does not have screws, use the flat end of your lug wrench to pop it off, says Popular Mechanics. If your hubcap has screws, undo them and remove the hubcap. (Check your owner’s manual if you’re not sure what kind of hubcap you have or how to remove it.)
3. Loosen the Lug Nuts
Lug nuts are pieces of metal that are screwed onto the bolts that hold wheels in place. Use your lug wrench and loosen — but do not remove — the lug nuts, Pep Boys advises. Do this while the car is still on the ground, as the lug nuts may be on so tight that you have to use your body weight to loosen them, according to CNN. Keep in mind that if you have wheel locks on the tires, you may need to use a special adapter to remove them.
4. Raise the Car
Look at the car’s owner manual to find out where to put the jack, says Popular Mechanics. These are called jack points, and they are often indicated by a notch in your vehicle’s chassis or frame. Using the right jack location helps increase stability and may minimize the chances of damaging your car, Popular Mechanics adds. Slowly turn the jack handle clockwise to raise the car, keeping in mind that you need enough space to put on the inflated spare tire.
5. Remove the Lug Nuts and Flat Tire
Once the car is up on the jack, remove the lug nuts and put them somewhere close by, suggests Popular Mechanics. Putting them in your upturned hubcap is a good trick so they don’t roll around and get lost. Then remove the flat tire by giving it a good pull, the site says.
6. Mount the Spare Tire in Place
Put your spare tire on the wheel by lining it up with the wheel studs — which are the threaded fasteners you put lug nuts on to secure the wheel — according to Popular Mechanics.
7. Tighten the Lug Nuts
Replace the lug nuts. Tighten them by hand but don’t use the lug wrench while the wheel is in the air, Popular Mechanics warns, as this may cause the car to fall off the jack.
8. Lower the Car
Slowly lower the car by turning the jack counter-clockwise, says Popular Mechanics. Once the wheels are touching the ground, you can remove the jack, Pep Boys advises.
9. Tighten Again
Get your lug wrench and give the lug nuts a final tighten in a crisscross pattern as described in your owner’s manual, Popular Mechanics advises. Popular Mechanics warns that not tightening them fully may create an unsafe situation.
Keep in mind that temporary spares, which are smaller than standard tires, are truly meant to be temporary, Cars.com says. Most manufacturers recommend driving slower than 55 mph and fewer than 100 miles on a temporary spare tire.
If you encounter a problem while changing a tire, contact a professional for help. Additionally, if you would not feel comfortable changing a tire on your own, you may want to consider joining a roadside assistance plan and keeping the contact information handy in case of emergency.
Safety Tips for Changing Tires
1. Keep Your Tools Handy
Keep all the tools you need for changing a flat tire in the trunk of your car, suggests Popular Mechanics. You never know when the next flat will happen.
2. Periodically Check Your Spare Tire
Your owner’s manual should have directions and safety precautions for your spare tire, Pep Boys says. Use a tire pressure gauge to check the spare, suggests Cars.com. Most temporary or “compact” spares should be inflated to about 55 to 60 pounds of air. If your gauge won’t read pressure that high, have a professional check for you.
Practice a few times in your driveway or some other safe space with plenty of room, Consumer Reports advises. That way, you may feel more confident when you need to change a tire on the road.
Knowing how to change a flat tire is a useful skill to have in an emergency and may help you from getting stranded on the road.