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How to Change a Flat Tire

As a driver, one of the best things you can learn is how to change a flat tire. It’s a situation that can happen anywhere, at any time and likely something that will happen at least once during your lifetime. It’s a great idea to be armed with the tools and the know-how to change a flat in a pinch.

Steps to change a flat tire:

  1. Whether it’s a blown tire or a slow leak, the first step is to get to a safe spot where you can assess the damage. Don’t stop in the middle of the road – pull off to a safe place on the side of the road, or try to make it to a rest stop or an exit if you can. To come to a stop, brake slowly and make sure you have a firm grip on the wheel.

  2. If you’re on the side of a busy highway or in a place where you don’t feel safe changing the tire yourself, consider using a roadside assistance program or service (like CAA) instead. A busy highway, nighttime conditions or bad weather could make for a dangerous situation.

  3. If you decide to change the tire yourself, position the car on solid, level ground. You want to avoid a gravel or grass surface that the car jack could sink down into. You’ll also want to find a spot on the straight section of the road so drivers can see you from a distance.

  4. Once you’ve found a safe spot, put the car in park, activate the emergency brake and turn on the vehicle’s hazard lights. You might want to wedge a piece of wood behind your rear tire to make sure your car won’t move. If you have flares, warning lights or reflector devices, place them in front of, and behind the vehicle to alert other drivers to your position.

  5. Once you’ve located the spare tire and the required tools (vehicles are usually equipped with a jack and a tire iron), roll the spare over to the wheel you need to replace. Position the tire under the car (added protection just in case the jack fails), with alloy side facing up, so as not to damage the rims. If the tires on your car are outfitted with wheel covers, use the flat end of the tire iron to remove the cover. Loosen the wheel’s lug nuts but don’t remove them just yet.

  6. Use your owner’s manual to locate the proper jacking point next to the flat tire. This is an area that’s specifically reinforced with extra padding for jacking – if you don’t use this area, you could cause damage to your car. If you aren’t on a solid surface, then you can use a piece of plywood, at least one-half inch thick, to provide stability to the jack. Use the jack to raise the car just one inch off the ground, leaving only enough room so you can remove the tire. Take out the lug nuts, putting them in a safe place so they don’t get lost.

  7. Remove the tire by pulling it straight out and off the axle. Keep in mind that the wheel is heavy. Once you’ve got it off, lay the tire on its side to prevent it from rolling away. Replace the flat tire with the spare, lining up the holes with the studs. You can thread on the new lug nuts first with your hands, tightening them snugly with a wrench. When you replace the lug nuts, tighten the bolts one after the other in a star pattern, not clockwise (see diagram). If you have four lug nuts instead of five, then use a criss-cross pattern to tighten them.

  8. You can now lower the car on the ground slowly – don’t let it drop as this could damage your car and you could harm yourself. Go around and tighten the lug nuts (again in a star pattern or criss-cross pattern) as much as you can. If you’re in doubt, have a mechanic check the nuts as soon as you can.

  9. Replace the wheel cover (if you have one), collect your tools and the damaged tire and store them in the trunk. If you have a donut and not a full-size tire, check your owner’s manual for guidelines as to how far you can drive on the spare tire and how fast you should go.

  10. Once you’ve replaced the spare with a new, or fixed tire, update your spare tire kit so you’re prepared for the next flat tire.

By arming yourself with this knowledge ahead of time, you’ll be prepared the next time you’re on the road and you hear and feel the telltale thump of a spare tire.

How to avoid a flat tire:

  • Make sure you know where your spare tire is located. It could be in the trunk or underneath the car. This information can be found in the car’s owner’s manual along with information about the spare’s air pressure and driving guidelines. Ensure that the spare tire is equipped with the tools you need to change the tire.

  • Check the air pressure of the spare tire as part of the car’s regular maintenance.

  • Carry the number of the roadside assistance program that you belong to. If you aren’t a member, then make sure you have contact information for local services.

  • If you’re on the road a lot, you might want to consider carrying a spare tire kit to make sure you have all the essentials. The kit could include a long-handed breaker bar or a star spinner (to make removing the lug nuts easier), an air pressure gauge, a rain poncho, gloves, rags, a flashlight with extra batteries, a reflector, a wooden wedge for behind the rear wheel, a plywood board so you can jack on a soft surface if needed and a can tire inflator (to fix small air leaks).