Doesn’t everyone know how to change a tire?
If you’ve changed a tire, congratulations. You’re part of a dwindling set of drivers who know this basic skill to keep you going on the road.
If you’ve never changed a tire, you may have an idea of how it’s done, but aren’t really sure. So, we want to share the basics of how to change a tire.
First of all, do you need to change your tire in the first place? Seriously. Just because your tire is low on air or even flat may not mean you need to change the tire.
When should you change your tire:
- Your driving around and have a blowout
- Your tire is shredded
- You put air in the tire and it’s not inflating
The most common culprit for losing air from a tire is a nail, screw, or bolt that has punctured your tire. If one of your front tires are losing air and you suspect you may have a nail puncture, you may be able to turn the front wheel and visually inspect the tire. If you can see the nail or screw, you may be able to repair the tire with a tire repair kit.
- Be at a service station with a working tire inflator or have your own tire inflator with you
- Mark the area where the nail or screw is located with a chalk or other light marker
- Pull the nail or screw off, usually with a set of pliers
- Remove any debris from the hole with the Rasp Tool from your tire repair kit.
- Then insert a tire plug halfway into the plug insertion tool.
- Push the plug into the hole all the way into the hole using the plug insertion tool.
- Then, pull the insertion tool out of the tire.
- If done correctly, the plug will now be inside the hole with just a portion sticking out of your tire.
- Next, inflate the tire to full PSI.
- Spray Windex or some other soapy liquid on the plug. You’re doing this to check for leaks. If you see the soapy substance bubbling into large bubbles or lots of little bubbles being created, then you’ve got an air leak and may need to do it again or you may need to change the tire if the hole is too great for the plug to fill.
- If air does not leak from the tire, you’re done. Congratulations, you just repaired your tire without having to take the entire wheel off.
I just need to change my tire fast
Okay, let’s say you can’t attempt to fix a nail that punctured your tire. You need to change the tire fast to continue on the road. Here’s what you need to do.
The basic concept is simple. You have to raise a corner of your vehicle with a wheel jack. Remove the wheel with the bad tire. Install the spare tire. Drop the car. Be on your way. Well, there are little details to know that will save you time and headaches.
Again, you’re about to lift the corner of a several thousand pound vehicle. Lifting a vehicle improperly can cause the severe injury and even death. If you do it right, it’s super safe and easy to do.
If you’re driving down the road and have a flat the first thing you need to to is take control of your vehicle. Your vehicle may attempt to violently pull to the right or left. You’ll want to hold the steering wheel with two hands and gain directional control. Do not jerk the vehicle. You want to keep the vehicle stable.
Next, don’t jam on the brakes. This may cause you to spin the vehicle, especially if one of the front wheels went flat. Ideally, you’ll want to let your foot off the gas as you gain steering control. Next, you need to safely get your vehicle to the side of the road or highway. This can be difficult if you’re doing 80mph on I-95. Your car will sound like it’s falling apart, but you can still maintain some speed to allow you to safely use your turn signals to get to the safest shoulder. In some cases, you may be able to limp along the shoulder to the nearest highway exit.
Changing your tire next to cars doing 65mph is never safe. You want to get off the highway. Even if your car sounds like it’s falling apart, it’s much better than losing your life.
Ideally, you’ll want to pull off into a well lit service station. Obviously, from a practical standpoint that’s not always possible.
What should you look for?
A flat hard surface, like a parking lot. You never want to change a tire on a hill, incline, or any soft surface like dirt, sand, grass, or mud.
While you may be off the highway, if there is traffic close you, put on your hazard lights. Other drivers are always the most dangerous element. Let them know where you are. Next, apply your emergency brakes. This should go without saying, but the car should be in park if automatic and in gear if it’s a manual transmission. Did we mention you need to apply your emergency brakes?
Note: If you have to change a tire, near heavy traffic, you can use the safety triangles to create space and awareness around you.
If you’re lifting a rear tire, it’s a good idea to place a wood block in front of your front tires. Again, you’re trying to mitigate rolling risk. If you’re changing a front tire, place a wood block behind the rear tires.
Did you turn the engine off? Go ahead and do that.
Now, your car is secure. It’s off. It’s in park or in gear. The emergency break is on. Wood blocks are in place. Your hazard lights are on.
Before you lift the car
Now, let’s jack up the car, right.
Hold on. Did you check your spare tire? Do you even have a spare tire in your car? If so, is your spare tire properly inflated? You don’t want to proceed with a tire change only to find out your spare is flat. That would defeat the whole purpose.
Let’s assume you found your spare tire and it’s properly inflated. Now, remove the spare tire from the storage location. Place it flat (so that it doesn’t roll away, especially into traffic) near the wheel you will be removing.
Next, locate your tire iron and jacking system. This is where you may need to consult your owner’s manual for guidance. Every car has unique placement for the jack and tire iron.
Before you jack / lift your vehicle, it’s important to loose, but do not remove the wheel nuts. This is important. Once you lift the vehicle, if you start applying force to the wheel nuts, the tire will simply spin in the air and you will not be able to loosen the nuts. Loosen each nut, but do not remove the nuts. You just want to be able to loosen it by one half to one full circle. (To be clear, you should only loosen the wheel nuts on the wheel with the flat tire. Please do not loosen the wheel nuts on the other wheels.)
Your car may have wheel locks. You’ll need the adapter for your wheel locks to even think about removing the wheel. It’s usually in a glove box or center console.
Lift the Vehicle
Once all the wheel nuts are loosened, you can lift your vehicle. Note, your vehicle will have specific points on the frame designed to be used with your vehicle’s jack. Sometimes there’s a graphic on the jack itself pointing out the jack points. Sometimes, you may have to consult the owner’s manual.
Make sure the jack is on a flat, solid surface. Ideally, concrete or pavement. Begin lifting the vehicle with the jack. The jack should lift the vehicle directly up. The jack should never be at an angle. The bottom of the jack should remain flat on the ground and stable. If for any reason the jack begins to go sideways, you should slowly bring the car back down. Remember to limbs out from under the car. If the car falls down, you don’t want it crushing your limbs.
You need to lift your car high enough that the flat tire can be removed, but remember that the spare tire is fully inflated and may need a little more ground clearance.
Alright, you lifted the vehicle. Now you can finish removing the wheel nuts. Try to remove them by hand as much as possible. If you need to, you can use the tire iron to help, but they should already be loose at this point. Make sure to keep the wheel nuts together where they will not roll off or get lost. You will need them again shortly.
Install Spare Tire
Now that the wheel nuts are off, go ahead and remove the wheel with the flat tire. Lay it flat to ensure it doesn’t roll away.
Next, place the spare tire on the wheel hub and hand tighten ALL the wheel nuts. Once you’ve hand tightened, you can use the tire iron to tighten as much as possible.
Once all the wheel nuts have been tightened, you can safely lower the vehicle. When lowering the jack, make sure all hands and feet are clear of the tire.
Congratulations! You just changed a tire.
Now, put the jack and tire iron back where they are supposed to be. And don’t forget to put the flat tire in your trunk or storage compartment.
Remove the wooden blocks you placed for safety and voila, you can now get in your car and get back on your way. Remember your emergency brake needs to be released before you drive off.
Take pride in yourself. You just changed a tire.
You Did It!