Changing a flat tire is something every driver should know how to do. It’s simpler than it seems, and it can save you a lot of money if you ever find yourself stranded with a damaged tire. You should keep a few essentials in your car so you can change a tire, and teach your children how to do it if they are old enough to be in driver’s training.
What Causes Flat Tires?
Tires get damaged or worn-out for a wide range of reasons. You might get a flat tire because you drove over a pothole and your tire was already worn-out.
Sharp objects on the road are another common issue. A nail or another object might puncture or tear the surface of the tire.
A worn-out tire can rip for no apparent reason. Your tire might develop a serious leak if there is too much air in it, or might get flat if the air valve is missing or damaged.
There are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening, including proper tire maintenance and good driving habits. However, you might end up needing to change a tire in spite of taking good care of your vehicle, for instance, if you drive over a sharp object or if the air valve comes loose.
What To Do When A Tire Gets Flat
Don’t panic! You can drive for a few feet with a flat tire that has no air in it. However, you need to greatly reduce your speed to avoid damaging the wheel.
Slow down and look for a safe area where you can stop and change the tire. Stopping in traffic isn’t safe. Instead, pull on the side of the road if there is enough room for you to change the tire.
If you are on the highway, it might be safer to drive slowly on the shoulder over the road until you can get to the next exit. Remember that the damaged tire will somewhat cushion the wheel and prevent damage as long as you drive slowly.
Finding A Safe Spot
You need to find a safe spot where you won’t have to worry about traffic. Don’t stop in a curve since oncoming traffic might not notice you in time to slow down.
Ideally, you should stop on a surface that is level. You can stop on a wide shoulder on the side of the road, but finding a parking lot would be safer.
Hazard Lights And Parking Brake
There are two essential safety steps you need to follow before you worry about changing your flat tire. Turn your hazard lights on.
Other drivers will notice your hazard lights and slow down. They will make your car more visible if you are stopped on the side of the road, especially if it’s dark.
Do this while you look for a safe spot where you can stop. Other drivers will understand that you need to drive slowly and are looking for a place to stop.
The hazard light button should be easy to find. Look for a red button with two triangles on your dashboard.
Engaging the parking brake is a safe way to prevent your vehicle from moving while you change the tire. There are different types of parking brakes:
- Your car might have a center lever between the two front seats
- Some new vehicles have a push button on the dashboard
- Old cars sometimes have a lever on the dashboard
- A lot of vehicles have a foot pedal
What Do You Need To Change A Tire?
You are going to need a few essential items that you should keep in your car at all times:
- An inflated spare tire or compressed air repair kit
- A jack
- A lug wrench
- Some tire blocks, locks, or wedges
Ideally, you should also keep these items in your vehicle:
- A flashlight
- Some reflective triangles
- A tarp or rain poncho in case you have to kneel on wet ground
- A hubcap removal tool
- A tire pressure gauge
- A piece of heavy plywood to stabilize the jack
Secure Your Vehicle
Your priority should be to secure your vehicle once you have found a place where you can change a tire without having to worry about traffic.
Use wheel wedges, tire blocks, or locks to secure the wheels on the other side of the vehicle. The parking brake will prevent your vehicle from rolling, but you need wedges or blocks as well.
You are going to need to lift your vehicle on a jack and it’s not safe to do so without using your parking brake and some sort of wedges or blocks.
Remove The Flat Tire
Start by removing the hubcap or wheel cover. If you have a clip-on hubcap, you might be able to remove it by using two wide-tip screwdrivers. Be careful not to damage the hubcap.
Ideally, you should have a special hubcap or wheel cover removal tool adapted to the parts installed on your wheels.
If you have bolt-on wheel covers, you will have to remove a set of lug nuts with a wrench. If you have screw-on hubcaps, you will need to remove plastic lug nuts. You should purchase a special tool to do this.
Find out what kind of hubcaps or wheel covers are installed on your car, and make sure you have the right removal tools in your car.
Loosen The Lug Nuts
Once the hubcap or wheel cover has been removed, you will be able to see the lug nuts. Use a wrench to loosen them but don’t remove them yet.
Lug nuts can get stuck because of rust or dirt. Keep some lubricant or a rust blaster product in your car in case you have to remove stubborn lug nuts.
Vibrations and shocks can also help you loosen lug nuts. Use a wrench to gently tap on the lug nuts and see if they come loose.
Get The Jack Under Your Vehicle
Double check that the wheels on the opposite side of the vehicle are safely blocked and that the parking brake is engaged.
Your vehicle should be parked on level ground. If you aren’t safely parked or if you don’t have anything to block the wheels on the other side of the vehicle, it’s best to call for roadside assistance.
Your owner’s manual will show you where to place the jack. There is a specific spot under your vehicle where you can safely install a jack to lift your vehicle.
Placing the jack in the wrong spot can make it difficult to balance your vehicle or can damage your vehicle. Again, call for roadside assistance if you don’t know where you can safely place a jack under your car.
Depending on the kind of jack you are using, you will either have to turn a handle or crank a wrench to lift your vehicle. Do it slowly and make sure your speed is even.
You can stop when the flat tire you need to change is six-inches off the ground.
If you have a set of jack stands with you, place them under your vehicle. They aren’t necessary if you are just changing a tire but they will make you safer.
Jack stands are a must-have safety feature if you intend on getting under a vehicle. You can change a tire without these items because there is no need to get under your car, but be mindful not to let any part of your body get under the vehicle if you are not using jack stands.
Once the car is lifted off the ground, wiggle it a little to see if the wheel locks are working. If the wheel locks don’t seem safe, lower the car slowly, adjust the wheel locks, and try again.
Removing The Flat Tire
You can be able to finish removing the lug nuts that you have previously loosened, either by hand or with the wrench. Place them aside, and pull the old flat tire towards you. It should come off easily.
Set it flat on the ground. Don’t lean the old flat tire against the vehicle.
Installing The Spare Tire
Make sure the openings in the spare tire align with the lug bolts and push the spare tire in place. You can start attaching the lug nuts by hand, but don’t tighten them all the way yet.
The lug nuts need to keep the spare tire safely in place while you lower your vehicle to the ground. It’s not safe to use a wrench to tighten the lug nuts while your car is on the jack.
Lower the vehicle to the ground slowly and remove the jack once it no longer touches your car.
Tighten Up The Lug Nuts
Depending on the make and model of your car, you might need to tighten anywhere between four and eight lug nuts.
The best way to tighten lug nuts is to use a star pattern. Tighten a lug nut and move on to the opposite one. You won’t be able to get the lug nuts properly aligned or to get them tight enough if you tighten one lug nut after the other without using a star pattern.
Get the lug nuts as tights as possible. Repeat your start pattern at least three times to get them as tights as possible since this is how you will align them.
You can then place the hubcap or wheel cover back on. You might need to screw the cover on the lug nuts or use a clip-on system depending on the type of hubcap or wheel cover you have.
Check The Tire Pressure
You need to check the pressure of the spare tire as soon as possible. Spare tires can lose air when they sit in the back of your car for a long time.
If you don’t have a tire pressure gauge with you, head to the nearest gas station so you can check the pressure of the spare tire and put some air in it if needed.
What To Do Next
Keep in mind that spare tires aren’t designed to be used over long distances. You shouldn’t drive over 50mph with a spare tire on your car.
The best thing to do is head home or find a mechanic’s who can install a new tire on your car.
You might be tempted to change your flat tire yourself because roadside assistance can be expensive. However, your best option is to call for roadside assistance if you can’t safely change a tire.
You shouldn’t attempt to change a tire in extreme weather conditions. You shouldn’t stop too close to the road or change a flat tire in an area where other drivers can’t see your stopped vehicle.
You also need to keep your passengers safe. They can’t stay in the car while it is on the jack. If you have young children with you, it’s safer to call for help.
You shouldn’t change a tire yourself if you don’t have the right tools or if the spare tire isn’t properly inflated.
How To Prevent A Flat Tire
You can prevent damage to your tires with proper maintenance. Check the pressure regularly and look at your owner’s manual if you aren’t sure what the ideal pressure level is.
Always keep some quarters in your car so you can check the tire pressure and use the air machine when you stop at a gas station.
You should also have your tires rotated every 5,000 to 7,000 miles to make sure they get worn out evenly. If you purchase a new set of tires, they should be installed on the back axle.
You should replace your tires every five years to be safe and should never drive a car with tires that are older than ten years.
Inspect your tires regularly for uneven tread wear, shallow treads, and other signs of damage. Don’t forget to inspect the valve stems and valve caps since these small parts can cause leaks.
Changing a flat tire is something you can do yourself if you have the right tools. You should put together an emergency roadside kit and keep it in your vehicle if you don’t already have one.