You’re driving along the highway when you suddenly hear a loud thumping sound. You feel your car slow down as it starts to struggle a bit.
You cross your fingers hoping it’s not something really horrible. On inspection, you notice it’s a flat tire.
We’ve all had one of those. And it pays to know how to change a flat tire. You don’t want to always rely on your cell phone for roadside emergency services.
There’s always that chance that you might leave it at home, forget to charge it, or find yourself in an area that has no reception.
According to the Automobile Association of America (AAA), nearly one in every five U.S. drivers do not know how to change a flat tire. You never want to be the one out of five.
Changing a tire is a necessary skill for every driver. It’s one of those 35 car problems we talked about that you can easily do yourself.
And, it takes between 15 to 20 minutes. Here’s a step-by-step guide that will show you how to change a flat tire.
Tools you’ll need to change a flat tire
Below are the tools you’ll need. They should have come with your car when you bought it. If they didn’t, you can buy them at your nearest auto shop right away.
- Lug wrench
- Inflated spare tire
Below are items that do not normally come with the vehicle but are worth having in your trunk/boot just in case:
- Rain coat/poncho – For rainy weather.
- Flashlight/headlamp – For changing flat tire at night.
- Small 5cm x 15cm (2″x6″) wood block – For securing the jack.
- Wheel wedges
- Jack stand
- Floor mat – protects your clothing from getting dirty when changing a tire.
- Tire pressure gauge – For checking the tire pressure of the spare tire.
16 Simple Steps to Change a Flat Tire
1. Find a secure location
Once you discover that you have a flat tire, it’s not advisable to brake or turn abruptly. Slow down and turn your hazard lights on. This will communicate to other drivers that you’ve experienced a problem and you need to pull over.
Check for straight stretches where you can see oncoming traffic or an empty parking lot. You can move around slowly and for a short distance to avoid causing serious damage to your rim.
Ensure the spot you pick is flat, leveled, hard, and safe. Avoid corners, slopes, and soft surfaces that are covered with dirt. This minimizes the chances of you being hit by traffic or your car rolling as you work on it.
2. Engage the parking brake
Once you’ve made it to a safe spot, engage your parking brake and put the car into “Park”. If you own a manual car, put it in reverse or the first gear.
This helps to prevent your car from rolling away while you’re working on it. You can now safely step out the vehicle once you’re done.
3. Chock your wheels
Check your wheels using wheel wedges. If you do not have wheel wedges nearby, blocks of wood, bricks, and large stones from the roadside work just fine. Make sure they are large enough to handle the weight of the car and stop it from moving.
Start by chocking the wheel on the opposite side of the wheel you want to replace. Also, if you’re working on a front tire, chock the rear wheels from the back. If you’re working on a rear tire, chock the front wheels from the front.
4. Take out your tools and spare tire
Most cars have a spare tire and a toolkit in the trunk. They are typically located below the hardboard that acts as the loading floor for your luggage. For some SUVs and trucks, you can find the spare tire secured underneath the car and just below the boot.
Others will have it screwed to the trunk door with or without a spare tire cover. You should be able to unscrew the center nut that holds the tire with your lug wrench.
Your spare tire should be in its best condition and inflated. If you have a tire pressure gauge, confirm that it’s at the right pressure before using it.
5. Remove the wheel cover/hubcap
Wheel covers or hubcaps are covers that hide the lug nuts securing your tires. They can easily be removed by poping them out with a screwdriver or crowbar.
You can consult your vehicle owner’s manual for instructions if you have wheel covers that require a special type of tool to remove.
Keep your wheel cover close as it will be helpful as a tray for your lug nuts. If your car does not come with hubcaps, move on to the next step.
6. Loosen the lug nuts
This is also referred to as “breaking” the lug nuts. What you want to do is loosen the lug nuts without removing them completely. Use the lug wrench to turn each nut counterclockwise.
Break their resistance and leave them loose enough for you to remove later by hand. If you need to use more force, use your body weight or foot.
Just make sure you’re turning those nuts in the right direction. You can also add a piece of pipe at the end of the wrench to increase your leverage.
The reason why you need to loosen the lug nuts while the vehicle is still on the ground is to ensure that you’re turning the lug nuts and not the wheels. The latter could happen when the car is already suspended, which can be rather frustrating.
7. Place the jack under the vehicle
The jack should go under the vehicle right next to the tire that is flat. You’ll find a metal beam that makes part of the vehicle’s body. Most cars will have a molded plastic on this beam, showing you where to place the jack.
The jack should be firmly positioned and perpendicular to the ground. You can put a small 5cm x 15cm (2″x6″) woodblock under the jack to prevent it from sitting off balance or settling under the weight of the car.
Ensure that the jack is in contact with the metal beam and that it’s sturdy enough. If you do not position it right, it can crack the plastic provision when lifting the car. You also don’t want to place the jack on any vital parts of the car.
8. Raise your vehicle
If you have a scissor jack like the one shown above, turn it clockwise to raise your vehicle. Raise it to a height of about 6 inches. Keep any part of your body away from the bottom of the vehicle when raising it.
As soon as you notice there’s adequate light between the tire and the ground, you’ll know it’s at the right position. You need enough space to swap the flat for the spare.
Note: Stop raising the car and lower it if you notice that the jack is unstable or is prone to leaning. Correct the problem immediately before raising it again.
A small jack stand comes in handy here just in case the jack was to give in when the vehicle is raised.
9. Remove the lug nuts completely before you change your flat tire
Since you had already loosened the lug nuts, removing them all the way should be easy. Put them somewhere safe or on the wheel cover/hubcap that you removed earlier.
10. Remove the flat tire
Grab the tire and pull it outward. It should come out easily without any problems.
Sometimes, tires can get stuck due to corrosion. A few thumps with your hand or kicks to the sidewall can help break them free.
Once the tire is out, you can set it under the vehicle so that in the event the jack fails, the car will fall on the old wheel and hopefully, save you from any injuries.
If your jack is stable on a flat surface, you may have nothing to worry about. Simply set the tire aside where it cannot roll.
11. Install the spare tire
This might be the most physically challenging part of the entire process. However, it’s doable.
Place the spare wheel onto the wheel hub and make sure the rim aligns with the wheel bolts. You may have to support it using your feet if it’s too heavy. Push it inward until the lug bolts appear through the rim.
You want to make sure that you have the wheel facing the correct side. Check the stern valve. It should face outward, away from the vehicle.
If you have trouble installing the spare wheel, try jacking the car slightly higher. The flat tire was probably sitting pretty low when you were jacking up the car.
Put all the lugs back on and tighten them using your finger. Avoid using too much force that may upset the jack. You’ll tighten the lugs using the lug wrench once you lower the car.
12. Lower the car and tighten the lug nuts
Turn the scissor jack counterclockwise to lower the car slightly, just enough to get the spare tire on the ground. The full weight of the car should not rest on the tire just yet. This is where you need to tighten the lug nuts using your lug wrench.
Screw them in a clockwise direction. Work in a criss-cross or star-shaped pattern, that is, if you work on one lug, move to the one directly opposite and tighten it.
This helps to keep the lug nuts in the correct position when tightened and to reduce the likelihood of having a wobbly wheel. Give each nut a full turn before moving to the next one.
Once done, you can now lower the jack car completely. Give the nuts a final check to ensure they are tight. Remove the jack.
13. Replace the wheel cover
If your wheel cover/hubcap can fit the spare wheel, put it in place the same way you removed it. You may have to whack it in place using your hand. Make sure it aligns with the air filling stern notch. If it doesn’t fit, put it back on the flat tire you just removed.
14. Pack up your stuff
Once you’re done, you’ll have in front of you a flat tire, a jack, a lug wrench, wheel wedges, and possibly a wheel cover/hubcap. Gather all these things and put them in your trunk.
Look around you to ensure that you’ve left nothing on the ground. Check the roof of the car, just in case you had put something there while working.
Remember to wipe off the grease and dirt from your hands to avoid smearing it on the interior upholstery of your car.
15. Check the spare tire’s pressure
If you have a tire pressure gauge with you, check the tire pressure of the spare tire to ensure that it’s safe to drive. You can always do this before or after you change your flat tire.
There are digital tire pressure gauges that you can buy at your nearest auto shop that make the process easier.
Mini-spares which are also referred to as “T-type” temporary spares need about 420 kPa or 60 psi.
If the tire is low on pressure, drive slowly to a gas station and have it checked. Remember to release the parking brake before taking off.
16. Take your flat tire to a mechanic
Temporary spare tires are not meant to be used for long and neither are they to be used at high speed. Visit a professional to get the flat tire that you removed and put in the trunk checked.
Get a quote if it can be fixed. Small punctures will typically cost $15 or below. If the tire cannot be fixed, the professional should be able to dispose it well for you and sell you a replacement.
5 additional tips on changing tires
- Tire maintenance is key. Always keep your tires properly inflated. Monitor them for wear and tire and change them as recommended by the manufacturer.
- Check your spare tire every once in a while. It should be properly inflated at all times. A spare tire without air is not useful.
- Spare tires are rated for a maximum speed of between 50 and 55 mph. This is normally indicated on the tire’s sidewall. Driving faster could cause a blowout, something you want to avoid.
- Driving on a spare tire could change the driving dynamics of your car. Drive slowly as you feel how the car handles and brakes after you change a flat tire.
- Compact spare tires typically have a short lifespan. Only use them until you’re able to replace the flat tire with a new full-size spare.
How long does it take to change a flat tire?
If you decide to change a flat tire by yourself, changing a flat tire shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes. Once you’re used to it, you could easily do it in about half the time. Practice doing it in your driveway or garage using the steps provided in this article.
Can you drive a car with a flat tire?
Yes, you can. However, it is not advisable to drive your car with a flat tire. Only do it if you need to move a short distance to a safe spot. Driving for longer periods and at fast speeds could damage the rim. You’ll not only have to replace the tire but the rim as well.
How far can you go on a spare tire?
If you’re not sure how far your spare tire can get you, avoid going any further than 70 miles or exceeding a speed of 50 mph. When compared to compact spares, full-sized spare tires can do more. Always pay attention to the handling of your car since the spare tire will have a different wear life than the others. Stop the car if you notice any shaking or instability.