A tire blowout or serious puncture that forces us to the side of the road is a scenario we’ve all imagined and seen on TV and in movies, but we always hope won’t happen to us. In fictional portrayals, it’s usually followed by a comic attempt at someone to change a tire where they subsequently get everything wrong and end up covered in oil and dirt when they somehow finish it, possibly with the help of a plucky stranger.
Here’s the cold hard truth: changing a tire is a useful and important skill and everyone should learn the basics of how it’s done. Like martial arts, you learn it so that you may never need it, but it’s better to have the knowledge and skill and subsequently not need it than the other way around. Therefore, in today’s blog we’ll be discussing the various ins and outs of how to change a flat tire.
How Do Tires Go Flat?
You might think you know all about how tires go flat, but there are some very common causes that might still surprise you.
Punctures from Sharp Objects
This is the most common cause of which people are generally aware. Tires are made of rubber and sharp objects like nails, glass shards, sharp tools and other debris can all get stuck in your tires and leave holes and tears that allow the air to escape.
The edge of the tire resting on its rim is known as the “tire bead.” If air is leaking from the bead, then it’s an odd one for drivers because there’s often no visible damage but the tire appears to be losing air. You can check this by spraying the tire with soapy water and looking for air bubbles emerging through the water/soap.
If you’ve had any encounters with the curb or other slight collisions on your wheels recently, did you check to make sure that the tire hasn’t come away from the rim, even slightly? This slippage of the tire can cause a slow loss of air, and it’s very tricky to get fixed yourself without the right gear.
Valve Stem Damage
The valve stem is that little protrusion with a cap on it which you can remove to either allow air out deliberately or put more air in. If that stem is damaged or corroded in some way, then air can escape through there, eventually leaving your tire flat.
Of course, we can’t rule out human interference. We’ve seen in fictional portrayals, and possibly in real life, the existence of people who derive pleasure or meaning from damaging people’s tires. Sometimes it’s a “prank” or other times perhaps an act of revenge. In any event, people end up with flat tires.
Worn or Damaged Tire Structure
Finally, if the tire has become overly worn or damaged, especially on the side wall, then it loses structural integrity and becomes increasingly susceptible to tire blowouts. If these blowouts happen on the road while driving at speed, it can have very dangerous, even deadly results.
Not All Causes are Dramatic
From this list, we can see that the various causes that lead us to being in need of a new tire are not always ones that are so dramatic or violent like an on-road blowout. Very often, it’s simply our own lack of notice about small air leaks that allow our tires to run down until it’s finally too late and we are left stranded. Let’s now look at how to change a flat tire, or damaged tire, starting with the tools that are needed.
How to Change a Flat Tire: Tools Needed
As it happens, you don’t need many things to successfully change a tire, and the best news is that all of the main tools you require should have come with your car when you bought it. Here are the core tools:
- Your car owner’s manual - will explain the particular steps for your own vehicle
- Spare tire
- Lug Wrench --- it’s like a big X shape
On top of these tools, some additional items that don’t come with your car include:
- Rain gear --- poncho or waterproof coat
- Wheel wedges
- Working flashlight
- A 2x6 cut of wood to help secure the jack
If any of these items are missing from your car, we suggest you replace them as soon as possible. If you bought your car very recently, there is a chance that you didn’t get a spare tire with your car.
It’s an increasingly common practice not to provide spare tires because they are seen as too much extra dead weight and taking up potential storage space. On electric cars their usual position under the floor of your trunk or similar place is hard to emulate because the floor of the car is dominated by the car’s battery pack.
How to Change a Flat Tire: Steps Required
Step 1: Try to Get to a Safe Spot and Activate Hazard Lights
The first thing you have to try your best to do is to pull over and get to a safe spot on the road. It’s incredibly dangerous to attempt to change your tire in the middle of the highway or other road where traffic is coming, that should go without saying. Equally, changing it in a narrow shoulder near oncoming traffic is also dangerous.
Activate your hazard lights --- some people call them “flashers” --- when you know that you have to pull over. If you don’t know which button it is, consult your manual, but it should be a large prominent button either red with two white triangles or another color with two red triangles inside. Then, try to get somewhere as safe as possible before you start attempting to change the tire.
Step 2: Apply the Parking Brake and Put Wheel Wedges in Place
Once you’ve safely pulled over, activate the parking brake to minimize any chance of your car unexpectedly rolling. This is doubly important if you’re on even a slight incline. Next, place the wheel wedges either in front or behind the tires depending on which way you could potentially roll. The wedges will give you that extra bit of security that you won’t roll away.
Step 3: Loosen the Lug Nuts
The next step is to loosen the nuts, which are the large nuts on your wheel face. If you can’t see them, it might be because your vehicle has hubcaps or wheel covers. Remove these first of all using the flat end of your lug wrench. It’s always best to remove these before you raise the car with the jack.
Use the lug wrench to turn the lug nuts counterclockwise about a quarter or half turn --- no more than that. It’s important that you only loosen, but don’t remove the lug nuts yet. You may need considerable force to move them, but that’s normal.
Remember to do this BEFORE you lift the vehicle. If you try to do what the guy is doing in the picture, the wheels will just spin right around and be very difficult to untighten!
Step 4: Put Jack in Position and Raise the Vehicle
Next, place the jack under the vehicle frame by the flat tire. Your owner’s manual will give you a safe and exact location, but it should be some exposed metal on the underside of your car. Don’t place it on your bumper or on any side plastic because it might damage these components when you lift the vehicle. You can place the 2x6 wood under the jack before you raise the vehicle in order to improve stability.
With the jack in place, raise the car up to about until the tire is about 6 inches clear of the ground, being sure never to put any part of your body under the car while doing so.
Step 5: Remove the Lug Nuts and the Flat Tire
Unscrew the loosened lug nuts --- it should be easier now you’ve loosened them. You might be able to do it by hand, but use the wrench if there is still resistance. Take the flat tire by the tread and carefully remove it, setting it aside flat so it doesn’t roll away.
Step 6: Mount Your Spare and Replace the Lug Nuts
Place your spare tire onto the lug bolts by simply lining them up and then pushing gently until you feel the tire securely go into place. Replace the lug nuts by hand at first. You’ll tighten them with the wrench in the next step.
Step 7: Lower the Car and Tighten the Lug Nuts
Bring the car back down on the jack so the spare is on the ground but not bearing the full weight of the car. Tighten the lug nuts with the wrench, turning clockwise. Use all the power you can to get them nice and tight. Finally, lower the vehicle completely and remove the jack. You’re done!
The final step for some is replacing the hubcap, but they’re increasingly rare, anyway.
Conclusion: Is There Less to Fear from Flat Tires?
Tire technology has not been static over the years. The advent of run-flat tires has made them more durable and able to withstand blowouts than ever. It’s even gotten to the point where most OEMs don’t provide spare tires anymore. Instead they provide temporary repair kits designed to firm up damage to the tire enough to allow the owner of the vehicle to safely limp on to an auto shop. Indeed, that’s where the market demand has risen.
Regardless, we feel that the knowledge of changing a spare tire remains useful, and for however long it’s useful, it’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around.