At the tender age of 25 (I won’t say how many years ago that was), I found myself in a predicament: I had overstated my survival skills and was completely unable to start a fire, despite claiming that I could. Even worse, I was camping with a group of people, all waiting patiently for the warmth of an orange flame. There I was without an ability that all humans should know. No match, no flame, no dice. Much like not knowing how to change a tire, not knowing how to start a fire can cause some eyebrows to raise.
The rhyme of all embarrassment.
There are just some things you need to know as a modern human, regardless of gender or age. You should know how to balance a checkbook (woof), jump-start a car, build a fire, cook pasta, and unclog a toilet. If you drive, like 83% of Americans, then you should know how to change a tire. You never want to find yourself stranded on the side of the road with all the necessary equipment to get back to driving condition, but no knowledge of how to do so.
Once again, it’s embarrassing.
So whether you are a new driver, an old driver that’s never had to deal with a floppy tire, or have somehow gone your life without the necessary skill, here’s how to change a tire!
How to Know My Tire Is Flat?
Sometimes a flat tire can be a bit inconspicuous. If you aren’t an auto expert (which you obviously are not), then you might not be able to notice a tire that’s gradually sinking past normal inflation.
Ultimately, a flat tire will sit lower than the rest of your tires. If it’s extremely flat, the bottom of the tire should be flat against the ground, keeping the tire from being as round as it should be.
If you are driving, you may notice a big thump or pop before feeling symptoms. This would mean you have popped the tire on an object. A flat tire while driving should make some type of thumping noise. You should also be able to feel it pulling your vehicle toward the flat side. Your steering and alignment will be affected.
Find a Safe Place to Work
If you notice the disheartening noise of a thumping tire, you may feel an exponential sense of panic. Though your heart may tell you to pull over immediately, it may not always be the best move. While driving on a flat tire is horrible for your wheel, it may be better than trying to fix it on a freeway.
At the end of the day, you want a flat place to change the tire that’s away from high-speed and busy traffic. You do not want to be on any incline. If you need to move to get to an applicable location, do so slowly. Put your hazards on and drive carefully to a place that feels safe and solid.
If you are on the highway and cannot get off, pull over to the correct shoulder. For example, if your right tire is flat, pull over to the right side. Never change a tire on the side that highway traffic is passing. If you cannot get to the correlating side or there is no shoulder on the highway, freeway, or interstate, call a professional to do it for you.
Do not let stubbornness cause you to get hurt. If you feel like you are in unsafe conditions (especially on busy highways), call a pro!
Once you find a safe, slow, and flat place to work, turn on your hazards, pull your emergency brake and get to changing.
What Materials You’ll Need
Most vehicles will have the required equipment needed to change a tire in the trunk. If you have a used car, you should make sure that all of the following items are in it and ready to go in case of emergency.
Here are all the materials you’ll need to change a tire:
- Manual car jack – this allows you to lift the flat tire off the ground.
- Spare tire – duh.
- Lug wrench or torque wrench – this is how you will loosen and tighten the nuts holding the tire.
- Flashlight – if it’s dark. Your cellphone will have one, of course.
The next items aren’t necessary for pros to change a tire, but they can be extremely useful for amateurs:
- Wheel wedges – these make sure that the vehicle is stationary and safe from rolling during the procedure.
- Portable tire inflator – for inflating the spare tire to the correct PSI.
- Tire gauge – to make sure the new tire is the correct PSI.
How to Change a Tire
You are in a safe place, you have your hazards on, you have your hand brake initiated, and you have the correct materials. It’s time to rock.
Here’s how to change a tire:
1. Loosen Lug Bolts
Take your wrench and loosen the bolts on the flat tire (counterclockwise). You may have to remove the wheel cover if your vehicle has one. Do not remove the lug nuts, just loosen them a little past removal. Doing this allows you to maneuver the tire without completely removing it and do the muscle work before lifting the vehicle.
Bonus: place the tire wedge behind the diagonal wheel from the one you are working on. For example, if you are changing the front right tire, place the wedge behind the back left. If you have multiple wedges, now would be the time to place them.
2. Lift the Car
Look at your owner’s manual to see where the jack points are under the vehicle. These points are solid metal that can safely support the weight of the vehicle without slipping off the jack or damaging the exterior.
If you do not have your manual, Google the jack points for your car on your phone. If you can’t do that, there is typically one behind each wheel. Make sure you aren’t putting the jack under the exterior, though. This could cause the exterior to break and the car to fall. If you cannot find the jack point and can’t Google it, call for help.
Messing up while lifting a vehicle can cause it to fall and seriously hurt you. Don’t play around here. Do not ever go under the vehicle, either. You are changing the tire, not the oil.
Once you find the point, place the jack under it and raise the car so that the flat tire has at least six inches of clearance from the ground.
3. Remove the Wheel
Once you know the car is lifted and sturdy, you can finish taking off the loosened lug nuts. Make sure to support the tire before taking the last one off to avoid injury; it will fall once all the nuts are off.
Once you take the wheel off, lay it on its side so it doesn’t roll away. Remember to place it in the trunk after everything is over. Your tire will be reused with a new tire on it. They are fairly expensive, so you don’t want to accidentally leave it at the scene of replacement.
4. Replace the Wheel and Lug Nuts
Now is the time to place the spare on the axle. There’s no specific way to do this. Line the spare (or new wheel) up with the hub and place it. Then, take the lug wrench and tighten the old lug nuts onto the wheel. Don’t worry about making it excruciatingly tight, we will worry about that later. Just make sure it’s flat with the hub and snug.
Stars Aren’t Just for Wars!
You may have heard this sentiment multiple times before: tighten your lug nuts in a star pattern.
What exactly does that mean? Well, it doesn’t take an astronomist.
Ultimately, start by tightening the top lug, then go to the one across the wheel from it, then up to the other corner. It should create a pattern as if you were drawing a star on paper.
This technique works to make sure all lugs are evenly tightened and that the wheel is drawn down evenly. You don’t want an uneven wheel under a moving car. If placed incorrectly, the wheel will cause wobbling, steering issues, and reduced gas mileage.
5. Lower and Tighten
Now you are able to lower the vehicle off of the jack. Make sure to do so in a slow manner. You don’t want the vehicle dropping quickly.
Furthermore, now is the time to tighten the lug nuts as much as humanly possible. Use the entirety of your weight and arms on the wrench, making sure that you get them as tight as you can. Remember the star pattern. You can make sure the wheel is tight by shaking it. If it feels loose on the car, something is incorrect with the placing and tightening process.
At this point, you are done and ready to get to the nearest tire shop! Ultimately, you don’t want to ride on a spare tire for long. Get the original replaced as soon as possible.
When to Call for Help?
We have noted a few times that you should avoid being too stubborn. If the situation seems dangerous, you should call for help.
- If you are stuck in an area that seems dangerous, don’t try to change the tire. Don’t find yourself bent down in the middle of the freeway. Call for help.
- If the weather is extremely difficult to work in, call for help. Sweltering heat or brutal cold can be an awful and dangerous experience, especially if you have a preexisting health condition.
- If you don’t have the correct tools, don’t try to finagle it. Call for help.
- If you completely forget how to change a tire or simply cannot locate the correct jack points, don’t risk your safety.
What Causes Flat Tires?
When you find yourself bent down on the side of the road, fumbling with loose lug nuts, you may be quick to ask any diety what you did to deserve the torture.
At the end of the day, flat tires are an extremely common issue. Every one is liable to experience it at least once in their driving career. But what are the most common causes? Can you prevent them?
- Sharp objects – there’s not much you can do to avoid hidden blades, broken glass, or jagged rocks.
- Improper inflation – not having your tire inflated properly can cause internal damage. Make sure to keep an eye on your tire pressure.
- bad roads – colossal potholes, fallen debris, and other road hazards can pop your tire. Unfortunately, you can only try to avoid them.
- leaking stem – sometimes the air leak on a tire isn’t on the tire itself. A broken or damaged valve stem will cause the tire to leak, too.
- Wear and Age – old rubber wears out. It’s that simple. If your tires are over five years old or have reduced tread, it’s time to change them.
Fun Tire Facts
While we’ve got you here, let’s have some fun. Here are some little-known facts about those pesky tires you drive on.
- Tire rubber is actually white! Manufacturers add carbon later to improve tensile strength, turning the tire black.
- The most expensive tires are made by Michelin and cost $42,000. They are used for supercars and are able to withstand 258 miles per hour.
- The world’s largest tire is in Allen Park, Michigan, and stands 80 feet tall and over 12 tons.
- In the 1960s, Goodyear introduced an illuminated tire. The tires were transparent rubber and lights were mounted inside of the rim. Ultimately, it ended up being too expensive and weird for modern consumers.
- Lego is technically the biggest tire producer in the world. Though small in size, Lego produces over 318 million working tires per year.
- Many car manufacturers have dropped including spare tires to help meet emission standards. Make sure you check one is there!