It’s one of the most frustrating feelings and nobody ever thinks it’ll happen to them. Cursing into the wind as rubberneckers race past your stranded car. Fumbling through your contacts to see if there’s anyone you can call for help. Frantically trying to retrieve tools you’ve never even bothered to buy, let alone store in your trunk. Standing dumbfounded by just how quickly your day could go from predictable to dreadful. All because of a stupid, flat tire.
Whether or not you’re ready for them, flat tires inevitably happen to every single driver on the road. If you’re lucky, they’ll happen in an area away from traffic. Even so, knowing how to change a flat tire is a survival skill that can mean the difference between losing one hour out of your day fixing a basic problem, or losing an entire day altogether in the name of preventable helplessness. If you happen to be clueless about all of this, or you just need to refresh your memory on how to do it, here’s a simple rundown of everything you need to know about changing a car tire:
Step 1: Be Prepared Before It Happens
Regardless of make or model, every vehicle is automatically equipped with a set of standard equipment specifically to help drivers contend with this issue. For instance most cars have: spare tires, a jack, a wrench, and an instruction manual. Beyond these standard supplies, it is beneficial to stock up on additional gear that makes the process of changing tires easier and cleaner. Overall, make sure your vehicle always carries the following:
A legible Instruction Manual.
Disposable Surgical Gloves and heavy-duty Work Gloves.
A fully inflated Spare Tire.
A fully charged flashlight.
Emergency Roadside Warning Triangle Reflectors.
Emergency Roadside Flares.
A First Aid Kit.
Step 2: Analyze the Situation
When flat tires happen, don’t get swept up in the frustration of having your journey interrupted. Flat tires can create life-threatening situations in moving traffic, so always repair them with alertness. If a flat tire happens away from traffic, simply change the tire using the tools available to you. If it happens in traffic:
Keep your wits about you and do not turn or brake the vehicle dangerously.
The moment you notice the flat tire, pull over carefully to a clear and safe area that won’t snarl traffic or expose you to collisions once you exit the vehicle. For instance, avoid parking on corners, curves or hills. Preferably park the car on level ground where people can see you clearly. Also make sure that you park on a wide shoulder if you are forced to pull over on a busy highway.
Once in a safe and unobstructed zone, turn on your hazard lights and apply the handbrake.
Scan your surroundings once again to ensure that it is safe for you to exit the vehicle. NEVER CHANGE A FLAT TIRE IN THE MIDDLE OF A TRAFFIC LANE.
Before handling any equipment related to changing tires, retrieve a pair of gloves and wear them to prevent your hands from becoming soiled.
If there is enough safe room to provide more of a warning to other drivers, retrieve the Emergency Roadside Triangle Reflectors/Flares and arrange them 200 to 300 feet behind the vehicle. Only use flares under conditions of low visibility and remember not to ignite them near flammable materials. If you need to make it absolutely clear to others that you are stranded, lift the hood of your car and leave it open. Even without an engine malfunction, this gesture communicates to drivers that you are in distress and will likely attract a helping hand over time.
Consult your instruction manual for details on where exactly to hook the jack in order to raise the vehicle, as well as other important specifications regarding your tires.
Step 3: Begin Repairs
If you have them, affix wheel wedges strategically to prevent the car from rolling as you change the tire.
If your vehicle has a hubcap, make sure to remove it before elevating the car. Attempting to remove hub caps with a raised jack can jolt and drop the vehicle suddenly.
Retrieve the spare tire and place it safely nearby. Be aware of its position to avoid tripping over it as you move around the area.
Take the wrench and slightly loosen the tire’s lug-nuts by rotating them counterclockwise. Do not remove the lug-nuts completely because the wheel has to stay in place momentarily when elevated.
Based on the area underneath the vehicle frame that is demarcated for the jack (refer to instruction manual to find it), place the jack beneath the car and use it to raise the vehicle until the flat tire is approximately six inches off the ground. Once the vehicle is raised, do not let any person – yourself included – position any part of their body underneath the car in any way whatsoever.
When the tire is fully hoisted, unscrew its lug-nuts completely then remove the entire wheel by gripping it with both hands and pulling it away from its rotor. Remember that the wheel is bound to be heavy so be prepared for it to drop to the ground.
After moving the flat tire away to a safe area, carry the spare tire and mount it into place on the rotor. The lug-bolts should be visible through their respective notches on the rim.
Replace the lug-nuts onto their bolts then tighten them by hand in order to secure the wheel into place. Remember that as the car is lowered it will still need to be tightened twice more to attach the wheel.
Without lowering the vehicle completely onto its own weight, adjust the jack till the tire is in contact with the ground. Tighten the lug-nuts once again by rotating them clockwise and depressing the wrench with your entire bodyweight. This should help fasten the wheel significantly.
Lower the vehicle completely by adjusting the jack and then remove it so that the car stands on its own weight.
Tighten the lug-nuts once again using your bodyweight to ensure that they aren’t loose in any way whatsoever. The momentum of the spinning wheel could easily fling them away if the lug-nuts aren’t totally locked in place.
Step 4: Find Professional Assistance
Just because you’ve managed to replace the wheel on your car doesn’t mean it’s capable of functioning at its usual capacity. In fact, chances are the spare tire is going to be underinflated which means that traveling at high speeds could cause yet another flat. For as long as the spare wheel is in place – drive cautiously. Your highest priority at this point should be to find a professional technician who can supply you with a reliable replacement for the deflated tire.
Once the spare tire is firmly in place, store away all the equipment which was set up to replace the tire.
Immediately drive to the nearest service station and inflate the installed spare wheel to a sufficient pressure. Specifications for the appropriate tire pressure are listed either in the instruction manual, or on the inner boundaries of the driver’s door. It wouldn’t hurt either to inflate the other tires for good measure.
Once the car has guaranteed stable tire pressure all-round, drive to an auto store or mechanic in order to replace the original flat tire.
If you are completely stranded or powerless to change your tire as soon as you notice it’s flat, making a quick call to your insurance company is a good way to get some roadside assistance. Even beyond flat tires, insurance companies can help with minor emergencies such as accidentally locking ignition keys in your car or towing services. For more information, give us a call at 1-888-309-4545 to find out how Adriana’s Traffic School can help you practice sound road safety.