You’re driving along a stretch of highway, enjoying a beautiful summer day. Construction season is seemingly never out-of-style as you slow down to pass a road crew tearing up the lane next to you. Out of nowhere, you feel your car abruptly tilt to one side. That’s because you just drove over a nail and blew a tire. You get that sinking feeling and pull over when it’s safe, get out to inspect the damage, and realize there’s no getting around it — you’re going to have to swap it out for a spare.
In this situation, many people simply call their roadside assistance company and play the waiting game. But if your phone’s battery is dead or if you’re in an area with little to no reception, and you don’t know how to change a tire, you may have to walk quite a way to get help. Learning to change a tire is one of the most crucial skills every driver should have — it’s easy — plus it saves time, saves money (no more leaning on roadside assistance to fix everything), and is an all-around practical and useful skill to have. This handy guide will teach you how to properly change a tire so you’re never helplessly stranded on the side of the road.
Find a Safe Location to Change a Tire
Make sure you are in a safe area to change the tire and have taken extra precautions. If you have a blow out on a freeway your only option may be the shoulder of the road. In this case, be sure to set up road flares or reflective cones. If you do not have flares or cones and traffic is heavy or you’re uncomfortable, call roadside assistance and 911 for emergency traffic assistance. If you’re in Illinois, emergency traffic assistance is typically provided by Emergency Traffic Patrol (ETP).
Preparing to Change a Tire
- Put the car in park
- Apply the parking brake
- Chock the tires with a rock
Next, ensure you have the following equipment. If you don’t have all of these items, go out and buy them now — you never know when a tire will give out.
Core Equipment for Changing a Tire
- Lug wrench
- Properly inflated spare tire (check every so often to ensure it’s inflated)
- Car owner’s manual
Optional Equipment for Changing a Tire
- Wheel wedges
- Reflective triangles
- Rain poncho
Want to learn more on this topic? Read, “Tire Care & Maintenance.”
11 Steps for Changing a Tire Properly
Step 1. Pull over at a safe spot
As soon as you notice something wrong, find an area where it’s safe to pull over, preferably with a wide shoulder so you have more room to work. Put your hazard lights on, begin to slow down and come to a full stop on the shoulder. Engage your parking break and if necessary, set up the reflective triangles to alert drivers that you are stopped ahead. Place the wheel wedges behind/in front of the car to prevent any possible rolling.
Step 2. Remove the hubcap
You can do this with the flat end of the lug wrench. If your lug nuts are already exposed, skip this step.
Step 3. Loosen the lug nuts
Use the lug wrench to loosen, but not remove, all of the lug nuts on the affected tire. Turn them counterclockwise until you are able to loosen them by hand later.
Step 4. Place the jack under the car
Use the vehicle owner’s manual to find the correct spot to place the jack. Generally, it’s under the vehicle alongside the tire. It will be a flat expansion of metal, so as to ensure that you don’t jack the plastic frame. Make sure the ground is completely flat, cleared of debris or rocks. you want the jack to extend straight up without slipping.
Step 5. Expand the jack
Start cranking the jack so that it raises. It takes some effort, but raise the car until the tire is about 6 inches off the ground. Do not put any part of your body underneath the vehicle when it is raised.
Step 6. Remove lug nuts
Fully remove the already-loosened lug nuts and keep them nearby and accessible — you’ll need them to secure the spare tire.
Step 7. Remove the flat tire
Grip the tire by the treads and pull it off the spokes. Set it on the ground on its side so it doesn’t roll away.
Step 8. Place the spare on
Align the spokes with the holes on the spare tire and push it until it’s all the way on.
Step 9. Place lug nuts
Place the lug nuts and tighten them by hand. Do NOT use the lug wrench while the car is on the jack.
Step 10. Lower the car and tighten the lug nuts
Lower the jack slowly until the car is on the ground. Use the lug wrench to fully tighten the lug nuts onto the spare tire. Tighten them in a star pattern to ensure even force distribution (ie tighten top, bottom left, top right, top left, bottom right). Remove the jack and put it away safely.
Step 11. Replace the hubcap (if possible)
Put the hubcap back onto the new tire, put the flat tire into your trunk and clean up your equipment from the side of the road. You’re now good to get going again!
Risks Associated with Donut Tires
It would be best if you have a similar tire to your regular ones, but a spare “donut” tire will do the job in a pinch. However, keep in mind that donut tires are strictly a temporary measure until you can get the full tire replaced.
- When driving on a donut tire, do NOT drive above 50 mph
- Braking, cornering and handling WILL be affected.
- Check the donut’s tire pressure. It should be 60 psi
- You can only drive so many miles on a donut. Check the vehicle owner’s manual to see how many miles it can handle.
Changing a tire might sound like a daunting task, but it’s really quite simple once you understand how it works. It’s never a pleasant experience to change a tire on the side of a road, but it’s time saving, money saving and can get you out of a pickle when there are no other options. Follow the simple steps outlined above and you’ll be out-and-about in no time!