Getting a flat tire is pretty inconvenient, but provided you have the right tools, a little know-how and the ability lift 25 pounds, you can get yourself back on the road in no time. We walk you through the steps one at a time in this video we created with our friends at Car Talk.
DISCLAIMER: Changing a tire can be dangerous. Follow all of the instructions provided in your owner’s manual, and be sure to get yourself to safe, flat, well-lighted place before you start.
Step 1: Get off the road
If you’re not lucky enough to have your tire go flat in an empty parking lot like in our video, you need to get off the road and out of the way of passing cars.
Driving any great distance on a flat tire isn’t a great idea because you can eventually damage the wheel, especially if your car has aluminum wheels. But trying to change a driver’s side tire on a busy highway as traffic whizzes by is even worse. If you need to, get in the breakdown lane, and slowly drive to the nearest rest area, exit, weigh station or pull-off so that you can safely change your tire without getting hit.
Step 2: Park on level ground
We’re assuming you’re not driving around with a top-quality floor jack in your car, and you’re going to be using the jack supplied with the car. They work well, but only when the ground is as flat as possible.
Step 3: Set the parking brake
The parking brake will help keep the car from rolling and falling off the jack. Even if you’re replacing a tire on a car with an automatic transmission in park, there’s still a little bit of slack in the drivetrain that can allow the car to roll enough to tip the jack over. It only takes a second to set the brake and save you the potential disaster.
Step 4: Remove the tools and tire from the trunk
We’ll cover how to use a tire inflation kit in another video, but for the purposes of this video, we’re assuming you have some kind of spare tire in the trunk, either compact or full size. Some SUVs have tires mounted to carriers on the tailgate, and some have under-mounted spare tire carriers you need to crank down. To find out how to access your spare, you’ll probably want to move to Step 5.
Step 5: Read your owner’s manual
No matter how experienced you are with changing a tire, it’s good to familiarize yourself with how the jack works and where the jacking points are.
Step 6: Locate the jacking points
The Buick Cascada featured in the video has a ridge in the unibody that mates with a corresponding indentation in the jack. Be sure you understand how your jack works with the jacking point. Some jacks have a rod that slides into a hole in the side of the rocker panel. Others have a nylon block that slips tightly into a rectangular hole in the underside of the rocker panel.
Step 7: Remove wheel covers or lugnut caps
Your car may have plastic wheel covers or center caps that need to be removed. The Cascada has plastic lug bolt caps that look just like lugnuts, but they need to be taken off to access the actual bolts.
Step 8: Slightly loosen the lugs before jacking the car
Trying to loosen the lugs when the wheel is in the air is an exercise in frustration at best, and at worst can push the car right off the jack. By loosening the nuts before you raise the car, you can take them off without jostling the car around while it’s up in the air. DO NOT REMOVE THEM YET.
Step 9: Lower the jack so that it slides under the car
The Cascada has a scissor jack that goes under the car, and it slots into a space in a styrofoam carrier when it’s stowed in the trunk. In order to get it under the car, you need to lower the jack a bit. You may or may not have to do this on your car.
Step 10: Raise the car with the jack
Most emergency jacks are some form of scissor jack that raises thanks to a threaded rod. They work well, but typically need some 2,406 rotations in order to raise the car off the ground. Be patient and the tire will eventually raise to the point where there’s an inch or so of clearance between the tire’s contact patch and the parking lot.
Step 11: Remove the lug bolts
If you’ve already loosened the bolts, nuts or whatever holds the wheel in place, removing them completely will be a snap. You can use the provided wrench to guide them out of the holes they live in.
As we all learned from the movie A Christmas Story, make sure you securely stow the lug bolts and don’t let them get scattered all over the countryside, especially if it’s dark out.
Step 12: Remove the wheel
Take the wheel off by pulling it straight toward you. Avoid jostling the car too much, and avoid putting your hands and arms between the tire and the wheel well. On aluminum wheels, you can usually grab two opposite spokes and pull the wheel off easily.
Step 13: Mount the spare
The trickiest part of the whole procedure is getting the spare’s mounting holes aligned with the holes in the brake rotor. Cars with lug nuts as opposed to lug bolts have an advantage here. The threaded studs are mounted to the brake rotor, so you can turn the wheel a little to get the holes lined up.
With lug bolts, you have to line the holes in the wheel up with the holes in the brake rotor, which is challenging in the daylight, and maddening at night.
Step 14: Mount the lug bolts
Once you get the holes lined up, mount one of the lug bolts first to keep the wheel from rotating. Then you can install the rest of the lug bolts. Tighten them slightly, and push on the wheel at 12 o’clock, three o’clock, six o’clock and nine o’clock to make sure the wheel is in contact with the brake rotor.
Don’t worry about tightening the lug bolts more than finger tight. We’ll do that when you lower the car off the jack.
Step 15: Lower the car, but not all the way
Lower the car to the point where the tire makes contact with the asphalt enough to keep it from spinning. It’s important because you’re going to fully tighten the lugs and you want to keep the jack under the car as a safety measure.
Step 16: Tighten the lugs
Unless you’ve got a torque wrench with you, you’re going to have to guess how tight to make the lugs. You want them tight, but you don’t have to jump up and down on the wrench. Just make sure they’re tight enough that they won’t come off when you’re driving.
We still like the star pattern of tightening lug bolts. Start with one, and tighten around the wheel in a star pattern. Then start at the first again and snug them up a second time.
Step 17: Lower the car completely and remove the jack
Once the jack is lowered all the way, slide it out from under the car.
Step 18: Replace the tools and stow the tire
We like to reassemble the tire tool kit in its holder. Not only does it keep the tools from rolling around the trunk, but it also gives you a chance to check if you’ve left anything behind. Look for:
- Screwdriver (sometimes supplied if you have wheel covers)
- Wheel covers/Lug caps
Step 19: Find your closest tire shop
It’s best to drive on a compact spare as little as possible. They’re only meant to do a maximum of 55 mph, and they have a completely different tread pattern — and sometimes diameter — as the other three tires, so find your closest tire shop and get your flat tire fixed or replaced.
We certainly hope you never have a flat, but if you do, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll get a little dirty and sweaty, but it’s better than waiting an hour for the wrecker to show up.
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