The first time I ever had to change a tire was when I was 17 years old. It was about midnight, and my friend and I had just left a poker game separately and were driving away when I suddenly saw him pull over and get out of his car. I circled back around, and we proceeded to spend the next two hours trying to change his tire.
It took that long for two reasons: our inexperience with changing a tire, for one, and second, the lug nuts were so rusted that they could hardly be spun. But after calling and waking up both of our sets of parents for advice, we got the flat tire off and the spare on.
Unfortunately, it would be many, many years before I really learned how to take off a tire quickly and effectively. This may seem somewhat emasculating to say, but it’s taken a lot of trial and error for me to truly learn and commit to memory the steps necessary to change a tire.
Learn from my mistakes: follow the following main steps for how to change a tire, or save this quick guide as a cheat sheet for later by clicking the image below.
- Make sure you’re in a safe place
- Loosen lug nuts with the tire on the ground
- Set the parking brake
- Find a solid spot for the jack
- Take the flat tire off and put the new tire on
- Tighten lug nuts in a star pattern
- Finishing touches
This piece of advice can be taken in a multitude of ways. Whether you’re in an unsafe area at night or on the shoulder of a busy freeway, you need to be very careful when changing your tire. Many people are hesitant to spend money on a tow truck or AAA-type service, but it’s a good idea to consider this option if you’re in an unsafe position.
Twice when leaving the house of my girlfriend (who is now my wife), I hit a bad pothole getting onto the bypass, and was stuck in a spot where fast cars were driving by, causing my vehicle to shake. Neither time did I feel comfortable getting out of my vehicle, so I called a local towing service and got my car moved to a safer position off of the road. It wasn’t ideal, but I’m still here today.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure your hazard lights are always on.
This is an important step. Take your wrench out and loosen the lug nuts on your flat tire before you take it off the ground with a jack. It’s much, much harder to unscrew the lug nuts if the tire is suspended in the air. You’ll end up spinning the whole tire and not the lug nut — no matter how hard you try.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve jacked up the car (I’ve had a lot of flats), only to realize I needed to lower it because all the lug nuts were on too tight. Save yourself some time and energy and loosen the lug nuts on the ground, and then finish taking them off once your vehicle is on the jack.
Make sure you put the nuts down in a safe place where they won’t roll away or become lost. You’re going to need them to get the new tire on.
Once my wife and I were returning from California to the Midwest. When our flight landed, we rushed to our car so we could get out of the parking garage quickly and on the road home. But when we got to our car, our front tire was completely flat.
We happened to be parked on an incline, and as I frantically began to pull the jack out of the trunk and place it under the car, I forgot to set the parking brake. I successfully jacked the car up and took the tire off, but when I went to grab the spare, the car fell off the jack and fell to the ground with only three tires. I’m lucky nothing was damaged and no one was hurt.
Parking brake = small but essential step.
Some newer vehicles have a designated spot to place your jack, but if your car doesn’t have that feature, just make sure you choose the most solid and sturdy place you can find. Otherwise, you run the risk of cracking or damaging part of the underbelly of your car. Once the jack is in place, you can crank it up.
Once you have successfully raised your vehicle and finished unscrewing your lug nuts (which hopefully you have stored in a safe place), it’s time to pull the tire off. Do so gently. Using too much force to get the tire off risks knocking the car off the jack.
Finally, you can put on the new tire. Put the lug nuts on by hand and use the jack to lower the tire to the ground slowly, but not so that the full weight of the vehicle is on the tire.
To make sure the new tire is securely on the vehicle, use the wrench to tighten them. It’s important to do so in a star-like pattern. That means starting with one lug nut, and then moving to the one across or diagonal from it. This will ensure that the tire tightens on the axle evenly.
Once you’re done, finish lowering the vehicle, remove the jack and check each lug nut with your wrench to make sure it’s tight and secure.
Lastly, you’ll want to check the tire pressure in your spare, throw the flat tire in the trunk, and take it to get serviced as quickly as possible. Most spare tires are donuts — smaller, temporary tires that save space in storage — and can only be driven for around 70 miles (maybe less depending on your spare) at no faster than 50 miles per hour.
Because your spare is likely a temporary tire and not a replacement, it’s important to avoid treating it as if it will last forever. Otherwise, it won’t take long before you have a flat tire again, only this time, you won’t have another spare to put on.
If you’re dealing with a flat tire right now, I hope this quick guide was useful in solving your problem. But chances are you’ll need this information sometime in the future. Fill out the form below to download this article as a saveable and printable cheat sheet, to have when you need it most.