Do you know how to change a flat tire? Don’t feel bad if the answer is no. Survey data from AAA suggest 20 percent of American drivers don’t know. And you won’t have to search too hard to find internet articles noting the percentage of millennials is higher than the public at large.
Sure, AAA is an excellent service; sure, your dad may live close enough to drive to you. But with the right tools and knowledge, changing your own tire is a simple, straightforward task you can do yourself. Here’s a quick guide.
Location, Location, Location
This is an obvious point, but an important one. Find a safe place away from traffic to change your tire. Make sure you’re on level ground, and that that ground is solid. You should still have some control after your tire pops. Driving on the wheel may damage it, but that’s preferable to placing yourself at risk.
Turn on your hazard lights. Shift the car into park for an automatic and either first gear or reverse for a manual. Deploy the parking brake. Finally, use wheel wedges such as this set from Maxx Haul ($15 on Amazon) to help hold the vehicle in place. Place them on either the front or back wheel, opposite to the tire you’re changing.
Find Your Spare Tire
Consult your owner’s manual to find the location of your spare tire and associated tools. If you’re not driving a Jeep Wrangler or Mercedes-Benz G-Class, the spare is likely underneath the trunk bed or held in a cradle underneath the trunk. The spare may be a full replacement wheel and tire, or a space-saving “donut.” (Make sure that the spare is kept inflated, so it is ready for use when needed.)
Find Your Tools
You will need both a jack and a lug wrench. Your car should have them moth. If not, you can also buy universal ones, such as this Cartman lug wrench ($15 on Amazon) and this Lead Brand universal scissor jack ($30 on Amazon).
Loosen the Lug Nuts
If your car has a hubcap or wheel cover, consult your owner’s manual on the proper removal method. After that, loosen the lug nuts with the lug wrench by turning counterclockwise. Loosen them enough to break the resistance. Don’t take them off completely. Feel free to use your feet or body weight to force the lug nuts open if necessary.
Jack the Car Up
Consult the owner’s manual for the proper place for the jack. On unibody vehicles, there is often a notch for the jack near each wheel. Position the jack straight up and down. Lift the car enough so that the tire is off the ground, and you can remove and replace it.
You may opt to use a jack stand, such as this one from Amazon Basics ($31, Amazon), as extra insurance in case the jack gives way. Keep your body parts out from under the vehicle.
Remove the Wheel And Attach the Spare
Turn counterclockwise some more to remove the lug nuts completely. Remove the wheel. (You can place the damaged wheel under the vehicle as extra support in case the jack gives way.)
Place the spare wheel on the hub. Align the wheel with the lug bolts. Screw the lug nuts back in by hand as far as you can clockwise.
Lower the jack until the wheel touches the ground but is not carrying the full weight of the car. Tighten the lug nuts clockwise with the lug wrench. (It can be helpful to screw down the lug nuts by alternating between the ones across the hub from each other, rather than just going around the wheel.)
Lower the spare to the ground and remove the jack. Check the tire pressure with a tire gauge, such as this digital one from AstroAI ($9, Amazon).
Collect your tools. Accept the praises of your grateful passenger.
Bring the damaged tire/wheel to a tire professional as soon as possible for repair or replacement. Remember that the space saver tires are not designed for long-term use and tend to be rated for a top speed of around 50 mph.
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