Learning how to change a tire can seem intimidating at first, but it’s really a simple process involving basic tools that you can keep with you in the trunk of your vehicle at all times. It’s always a good idea, however, to learn how to tackle this task before you have a flat, rather than wing it during an already-stressful situation.
That’s why we’ve put together this quick guide that you can use to practice in your driveway. These are the basic steps you’ll need to go through when changing out a flat, swapping summer tires for winter rubber or simply upgrading your car’s rims.
1. Secure the Car From Rolling
A big part of learning how to change a tire is making sure you know how to stay safe while doing so. To start things off, you’ll want to set the vehicle’s emergency brake, put the transmission in park (if it’s an automatic) or in gear (if it’s a manual) and turn off the motor. Finally, chock the wheels (with a brick, for example) to ensure that rolling away isn’t possible.
2. Gather Your Tools
You’ll need three basic tools to change a tire. The first is a lug wrench, which offers enough lever-action to break lugs loose. Most likely, your car came with a portable lug wrench, but it’s always a good idea to do a reality check and make sure it fits your wheel lugs. If you’re at home, you can use an impact wrench to loosen your lugs, too.
The second important tool is a jack that can safely fit under your car and lift it up, followed by a set of jack stands that will hold the vehicle in the air while you’re working. If you don’t have space in your trunk for jack stands, then make sure that the jack supplied by the manufacturer is a safer, mechanical screw-type jack rather than a hydraulic jack.
3. Break the Lugs Loose
Before you jack your car off the ground, you’ll have to break the lugs loose with the wrench. It’s far easier to do this with the vehicle’s weight immobilizing the wheel, so don’t jack your vehicle up until the lugs are loose.
4. Jack the Car and Remove the Wheel
Once the lugs are spinning freely, locate the manufacturer-specified jacking point for your vehicle, which will be listed in the manual, and slowly lift the car off of the ground. Make sure that you lift only until there’s a bit of daylight under the tire. Don’t lift too high, as your car or truck isn’t completely stable when teetering on three wheels. And don’t put any part of your body under the vehicle in case the jack fails.
At this point, you can remove the lugs, replace the wheel and tire with a new one, and then finger-tighten the lugs back on the studs. Some vehicles will have studs that come out completely, rather than lugs, but the steps remain the same.
5. Lower the Car and Tighten the Lugs
Gently lower the car on the jack until the wheel is back on the ground. At this point, use the lug wrench to tighten the lugs as much as possible. If you have a torque wrench, you can set it to factory specs and tighten with that. Do not use an impact wrench during the tightening process, as it can easily over- or under-torque the lugs.
The most important part of learning how to change a flat tire is safety. Always ensure your vehicle is safely jacked, and that you follow manufacturer recommendations. And remember, just because your lug wrench makes a handy prybar in your garage, doesn’t mean it should live there. Keep your emergency spare tire kit available in the trunk to stay prepared for surprises down the road.
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Photo courtesy of Flickr.
Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time. I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.