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A flat tire can happen at any time. An errant nail or hard contact with a curb can temporarily disrupt your plans. Be ready for an emergency by knowing how to change a tire with the tools designed for this task. This guide takes you through the steps of how to change a flat and replace it with the spare.
Tools to Change a Tire
You need specific tools to change a tire. They should have come with your vehicle, but it helps to check if any items are missing or in need of replacement. At minimum, your trunk should have these:
- A manual car jack designed to raise your vehicle high enough to remove the flat tire.
- A spare tire. Most vehicles are equipped with a “donut tire”, a spare that is smaller in diameter than a regular tire.
- A lug wrench or torque wrench. This wrench is designed to remove the nuts attaching the wheel to the rotor.
- Wheel wedges. Also known as wheel chocks, these are placed against the wheels to immobilize the vehicle.
- A portable tire inflator.
- A tire gauge to read the recommended tire pressure.
Find a Safe Spot
A tire that goes flat in your driveway is an inconvenience. Getting a flat tire while you are on the road is stressful. Changing a tire should always start with exercising caution. Follow these key steps when a flat tire happens:
- First, look for a safe place to change the tire. Pull off to a quiet side street or a store parking lot and park on a flat section of pavement. Keep alert and aware of your surroundings when exiting your vehicle and during the entire process.
- If you are on a busy road or highway when the tire blows out, slowly reduce your speed and look for a safe spot to pull over away from traffic, such as the shoulder of an off ramp.
- If there is no exit nearby, locate a long straight section of highway and pull over in the emergency lane or on the shoulder of the road, as far away from traffic as you can.
Make Yourself Seen
It is important for safety reasons that your disabled vehicle is visible to others.
- Turn on your hazard lights as you bring your vehicle to a stop. If it is evening or late night, try to find a well-lit area and turn on the dome light inside your car.
- Put the car in park and engage the parking brake to keep the car from rolling. If you have wheel chocks or wheel wedges in your tools to change a tire, place them firmly against both wheels opposite the one that is flat. If you do not have wheel chocks or wedges in your tool kit, use a couple of bricks or large stones to keep the car immobile.
Gather Your Tools
Set out the tools to change a tire in a place where you can easily and safely get to them. The car jack and lug wrench should be the closest within reach.
Loosen the Lug Nuts
One of the key steps to change a tire properly is to prepare the flat for removal while the car is still on the road. This keeps the tire stable and makes it easier to remove.
- Remove the wheel cover if your vehicle has one.
- Use the lug wrench or torque wrench to turn the lug nuts counterclockwise.
- Loosen the lug nuts but do not remove them.
Raise the Car With the Jack
Consult your owner's manual in the section of tools to change a tire for the proper placement of the jack and how to operate it.
- Place the jack under the vehicle frame next to the tire that is flat.
- Raise the car with the jack until the flat tire has a 6-inch clearance from the ground. Do not place any part of your body under the car while you are changing the tire.
Remove the Lug Nuts and the Old Tire
Remove the lug nuts and place them together in a safe place. The floor of the front seat or inside the door pocket are a good place to keep them while you work.
Take hold of the flat tire with both hands and pull it towards you until it slides off the hub. Set the flat tire aside.
Attach the Spare Tire and Replace Lug Nuts
- Line up the spare tire with wheel bolts and push it into place.
- Replace each lug nut, turning them clockwise to tighten. Tighten the nuts in a star pattern — move to the next nut across, rather than the one adjacent — to be sure the wheel mounts evenly.
- Turn the lug wrench one final time to be sure the tire is secure, but do not completely tighten all the bolts while the tire is in the air.
Lower the Vehicle and Tighten the Lug Nuts
- Lower the car so that the spare tire is resting on the ground; the full weight of the car should not yet be on it.
- Use the lug wrench to tighten the nuts, following the same star pattern as before. Push down on the wrench with your full body weight to be sure the lug nuts are very tight.
- Replace the wheel cover. Lower the jack and remove it.
Put Tools Back and Check Tire Pressure
Get the Flat Repaired
Once the spare is securely on your car, drive immediately to the nearest repair shop.
Most spare tires in cars today are not full sized and should not be driven on for long distances or at speeds exceeding 50 mph. Get your tire repaired or replaced as soon as possible. Consult your vehicle manual for specific limits regarding your spare tire.
When to Call Roadside Assistance
In some instances, calling for emergency assistance makes more sense than changing your own tire.
- Personal safety: Examine your environment before getting out of the car. If the area you are in doesn't appear to be safe, or you are unable to safely leave the car without walking into traffic, don't put yourself at unnecessary risk to change the tire.
- Weather hazards: Harsh weather makes the job more difficult. Pouring rain, cascading snow, or even blazing heat might make conditions unsuitable. If your safety or health are at risk, consider calling a tow truck.
- Road conditions: Consider the road conditions before you pull over. If traffic is heavy or fast, if the road is narrow, or you're unsure of the road, a professional service might be able to handle the work more easily.
Knowing how to change a tire is essential and safety must always be a priority. It helps to periodically check your tire-changing equipment to make sure you are prepared for an emergency. Download The Home Depot Mobile App to find the tools you’ll need for changing a tire.