How to Change a Flat Tire

June 1st, 2016

You've got a flat tire. This type of situation rarely occurs at a convenient time or location. If you need to change the tire while in transit, make safety your top priority. Try to get as far off the road as possible and turn on your four-way flashers to alert passing motorists of your disabled vehicle. Also, don't park at the crest of a hill because other drivers may not be able to see you as they approach.

Once you've made yourself as safe as possible, recognize that you're going to get dirty during this process, which includes the following steps:

Step #1: Prep before attempting to remove the flat tire.

Get out your jack, lug wrench and spare tire. In a car, all this equipment is usually under a panel in the trunk or rear hatch. With a pick-up truck or SUV, however, the spare tire is normally underneath the rear of the vehicle, and the jack and wrench are either under the hood or behind the seat or back panel. You'll probably need the lug wrench to lower the spare tire. After the tools are assembled:

  • Set the parking brake and/or place a wheel chock on the opposite side and axle from the flat.
  • Check the spare tire to make sure it inflated. You should not be able to manually compress an inflated tire. If you don't have a usable spare tire, you cannot continue with the tire change.
  • Look at the hubcap on your flat tire. Depending on the vehicle, the hubcap may just pop off, or it may be held on by the lug nuts. If possible, remove the hubcap.

Step #2: Loosening the lug nuts.

At this point, you need to make sure you'll be able to get the lug nuts off the tire. Use your lug wrench to turn the lug nuts (normally counter-clockwise) on the tire. Do NOT remove them at this time. Just loosen them. If you cannot loosen the lug nuts, you cannot continue with tire change.

Step #3: Getting the vehicle off the ground.

Most vehicles come standard with a scissor jack. You will need to use the lug wrench to turn the bolt clockwise to raise the jack.

Determine the right jacking point for the axle with the flat tire. This varies by vehicle, and the information will be in your owner manual. If you jack up the vehicle in the wrong place, you may jeopardize your safety and cause serious damage to the vehicle.

Once you know the jacking point, raise the vehicle high enough for proper ground clearance. There should be plenty of room for the spare to go on easily.

Step #4: Swapping tires.

Now you may remove the lug nuts completely. Be sure to put them somewhere you can find them. One option is to place them in the hubcap you removed earlier. Then, take the flat off and replace it with the spare. Put the lug nuts on the spare and tighten them. They should just be snug.

Step #5: Getting back on the ground and on your way to a tire store.

Use the lug wrench to turn the jack counterclockwise and lower the vehicle. Once the car is firmly on the ground, tighten up the lug nuts with the wrench as much as possible. Finally, put all the equipment away, remove the chock and release the parking break.

A spare is only intended to get you safely to the nearest tire dealer. Be sure not to exceed the mile-per-hour limit of the spare, which is usually indicated on its sidewall.