Heading Out on Your Own — Day 15: How to Change a Flat Tire

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 15, 2012 · 35 Comments

in Heading Out On Your Own, Visual Guides

1. Park car on flat surface, put on emergency brake and hazard lights, set up reflective warning triangle, put block on tire diagonally opposite flat tire, and remove spare tire from car (make sure it’s inflated.  2. Remove hubcap so you can get to the lug nuts. Loosen nuts with lug wrench. Don’t take any of them off yet – loosen just enough to “crack” them.  3. Place jack underneath car at a sturdy part of the frame. Check your owner’s manual for correct placement. Turn crank at end of jack by hand until it contacts the frame.  4. Add jack handle for leverage. Crank handle until wheel is high enough above the ground to remove the tire. Don’t stick your hands or legs under the car – it could fall and injure you.  5. Remove lug nuts from wheel by turning them counterclockwise, and keep them in your hubcap so they don’t roll away. Remove flat tire and lay flat. You don’t want it to roll away either.  6. Line up spare tire with wheel studs and place on car. Once wheel is on, replace lug nuts and tighten them by hand, and then with your lug wrench, until you meet firm resistance.  7. Lower jack until wheel is firmly on the ground. Finish tightening your lug nuts. To get the lug nuts on as tightly as possible, unleash the power of the star pattern.  8. Spare tires aren’t supposed to be driven on for long distances or at high speeds, so you need to drive slowly and get your flat tire fixed and replaced as soon as possible.

Maybe you have roadside assistance, maybe you don’t. Either way, every young man should know how to change a flat tire himself. You never know if you, a loved one, or even a stranger, is going to need the help.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

1 TR August 15, 2012 at 4:17 pm

What about bike tires? A lot of men, when they first head out on their own, don’t have a car of their own. Whether by choice or not, they use 2 wheels to get around, and when 1 of those wheels go flat, they’re in as much of a bind as the guy in the illustration.

2 Eric August 15, 2012 at 4:24 pm

I can remember my grandpa teaching me how on a flat he had in the driveway before i could even drive…

3 Shaumbe August 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm

(and try your best to refrain from driving a VW bug) jk

4 Josh August 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Thanks again Brett, Kate, and Ted. I love these visual guides! Looking forward to the rest of this series.

5 Kevin August 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm

I think an important part is finding the spare. I didn’t even know most cars had a spare until I called my folks on the side of the road. It’s almost always in the trunk, under everything, including a layer of car. Might need to undo a bolt before you can get the spare; for mine, I had to undo the bolt from under the back of the car before getting the tire out from the trunk.

6 BJ August 15, 2012 at 4:56 pm

I want to second the part in Part 4 regarding not sticking hands or legs under your car. Earlier this year I was changing a flat on my Ford Bronco using a jack that wasn’t made for the job. I had my legs under the Bronco for better leverage. I hadn’t properly applied the E brake and it didn’t engage. My Bronco proceeded to roll off the jack. I was fortunate that I saw it start to move and was able to scramble out of the way quickly, but I was nearly in a whole world of hurt.

7 Jim K. August 15, 2012 at 4:58 pm

As mentioned on your previous article on this subject, a stout board gives your jack a smooth, solid surface, prevents it from sinking into soft ground and can give you an added inch of lift.

Not mentioned is the general crappiness of most manufacturer-provided lug wrenches. After I broke an L-shaped one years ago while trying to change a tire on my Ford Ranger, I went out and bought a good quality x-shaped chromed lug wrench I still carry to this day. It won’t break and it gives me much more torque. Folding models are now available for those with smaller vehicles where space is at a premium.

8 Rob August 15, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I want to re-iterate the advice here as well. Never ever get underneath a car with a jack holding it up.
Only get under one if you have locking jack stands or other solid blocks to hold the car up.
Stay safe!

9 Laurence August 15, 2012 at 6:35 pm

A handy tip I was taught by a farmer years ago: Place the flat tire under the body/frame of the car when have removed it, so that when you are installing the spare if the jack slips or sinks the car won’t end up on the ground.

10 Glier August 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Also check from time to time the quality of spare tires, it happened me once, got a flat tire, changed it and no less than a few feet away the spare one also went flat, not by being pinched, the tire was old (5 years old then) and the tire had a circular crack on one if its sides. What a bad day to have a flat tire

11 Allan August 15, 2012 at 9:56 pm

If your front tire goes flat, you have to drive any significant distance to get to a service station, and you spare is not full sized (most newish cars) then you should put the spare on one of the good back tires and put the good back tire up front.

All turning, the majority of breaking and on front wheel drive cars (most newish cars) is done by the front tires. The back just freely turn.

Even in the case of a rear wheel or all wheel drive if you have to sacrifice anything it should be acceleration, not breaking or turning ability.

12 Dave August 15, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Just a question, why do we wait until the car is lowered before tightening the wheel nuts?

Haven’t heard that one before, not that I’m doubting it!

13 Mark August 16, 2012 at 12:34 am

I love this. This is exactly the way my grandfather taught me years and years ago. I do have one note, however. You left out those of us that have cars with left hand studs on the passenger side of the car, or that have left hand lug bolts rather than lug nuts. I happen to have both, and let me tell you, after laughing like hell for about 30 minutes, my grandfather finally let me know why they weren’t turning. hahahhaa

14 Colin August 16, 2012 at 1:15 am

@Dave – it’s so that you can tighten the nuts properly without a) the wheel spinning and b) rocking the car on the jack. Once all 4 wheels are on the ground it makes a stable surface for you to fully tighten everything up. And to put your back out in the process. :o)

15 René August 16, 2012 at 3:56 am

One also needs to retighten the nuts after a few kilometers of driving. Ideally you use a torque wrench all of this. Especiialy if you change from summer to winter tires yourself.

16 Chris August 16, 2012 at 4:29 am

Nice post,

Dave you have to lower the car so that the tire has resistance from the weight of the car. While it is suspended in the air you can’t only pull the wrench so far before the wheel begins to spin.

17 Eugene August 16, 2012 at 5:43 am

I second TR’s comment regarding bicycles! A lot of us usually take bicycles to travel around (from accommodation/hostel to school). An article on bicycles would certainly be helpful!

18 the barking dog August 16, 2012 at 6:33 am

So glad my dad taught me to change a flat tire. I’m 37 and have maybe had two of them in my life, but when it’s 11 at night and you’re on I-10 on the way back from Houston and you don’t have a charged cell phone or a working flashlight, you’ll be glad you know what to do. Like instinct kicking in.

19 Colonel August 16, 2012 at 7:03 am

Good info. I’m going to print a copy of this to keep in my car. Thanks!

20 Etan August 16, 2012 at 7:20 am

@ Dave: Before lowering the car the wheel can still spin — making it more difficult to tighten the nuts effectively. Once the wheel is on the ground with the weight of the car sitting on it, you have a sturdy platform to work against.

21 Aaron August 16, 2012 at 9:19 am

@Dave – Depending on if it was a front or rear tire that goes flat and if your vehicle is front or rear-wheel drive, the wheel may just spin when you try to tighten the lug nuts with the car still on the jack. Once you hand tighten them and lower the vehicle to the ground, the weight of the car will allow you to fully tighten the lug nuts.

22 Kris August 16, 2012 at 9:36 am

@Dave: Because the amount of force you need to fully tighten the lug nuts might cause the car to fall off the jack

23 Adam Lawson August 16, 2012 at 9:37 am


It’s easier to get the nuts tighter once the weight of the car is on them. Just as it’s easier to “crack” them when the weight is on them. The tire won’t be moving at all, so there’s no give from that.

24 Bryan August 16, 2012 at 9:43 am

Dave: You lower the vehicle because without something sufficiently strong (like the weight of the vehicle) holding the wheel in place, it will spin the axle and you won’t get any torque to tighten the lugs. Brakes “might” be able to do it, but you’re far safer tightening on the ground.

As for how tight to get the lugs, “as tight as possible” isn’t the best answer. Each vehicle specifies a torque rating for the lugs of each wheel (which can be different if you have different sized wheels on the front and back). Exceeding this rating can cause the wheel studs to break. Not putting enough torque can cause the wheel to fall off while driving. Unequal torque on the lugs can lead to warped rotors. The only appropriate tool to get this right is a torque wrench. Simplified: don’t stand on the lug wrench to tighten them. And don’t spray WD40 on the lugs to break them loose either. You can radically increase the amount of torque applied to the bolt and come dangerously close to breaking it.

But not everyone has a torque wrench. And even if you do, chances are you don’t store it in your car. Tighten the wheels as evenly as you can manage, and don’t drive any faster than 50 mph (spare tires are not rated for anything faster).

Check your spare tire monthly. (For that matter, check all your tires monthly.) A “dummy” spare is usually rated for around 60 psi (your regular wheels are typically much lower, somwhere in the 30s). The correct rating is usually found on the driver’s door frame. Air pressure in the tire will change with temprature, and you want to inspect it for wear (especially if it is stored under your vehicle).

25 JP August 16, 2012 at 10:53 am

@Allan, the problem with doing that to a rear drive car isn’t just diminished acceleration but you risk several damage to the differential trying to cope with two extremely different sized wheel and tire combos, even within a few miles. My rule is to put the spare on the wheel that does not drive the car. Most newish cars have a full sized spare like you said so it’s not a big issue anymore,

26 Two Tone August 16, 2012 at 11:20 am

1. Carry a can of “flat-fix.”
2. Inflate flat tire (tread puncture, not ripped sidewall).
3. Drive to nearest gas station.
4. Top of with air
5. Get tire repaired as soon as possible.

The above is fast, quick and safe.

Your article should start by asking if your flat tire car is in a safe location. Many people are killed each year trying to fix a flat on the side of a road, at night, in a rain storm, around a blind corner. etc. If it’s not safe, call a tow truck or a cab.

27 Dean August 16, 2012 at 11:38 am

@Allen, your information is wrong sir. Your best tire should always be on the rear of the vehicle. This is a newer train of thought. If you are traveling down the road and the vehicle begins to hydroplane, the front tires will break loose first. Having the better tire on the rear will give you more control, than a “donut” tire.
Source: http://www.tia.com

28 Graeme S August 16, 2012 at 11:58 am

@Dave, when the car is raised the wheel is pretty much free to rotate, especially in a manual car that has been parked in neutral, lowering the car means you will be able to get more leverage and hence tighten the bolts more securely.

29 MikeB August 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Where in the heck are you all from… ALL Your Man Cards are revoked until you learn basic manly skills.. how to change a tire doesn’t count since it’s an implied task for every driver, niether does driving a standard transmission. Ok… first learn how to do basic automotive repairs… change your own brakes, rotate your tires, change your oil… next build something out of lumber.. a tree-house for your kid, a tool shed to keep your manly tools, operate a chainsaw without removing any of your own limbs, now either go hunting or go buy a cow or pig… kill and butcher same preserve the meat and feed your family….

30 Anthony August 16, 2012 at 12:57 pm

@Dave: that’s so the wheel won’t turn while you are tightening the bolt. It shouldn’t move while up in the air anyway, but there is just a bit of give. Tightening the nuts again once the car is on the ground is not strictly necessary, but is an extra step to ensure safety.

31 Luis August 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Good post. I remember my first flat tire like it was yesterday. Among the things I learned was that the tiny stock lug wrench included with most cars is not long enough to provide enough torque to remove an over-tightened bolt (a commonly committed sin by Jiffy Lube-grade mechanics, and a common occurrence in old beater cars). So there I was, on the side of the road in New York City with my ’84 Toyota, when a helpful gentleman walking past saw me hopelessly trying to stand upright on the tiny, one-foot stock lug wrench to make the bolt come loose. I was getting nowhere fast (and at risk of stripping the bolt head) when he went into his home and returned with a three foot length of hard white plastic plumbing pipe which slipped into the lug wrench, making it longer. He pointed out I should put all my force on the very end of the pipe. Instantly came off the tire, and thus I discovered torque. (Later I would come to own an indispensable mechanic’s tool called a Breaker Bar). I would come to learn that pretty much every bolt in automobiles has a factory recommended torque. These days I use a torque wrench to tighten the lugs on my VW, to the required 89 foot pounds. I even go to the extreme of checking the torque when returning from the Goodyear store. I still carry the itty bitty stock lug wrench for my car, and I’ve painlessly changed flats with it on my car more than once. Also useful to note, as a previous poster stated, is that overtightening your lug nuts can cause your brake rotors to prematurely warp.

32 Matthew W August 17, 2012 at 12:17 am

Addendum: know if you have locking lug nuts and if so, where the key is. Gave me a heck of a hard time with my first flat.

33 Joyce August 18, 2012 at 10:41 am

Do you know what’s very unmanly? When a young woman has to pull over and change the flat tire on a guy’s car for him because he doesn’t know how to do it. It still baffles me that there are guys who cannot change a flat tire. My dad wouldn’t let me take my car out on my own until he was confident that I could change a flat if need be. Sure, I’ve never had to actually change my own flats on my car because some man born and raised in the days of chivalry would pull over and change it for me, but nevertheless, I still have the skill.

34 John August 21, 2012 at 4:04 pm

any tips if the flat is stuck on your car. i’ve changed many tires before, but i had one i was helping out with that was so stuck i couldn’t get it off to put the spare on. i didn’t want push it around too much to get the car off the jack…

35 Kevin February 1, 2013 at 8:21 am

If the wheel is seized you can give it a good hard kick in a few different places around the wheel until you can see the wheel moving from the nuts. If its really badly seized, another tried and tested method is to loosen the nuts from the secure position by one turn only (no more), take the car off the jack then shake the car as hard as you can by pushing above the driver or passenger door. NEVER shake the car by pushing on the windows or the light fittings or when the car when its lifted on the jack. Raise the car again with the jack. If the wheel isn’t loose then rotate it by 90 degrees and repeat and so on. It usually works after the first or second go.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter