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How to Change A Tire in 9 Simple Steps

If you're not sure how to change a tire, you're not alone. Recent surveys indicate that about 1-in-5 drivers don't have this skill yet, which works out to about 39 million people across America. About 220 million people will get flat tires each year, so it is a skill worth learning - ideally before you wind up stranded by the roadside.

Changing a tire

An ounce of preparation...

AAA recently noticed a starting trend. About one-third of new vehicles don't come with a spare. On top of this, a whole lot of people don't check to see if their spare is even inflated, which can make the extra utterly useless even if it is present. For this reason, it's a good idea to double check your vehicle and make sure it has everything you need, and to check the air pressure in your spare each time you air up your other tires.

Perform monthly checks

  • Spare tire (inflated)
  • Wrench
  • Jack
  • 2x6 piece of wood (for stabilizing the jack)
  • Wheel wedge/ tire chock
  • Vehicle's owner manual
  • Car emergency kit (including a flashlight, poncho, and reflectors)

How to respond when your tire goes flat

Arguably, the biggest issue people have is that they don't check their tires on a regular basis, and they wind up with a slow leak that doesn't noticeably reduce traction or stability until the air loss is immense. So, by simply checking your tire pressure at least once a month and walking around your vehicle and inspecting it before getting in, you're already well on the way to not having a roadside emergency. However, if you overlook this, run something over while driving, or have a total blowout, you'll want to take certain safety precautions.

Grip the wheel firmly. You'll lose some steering ability and the vehicle will become harder to control. It will naturally pull in the direction of the flat.

Resist the urge to brake hard. Even if the vehicle is pulling hard in one direction, it's important to stop gradually or let the vehicle stop on its own in order to maintain control.

Guide the vehicle to a safe place. Your main priority should be safety. That may mean driving a little bit on the flat in order to pull off the freeway or get to a pullout. Experts say you can safely drive hundreds of yards on a flat because the tire will cushion the wheel some. In addition to selecting a safe location, you'll want to make sure the ground is as flat as possible where you park.

Turn on your hazard lights. After you park your vehicle, turn on your hazard lights to make sure other motorists see you and know you're stationary.

Make a safety assessment. Have a good look around to see if there are other hazards, such as vehicles passing close to yours, wild animals, or dangerous weather. If the coast is clear, you can get out of your vehicle and prepare to swap the tire. If you have any concerns about your safety at all, it's usually best to stay inside the vehicle with your seatbelt fastened and phone a tow truck or roadside assistance service. If you can't safely change your tire - perhaps the flat is facing traffic and you don't have enough room and you don't feel like your car is safe - use your best judgment. You may be safer if you exit the vehicle and move to a safe place.

How to change a tire

Learn how to change a tire in advance, if possible, or bookmark this page for quick retrieval later.

1) Check to make sure you have all necessary items and prepare your vehicle

Once you're sure you can safely work on your vehicle, set your parking brake and place your flares, reflective triangles, or LED lights. Most emergency kits have three, and you'll want to stagger these behind your vehicle at a distance of 50-100 feet. Double check that all doors are closed to avoid damage, and then place a wedge or chock on the tire diagonal from the one you're working on. If you don't have a wedge or chock, you can also use something heavy like a brick if you see one nearby. Simply place it on the side opposite the grade just as you would a chock, so that if the car starts to roll, it will connect with the brick right away and stop. If you're on rough terrain or are prone to sore knees, place your floor mat in front of the area you're going to be working on.

2) Remove the hubcap

Most vehicles today have a plastic hubcap that covers the wheel, though some are made of metal. It's usually held in place with prongs that can be loosened with a long screwdriver or the flat end of your lug wrench. However, some also have caps that you unscrew, while others are affixed by the lug nuts, themselves. If the latter is true in your case, you don't need to remove the cap.

3) Loosen the lug nuts

Use the lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts using a counterclockwise motion. They can be stuck on very tightly, which is why you'll want to loosen them, but not remove them, before you put the jack under the car. If you need to apply force, it's ok. You may need to use your foot to get enough pressure or apply oil to break the initial seal, and you only need to turn each on 1/4 to 1/2 turn at this point. It's also worth noting that some vehicles have one lug nut that's a unique shape. If this is true of yours, you'll likely have a "key" with the wrench that came with your vehicle. It will slide over the top of the oddly-shaped lug nut and ensure it fits the wrench.

4) Place the jack and lift the vehicle

If you're on asphalt or other types of ground in which you need to steady the jack, place a block of wood beneath your jack. Jack placement in relation to the vehicle varies based on the make and model, so check your owner's manual to make sure you're placing yours correctly.

The underside of most vehicles will have molded plastic, with an area of exposed metal beside each wheel for the jack. If yours doesn't have this, you can often use any part of the frame, but take care not to place it under any part of the suspension system or axel, as you're likely to cause damage when you lift the vehicle.

Once you have identified proper placement, lift the vehicle approximately 6 inches off the ground, or as much as you need in order to be able to remove the tire. This is done by turning the handle on the jack clockwise.

Learn more about how to use a jack

5) Remove the lug nuts and tire

At this point, the lug nuts should be loose enough that you can remove them by hand. Take them off one at a time and place them in the hubcap for safekeeping while you work. Then, pull the tire straight off.

6) Install the spare tire

The spare tire should be fairly easy to install. Simply line up the screws in the wheel with the holes on the spare and slide it on. Then, add the lug nuts back on by hand using a clockwise motion. Don't use the lug wrench until the vehicle is on the ground again.

7) Lower the jack

Turn the jack counterclockwise until the vehicle is settled on the ground again.

8) Tighten the lug nuts

The pattern in which you should tighten your lug nuts in order to make sure the spare tire goes on securely and that the stress is evenly distributed will vary based on the vehicle, or at least based on how many lug nuts there are. Check your owner's manual for the specifics on yours. If you don't have it handy, you can usually just tighten the lug nuts in a crisscross pattern using the lug wrench. Make sure each one is on tightly to ensure the tire doesn't come lose while you're driving.

9) Pack Up and Head Out

With your spare securely on, you can pack up all your tools and head out. However, be aware that your spare is not designed to be driven on for an extended period of time, and you shouldn't go faster than 50mph on it. For more information, see our article "How Long Can You Safely Drive on a Spare Tire?"

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Knowing how to change a tire will help you out immensely if you’re stranded by the roadside, but following up with regular maintenance and repairs in a timely manner can help you avoid landing in that situation in the first place. RepairPal lets you find trustworthy mechanics in your area and makes it easy to compare rates with just a few clicks.

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