February 1, 2013 by quirkyuncle
Like it or not, most of us will need eventually need to change a tire on our car. In the garage, doing a routine maintenance rotation, or on the side of the road, fixing a flat, the process is basically the same.
Why would I ever do this if I could just call for roadside assistance?
- You’re in a remote area without cellular service and can’t call.
- You’re in a hurry – you might have to wait a couple hours for someone to come out and change a tire for you.
- You’re cheap. Why pay? Enough said.
Cars are very heavy. A car on a jack is not stable and can easily fall. You can get hurt or die! Be careful! You are performing this procedure at your own risk!
Tools: Spare tire, jack, lug wrench (these should all come with your car) and a block of wood or a rock (you can pick them up on the side of the road)
Time: 15 minutes
The procedure that follows is fairly generic. The specific procedure for your car, including jacking points and tool locations, can be found in your owners manual. And, we’ve all read our manual and keep it handy in our glove box, right?
Let’s do this!
Change tires in a safe location! – Changing tires in the street is never good, unless it is an absolute emergency. If you need to change a tire in the street, be very careful and try to move the car to a safer location, such as a parking lot, if at all possible. NEVER, EVER, CHANGE A TIRE IN THE TRAVEL LANES OF A ROAD!!!
Change tires on firm and level ground! If you are on a hill or on dirt, forget it – this makes the jacked car even less stable and it can easily fall.
- If you have no choice and are in a road, get as far onto the shoulder as you can, turn on your hazard flashers, set emergency markers (triangles, flares, etc.), and wear clothing that lets you be easily seen. Leave your tie in the car – you will get dirty.
- Set your parking (emergency) brake. Leave the car in gear (stick shift) or in park (automatic).
- Get your tools and materials out of the trunk. Put them near the corner of the car where you’ll be working. Make sure the replacement tire looks usable and is not flat. If it seems like it is not holding air, you might want to make sure it will before you start. (See DIY – Checking and adjusting tire pressure for information.)
If your car has wheel locks, make sure you have a key that fits. If not, don’t even bother starting. Wheel locks actually do work.
- Block the tire opposite the corner of the car where you are changing the tire. Use a chunk of wood, a brick, a rock, or anything else big enough to prevent the car from rolling. Make sure the block is tight against the tire.
At minimum, you need to block the side of the tire closest to the end of the car. If you are on the slightest incline or the ground is not super hard, block both sides of the tire so it can’t roll in either direction. This is very important! If the car moves forward or backward while on the jack, it will fall.
- If your car has a hub cap or wheel cover, remove it to expose the lug nuts. These covers typically pop free with a little help from a screw driver or using the little tab on the end of the lug wrench that comes with your car. Be careful not to scratch up the wheels or bend/break the cover or clips when doing this, especially in cold weather when plastic is more brittle. Put the cover nearby, like a bowl – we’ll be using it in a minute.
Here are my nuts. This car has five lug nuts. Some cars have four. Some teeny little cars only have three. Trucks can have six or eight. You get the idea.
Some cars have decorative plastic covers – fake nuts – concealing the real nuts. If your car has these, they can usually be pulled or unscrewed by hand, with a little help getting started with a pair of pliers. If any special tools are needed, they will be in with the tools that came with your car.
Most American and Japanese cars use lug nuts. Most European cars use bolts. The process for changing tire with both methods is similar. Throughout this procedure, I’ll just call them nuts.
- With the car still on the ground, loosen each nut slightly. They are still holding up the car, so we don’t want to remove them or loosen them too much. The idea here is that we want to be able to remove them when the tire is off the ground with nothing there to keep it from spinning.
Nuts can be super tight. you might need to use a pipe for additional leverage, placed over the wrench handle to make it longer. If you can’t loosen them, you might need to take the car to a auto shop or call for roadside assistance.
- Place your jack in the position indicated in your owners manual. It usually clips over a ridge in the metal, as shown here. There are often arrows stamped into the sheet metal on the lower edge of the car to indicate the jack placement locations.
There are many jack designs, this one is typical.
- Raise the car up by pumping or screwing the jack. (Please, get your mind out of the gutter.) Some jacks have release mechanisms that must be disengaged to lift the car. See your owners manual for instructions.
It will be high enough when the bottom of the tire is off the ground.
Once it is up, DO NOT PLACE ANY PART OF YOUR BODY UNDER THE CAR OR BETWEEN THE TIRE AND THE FENDER! If the car falls, these are the last places you want to be.
- Remove all of the lug nuts. Remove the top one last, as it helps hold the tire in place. The tire might fall when you remove the last nut, so be prepared.
If you loosened the nuts slightly before raising the car, they should spin off fairly easily. If not, you might need to lower the car until the tire contacts the ground to loosen them. Place the lug nuts somewhere where they won’t get lost – inside the hub cap you just took off is a perfect location.
- Grasp the tire at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions (as shown) and lift it from the car. It will be fairly heavy and awkward. AVOID THE TEMPTATION TO GRAB THE TIRE AT THE TOP AND BOTTOM!
- Move the tire aside.
Check the brakes while the tire is off. If you’re not sure how, I’ll be discussing this discuss in an upcoming posting. Check back soon!
Now we’re ready to install the spare, or another tire.
- As an option, you can place one drop of oil on each tire stud (or bolt). This helps prevent the nuts from rusting and seizing, making it easier to take things apart next time. Do not get oil anywhere other than on the stud!
- Roll the new tire into position. Grasping the tire at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock positions (as shown), lift it into place. It helps to get the holes in the wheel semi-aligned with the studs before picking the tire up. AVOID THE TEMPTATION TO GRAB THE TIRE AT THE TOP AND BOTTOM!
For cars that use bolts instead of lug nuts, it is a bit more challenging, as there are no studs to hang the tire on. These cars typically include a threaded rod that you can place in the top bolt hole to temporarily hold the wheel in position while you insert the other bolts. If you don’t have one, you just need to juggle things a bit, but the install is still fairly simple.
- Put the lug nuts on, starting with the one on the top. Spin them in, finger tight. Lug nuts are installed with the rounded side inward and the flat side out, as shown.
Top nut first!
- Spin the lug nuts in with your lug wrench until they are snug.
If you have a wheel lock, this one needs to be spun in and tightened as much as possible, first, for it to be most effective.
- Lower the car slowly. For some jacks, you turn them in the opposite direction than you used when raising the car. Other jacks have a ratcheting mechanism where you flip a release lever to reverse direction. Hydraulic jacks have a release valve. Consult your owners manual for instructions.
- Remove the jack from under the car. It must be lowered further than just letting the tire contact the ground before removing it.
- Tighten the lug nuts in a star pattern, as shown, working back and forth across the bolt pattern. If you have a wheel lock, fully tighten that bolt first.
How tight is too tight? Good question. Wheel lug nuts have some very specific torque specifications; however, getting them as tight as humanly possible using the lug wrench that came with your car should be safe. If you have any doubts, stop at a repair or tire shop and have them checked.
- Install the hub cap or wheel cover by popping it into place. You might need to whack it a bit. Work your way around the perimeter and try not to dent or break it. Installation of some wheel covers is an acquired skill. If it gives you too much trouble while you are changing a flat, throw it in the trunk and do it later – it is not needed for safety. Just don’t lose it!
Same idea for the decorative nut covers, if you have them.
- Remove the wheel block. Don’t leave it lying in the road, put it back where you found it.
- Stow all of the tools and the old tire back in trunk.
- Check the pressure in the new tire, making sure it’s OK with the car’s weight sitting on it. (See DIY – Checking and adjusting tire pressure for instructions.)
Yay! You’re done!
I’ll discuss how to get a flat tire repaired in an upcoming posting. Check back soon!