How to Change a Flat Tire

How to Change a Flat Tire

Though modern tire technology makes flats less common than they used to be, there remains no skill more central to car ownership than changing a flat. At some point in your life, you'll get a flat tire, and when you do, it might be on a dirt road without cell coverage, many miles from civilization or the graces of a good Samaritan. In that case, you'll need to know how to fix the flat yourself, with naught but moxie and a couple of tools that should be stashed in your trunk.

TOOLS:

• Jack

• Lug wrench

• Wheel chock

MATERIALS:

• Spare tire

1 Put the car in park and apply the parking brake. Turn the engine off, and ensure that the car is on a level surface, far enough away from traffic. If moving the car to level ground is impossible, consider calling for help. Changing a tire on a slant is not worth the risk.

2 If you have a wheel chock or can find a substitute, such as a heavy stone, place it behind the wheel that is diagonally opposite the one you're changing. So if you're changing the right rear tire, place a block behind the left front.

How to Change a Flat Tire

3 Retrieve your spare tire and tools. Your car's spare tire is likely hiding under the floor mat in the trunk. On an SUV, it may be held underneath the vehicle by a wire or attached to the back gate. Look for the jack and lug wrench inside trunk panels or in recessed hatches in the back. Your car may also come equipped with wheel chocks, which make changing a tire slightly safer. If your spare tire is flat, you are out of luck, so check it first.

4 Loosen the wheel lugs with the lug wrench. This is the crux of the whole operation. If the lugs are rusted past the point of turning, you won't be able to get the wheel off. To maximize your chances of a successful turn, seat the wrench completely and snugly over the lug. Then crank counterclockwise with all your might. Don't remove the lugs, just loosen them each a couple of turns. If your hub cap is covering the lug nuts, remove it first. Your hubcap may have clips that pop off with a flat screwdriver, or your hubcap may have lugs of its own that screw to the lug posts of your wheel (in that case, unscrew them).

How to Change a Flat Tire

5 Jack up the car. Your owner's manual should indicate the proper jack points—the places on your car's frame strong enough to withstand the pressure of the jack. If not, look underneath the car to locate the vehicle's frame (do not jack the siding!). Generally, the proper place to set a jack is along this frame, on a seam fairly close to the tire being raised. When the car is held firmly in place by its gear, parking brake, and wheel chock, insert the provided handle into the jack and turn the handle to expand the jack itself. The jack should scissor together, pushing the head upward into the jack point. Even after the car's weight is supported by the jack, refrain from putting any part of yourself underneath the vehicle. Despite your best preparation, cars can and do roll off jacks, and you don't want any part of yourself underneath any part of your car. Keep raising the car until the wheel to be changed is completely off the ground.

How to Change a Flat Tire

6 Remove the lug nuts. Use the lug wrench to remove the lug nuts completely and place them in a safe place—inside the hubcap, for example.

How to Change a Flat Tire

7 Pull off the flat tire and then seat the spare onto the wheel studs, lining up the holes in the spare with these metal posts. Expect to get dirty. Tires are heavy and it can be a surprising pain in the neck to get them lined up just right. Stick with it! Fit the spare flush against the brake hub by pushing the tire firmly onto the posts as far as it will go.

8 Hand-tighten the lug nuts. These should slip on fairly smoothly, though rust may necessitate a slightly firmer hand. Don't immediately crank them with the lug wrench or you risk cross-threading—damage to the thread that results from misaligned nuts and studs.

How to Change a Flat Tire

9 Turn the jack handle the opposite direction to lower the jack, returning the tire to the ground. Once the jack is completely flattened, remove it and restow the jack (and the wheel chock, if you used one) in your car.

How to Change a Flat Tire

10 Use the lug wrench to completely tighten the lug nuts. Start by gently tightening one nut and then do the same with a nut diagonally across the circle. Continue gently tightening the nuts, each in turn, each time with a little more gusto. After driving no more than a mile, it's a good idea to doublecheck the tightness of the lug nuts—spinning the tire under pressure can loosen it on the posts.

11 If you have a compact spare, the maximum speed should be listed on the sidewall. If you have a full-size spare, you should be able to drive at full speed. Note that with the spare on your car and a flat in your trunk, you have no backup in case of another flat. Get the flat fixed quickly and reinstall it on your vehicle, or use the opportunity to get new tires. Make sure your spare is in good condition before re-stowing it.

How to Change a Flat Tire

The Essentials of Tire Maintenance

Tires are where the rubber meets the road. And when rubber meets road, it leaves a little piece of itself behind every time. But proper maintenance will help your tires last as long as possible.

Pressure. Contrary to popular belief, the pressure listed on a tire's sidewall is not necessarily the best pressure for your car. In general, manufacturers list the maximum pressure allowed, not the optimal pressure for grip or efficiency. The less pressure a tire holds, the more it will deform to grip the roadway. The more it grips, the less gas mileage your car will get. The optimal PSI (pounds of air pressure per square inch) should balance performance against mileage. Check the owner's manual or the sticker inside the door frame to discern yours.

How to Change a Flat Tire

Storage. If you swap in snow tires seasonally, make sure you properly store your normal tires. Place them in a cool, dark, dry spot, deflate them to half their normal PSI, and, rather than stacking them, set them on their treads.

How to Change a Flat Tire

Tread. While the inner workings of a modern car may require computer diagnostics, your tires do not. In fact, testing your tread will cost you exactly one cent. Yes, it's the penny test. Place the top of Abe Lincoln's head between your tire's tread and gently rest the penny against the rubber. If the tire tread comes up past the tip of the presidential hairline, the tire's good to go. Repeat the test on different areas of the tire, checking that the tread is wearing evenly along the inside and outside walls. Uneven wear on treads that pass the test signals that it's time for a tire rotation, alignment, and balancing. Uneven wear that leaves any tread below Lincoln's head means it's time to replace.

How to Change a Flat Tire

Sidewalls. The tread isn't the only place a tire can wear out. Check the sidewalls, too. Minor webs of cracks in the sidewall are likely not a major concern, but any crack that threatens to pull apart the rubber signals the end of a tire's life. Likewise, look for bubbles and bulges, which are also dangerous signs that the air inside your tire is close to getting out.

How to Change a Flat Tire

Expiration date. Over time, the essential oils in tire rubber evaporate. This is called outgassing. Enough outgassing and the tire becomes brittle. Needless to say, a brittle tire is no good. Manufacturers and oversight agencies disagree at what age a tire has expired, but you should generally be wary of any tire more than ten years old. If you're driving a car regularly, you'll wear out tires long before their expiration date, but when buying new ones, check the date stamped in the small oval on the tire's sidewall to ensure that the tire hasn't been shelved past its useful lifespan.

How to Change a Flat Tire

Ants, known for their disciplined pace, never get into traffic jams. Because they don't make unexpected moves, their pattern of movement is much more efficient than cars on the road.

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