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How to Change a Tire

Flat tires happen. Fortunately, it’s easier than you think to learn how to change a tire.

how to change a tire

No matter how well you care for your tires, flat tires happen. While AAA Roadside Assistance is available 24/7 to help when needed, knowing how to change a tire could come in handy someday.

How to Change a Tire

1. Safety first

It’s essential that you only change a flat tire when it’s safe to do so. If you don’t feel comfortable for any reason, call AAA.

2. Get off the road

It’s not a good idea to drive too far with a flat because it can damage your wheel. If possible, try to find a rest area, gas station or other place away from traffic to pull over. If you have to pull over to the side of the road, put out warning triangles, flares and use your emergency flashers. Once you find a safe spot on level ground, set the parking brake before you get to work.

3. Pull out the owner’s manual

Although the process is similar in every car, it’s a good idea to reference your owner’s manual for instructions for your specific model. The manual is a great place to start because it also tells you where to find the spare tire and tools. Depending on the type of vehicle you own, the spare tire may be mounted on the tailgate, have a crank that lowers it from under the cargo area or be mounted inside the trunk. The manual will also point out the jack points for your car, which are spots specifically designed to properly hold the jack and safely raise the car to change a tire.

how to change a tire

4. Access the lug nuts

Your car may come with a plastic wheel cover that pops off to reveal the lug nuts or there may be caps on each lug nut that need to be removed. Often there’s a screwdriver in the toolkit to help with this job. After this is done, loosen each lug nut slightly with a wrench. Then, use the jack to raise the car until the tire is about an inch off the ground and spins freely.

5. Remove the lug nuts

Once you can remove the lug nuts and put them someplace where you won’t lose them, go ahead and slide the wheel straight out and off of the car. Do not put any part of your body under the wheel while it is on the car or between the wheel and the car in the wheel well. If the car were to slip off the jack, you don’t want any body parts getting crushed.

6. Mount the spare

Now slide the spare tire in place. Put the lug nuts on and tighten them each slightly. Make sure the tire is flat against the brake rotor by pushing on the wheel. The lug nuts only need to be as tight as you can manage with your fingers to start. Once they’re all on, then lower the car until the tire touches the ground just enough to keep from spinning. Now you can put your weight into it and make the lug nuts good and tight. They need to be snug enough so they won’t come off when you’re driving, but don’t go crazy and stand on the wrench.

7. Lower the car

The tire is now on the car and it’s time to lower the car completely. Once the jack no longer supports the car, pack everything back up and re-stow your tools. This is also a good time to recheck that the lug nuts are tight. Make sure you have the jack, wrench, and screwdriver if it was a part of your tool kit. Also make sure you put the wheel cover or lug caps back on before you drive away. Stow your tire, too.

8. Head to the repair shop

Most spare tires are for temporary use and aren’t meant to be driven for long distances or at high speeds and can affect the vehicle handling and braking. Most manufacturers recommend keeping speeds at less than 50 MPH and limit driving to 50 miles. Head to a tire shop where you can get have the old tire repaired or replaced if necessary. Remember, you now have one tire on your car that doesn’t match the rest. It’s not an ideal way to drive so you need to do this as soon as possible to ensure your car is safe and ready for the road.

What’s your method for tire maintenance? Share it with us in the comments below.

AAA members can save on automotive replacement parts and accessories at NAPA.

Learn about all your AAA Roadside Assistance benefits here

Comments
  • Andrew R.

    Sure, you CAN change a flat tire…but you probably shouldn’t.

    I recently had too much pride to call AAA. Instead, I struggled to change a flat tire on a Ford Explorer and ended up giving myself a hernia.

    Literally.

    What makes the situation worse is that I have worked for AAA for over a decade and know firsthand how impeccable their roadside service is.

    The car was sitting in my driveway, and I figured it would be a good chance to test my skills. It had been a bit since I changed a tire. I also might have been secretly overcome with ridiculous machismo, having to prove to my wife, my neighbors and myself that this AAA employee was capable of swapping out a flat tire with ease.

    My advice: Leave it to the experts at AAA. Some of these darn tires are heavy and awkward to lift. What could have been a five-minute phone call turned into a two-month recovery…and counting. I hope you learn from my silly mistake!

    Reply
  • John H.

    Some vehicles have lug bolts instead of studs on the wheel. Prior to having to use it, it would be a good idea to check the length of the lug bolts for your regular wheel as well as the length needed for your spare. Often the spare is thinner and the longer lug bolts for your regular wheel will go in further and rub against the brake disc causing a lot of damage

    Reply
  • Leonard S.

    Lug nuts tightened with a ratchit wrench can not be loosened with any thing except with a ratichet wrench.

    Reply
  • William M.

    Better know the location of the jacking ports in the car prior to jacking it up or you’ll damage the vehicle. Might have been nice to mention that in the article. Who the heck wrote this?

    Reply
  • William M.

    And illiterate that I am, I see it was mentioned. Apologies to all.????

    Reply
  • Monica G.

    Thanks but no thanks. I would rather call AAA. The wait may be long but less than it would take me to read the manual, assemble the tools etc. My sister, who lived in the West Indies, was very capable at this through necessity. Thank God I have AAA.

    Reply
  • Gary S.

    If your vehicle is equipped with wheel locks know where the key socket is located before you need it

    Reply
  • Glenn C.

    You should mention that the lug nuts should be tightened in a “star” pattern – be it 4- or 5-lug wheel

    Reply
  • Andrew W.

    I have a battery impact wrench in my cars which helps take off the lug nuts. Tightening the lug nuts, or bolts, should be with a torque wrench, especially on aluminum wheels.But just getting them tight is good enough when on the road and I have never had any trouble. Some cars in the past had right & left bolts & nuts. If you should lose the nuts, you can take one nut off each of the other wheels to get you going. If you have trouble getting the jack under the car you can drive onto the spare to gain height.

    Reply
  • Robert V.

    When torqueing bolts or lugs snug up the wheel and start at the top of the wheel and use a crossing pattern do not go around in a circle. Check your work when you think it is complete, the best of us have misted a bolt now and then. you might want to throw away the 50 mile maximum spare. It is the most useless thing a car manufacturer ever did to the industry, a waste of natural resources and money. All my cars have full spares. Find a deep socket and a breaker bar 1/2″ drive, Harbor Fright $8. Use the breaker bar as a leaver and you won’t get a hernia and round that nut with substandard tools.

    Reply

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