Most drivers face a flat at least a few times in their lives. Although it can be daunting the first time you attempt it, changing a flat tire is not difficult. Almost anyone can do it in less than 15 minutes – less time than it usually takes for a tow truck to arrive.
The first thing to do is to familiarize yourself with your vehicle’s owner’s manual. Most cars have a spare tire and equipment in the trunk or under a back seat. Locate the tools and determine where to place the jack under the auto’s body. Learn how to use the tire iron to release the bolts and the safety suggestions that will allow you to successfully change a tire before you need to know. Check your spare tire every couple of months to make sure it‘s up to pressure, it will be useless if it is a flat as the tire you’re taking off. Add some of your own equipment to make the flat changing experience more comfortable. Include a four-way lug wrench, a large screwdriver, and a 12” x 12” piece of 3/4” plywood to place under the jack. This will keep jacks from sinking into the grass or mud when you’re off the highway. In addition, carry 2 short pieces of 2 x 4” lumber to serve as wheel chocks, to keep the car from rolling off the jack. In addition, include a pair of leather work gloves, a plastic rain poncho, a roll of paper towels, a flashlight with good batteries, and a pair of work shoes.
When a tire blows, do not panic. Don’t make any drastic moves. Turn your flashers on and slowly and safely pull off the road. Find a spot that is visible but not far away from traffic. Avoid soft shoulders of inclines. Once stopped, put up the hood as an indicator to other motorists that you are having mechanical problems. Set the hand brake and put the transmission in park (or first gear for manual transmissions) so the car will not roll. Then set a few flares out on the road at 10 foot intervals.
Open the trunk, take out the spare tire and tools as well as the extra equipment you packed. Chock the other wheels, especially the one on the tire diagonally opposite from the flat one. This is the wheel that will have the mosts weight on it when you jack up the car. Begin by removing the hub cap from the wheel, if so equipped. Then using the lug wrench, break all of the lug nuts loose. This will not be easy because they were tightened by an air-wrench. Position the lug wrench at about the 10 o’clock position. That way you can push down (counter-clock-wise) with your body weight or shove down on it with your foot. If one lug nut looks different from the rest, and the lug nut doesn’t fit it, you have locking lug nuts to prevent wheel theft. Check the glove box for a special key that fits this lug nut and makes removal with the lug nut wrench possible. Break them loose while the wheel is still on the ground. At no time should you lay down with your legs in the highway or crawl under it.
Then position your jack in the factory jack point nearest the flat tire. Remember to use the 12×12 piece of plywood under the jack, if on soft ground. Double check the jack’s position to make sure it is lined up and the jack is vertical and not leaning. Lift the vehicle until the flat tire dangles about two – three inches off the ground. Finish loosening the lug nuts, laying them on the ground next to the jack or in your pocket (so you can find them). With the nuts off, lift straight up slightly on the tire and pull it backward and off the wheel studs. Lay it on the ground face up to avoid scuffing the rim face.
Install the spare tire, making sure the air valve stem is facing out. Spin the tire on the ground so the wheel holes are in the same orientation as the studs on the wheel hub. Pick the tire straight up and hang it on the top wheel stud. Turn the wheel slightly to align the other holes. Push tire back until rim is flush against the wheel hub. Replace the lug nuts, starting at the bottom nut, tightening them by turning clockwise, two or three times, or until it stops. Go to the lug directly across from it and do the same. Continue in this pattern until all nuts are tight. Lower the vehicle, remove the jack and tighten lug nuts around with the same pressure. Load up all the equipment and the flat tire. Drive cautiously to nearest tire shop to check spare’s condition.
Billie Nicholson, Editor