With the unofficial end of summer quickly approaching, you may be thinking of heading out for one last hurrah before fall begins. Even with Roadside Assistance, you should still be prepared to change a tire yourself in case you experience a flat far from civilization (has anyone ever gotten a flat in front of a service station?). Here are some great tips to prepare your tires for the road ahead and what to do if you do get a flat.
Before hitting the road it’s a good idea to get your vehicle serviced. Part of that overall checkup should include your tires. Check the pressure (don’t forget to check the spare), look for worn tread, bumps or bulges, or cracks. If the tires seem iffy, it may be time to get a new set.
Most cars come equipped with a simple jack and lug wrench, as well as a spare tire. If you’re not sure how to access these items, check your vehicles owner’s manual.
If you do experience a flat tire, here’s an excellent step-by-step from Popular Mechanics on how to safely change a tire and get back on the road:
Step 1: Be Prepared
Planning ahead will save a lot of frustration. It's not a bad idea to keep an emergency kit in your trunk and disposable, but sturdy Tyvek overalls will help keep your dry cleaning bills down. Throw in some mechanics gloves, a good waterproof flashlight, hand cleaner and paper towels. Believe it or not, all that, plus wheel chocks, flares, tire gauge and tire sealant all fit into a shallow Rubbermaid bin. The lid can double as something to kneel on. Since flat tires happen year round, you can even fit in a collapsible snow shovel.
Step 2: Location, Location, Location
You want to choose your tire changing place very carefully. Once on the shoulder, slowly driving to the next exit ramp may give you enough space needed to stay away from the main flow of traffic.
Step 3: Not Enough Room
The line separating traffic from you on the shoulder is not an invisible force field. Be sure you are a safe distance from traffic. You will a need level, solid surface to jack up a car safely.
Step 4: Be Aware of Traffic
Turn on your four-way flashers. Using flares or reflective triangles will help give a long range warning that a disabled car is ahead. This is especially important at night or in the rain. Always be aware of on rushing traffic, especially heavy trucks that create suction in their wake that can pull you off your feet.
Step 5: Give Yourself Room
Be sure you have enough room around the flat tire to work safely. Keep the doors closed. A truck's wake can blow them suddenly wide open and damage the hinges.
Step 6: Set Your Parking Brake
Set your parking brake. Blocking the diagonally opposite wheel will help keep the car from rolling once the flat tire is up in the air. If you don't have a wheel chock, you can improvise with some suitable object found by the side of the road.
Step 7: Check the Spare
Check the spare tire and tools. If your spare is flat or essential tools are missing, there's no sense in continuing. You were prepared so your flat kit is fully stocked and ready to go. Remove jack and lug wrench.
Step 8: Use Your Owner's Manual
Your owner’s manual has all the vehicle specific instructions and pictures of where everything is located. It's not a bad idea to copy the tire change page instructions (double sided) and laminate them. A plastic kitchen magnet can hold them in a place easily viewed while working.
Step 9: Pry Off the Hub Cap
Use the sharp end of the lug wrench to pry off hub cap. Some cars have hub caps with false lugs that secure the hub cap or are just for decoration. It's a good idea to become familiar with your type of wheel fasteners before you are in an emergency situation.
Step 10: Remove the Hub Cap
Remove the hub cap and set it on the ground upside-down to use as a tray for the lug nuts.
Step 11: Loosen Lugs
Lugs will need to be loosened prior to lifting vehicle.
Step 12: You May Need an Adapter
You may have one lug that requires a special "key" adapter.
Step 13: Insert Key Lock Adapter
Insert key lock adapter.
Step 14: Use Your Floor Mat
Loosen the key lock. Here's a tip: You can use your floor mat to kneel on. Flip it over so the dirty side is on the ground.
Step 15: Remove Lock
Step 16: Place Lock in Hub Cap
Place lock in hub cap. Loosen all the other lug nuts. You'll put all the lug nuts in the hub cap or other suitable clean place so you don't lose them. You also don't want to get dirt or grit in the threads.
Step 17: Locate the Pinch Flange
On most unit body construction cars, the pinch flange is the strongest part of the car for lifting purposes. Most cars have a notch that fits the factory jack. Consult your owner manual for lifting locations. Lifting a car at the wrong spot can damage the car and endanger you if it's unstable.
Step 18: Position Jack
Position jack under jacking location.
Step 19: Raise the Vehicle
Raise the vehicle slowly by turning the jack handle clockwise. You'll want enough height to not only remove the flat tire, but be able to install the fully inflated spare.
Step 20: Remove the Tire
Remove the remaining, already loosened lug nuts and remove the flat tire. Just pull, but be careful! It may be heavy.
Step 21: Remove Spare
Remove spare from the trunk or inside a rear panel on some minivans.
Step 22: Pickups and SUVs
On many pickups and SUV's the spare is suspended under the rear the truck. There is a center nut that holds the spare up. Direction to loosen is counter-clockwise. On some there is a manual cable "winch" that lowers the spare down. Consult your owner’s manual for details on operation.
Step 23: Install the Spare
Install spare by lining up wheel studs with holes.
Step 24: Finger Tighten the Lugs
You may need to use your foot to hold spare in place while you thread the lugs on. Just finger tighten until snug. You should NOT attempt to tighten the lug nuts with the lug wrench while the wheel is in the air. The wheel may merely rotate or could cause the car to fall off the jack.
Step 25: Lower the Car
Carefully lower the car by turning the jack handle counter-clockwise.
Step 26: Tighten the Lugs
Once the car is down you can tighten the lugs. Tighten them clockwise in a crisscross pattern. Your owner’s manual will show the correct sequence. Failure to tighten the lugs properly is potentially unsafe.
Step 27: Your Spare is Now Installed
Your spare is now installed. Note that these "space saver" tires are temporary spares. Do not exceed the speed label on the sidewall (usually 50 mph) and drive carefully. Because a temporary spare does not have the same handling characteristics and longevity as your regular tire, get your full size flat tire repaired or replaced right away.
Step 28: Remove the Jack
Be sure to remember to remove jack and stow in trunk. Look around and pick up your tools, hubcap, emergency kit, and everything else.
Step 29: Stow Flat in the Trunk
Place the flat, tools and kit in trunk.
Step 30: Reinstall Hub Cap
After you get a new tire mounted on your wheel, reinstall wheel and re-install hub cap. Put spare back in trunk. Secure jack and tools.
Step 31: All Done
All done! Remember: Don't delay getting a new tire.