Southern California streets and freeways can be unkind to your tires.
Do you have a roadside assistance plan? Even if you do, it’s important to know how to change a flat tire properly.
Follow our 10-step checklist to change out your flat for a road-ready spare.
Good luck, and drive safely!
CMW How-To: Change a Flat Tire in 10 Easy Steps
1) Pull over.
If your tire goes flat while you’re driving, find a flat spot on the road to pull over and assess the damage. You should never try to change a flat tire on an inclined road, even if it means driving on the flat briefly to find a good place to stop.
2) Park the car.
Apply the parking brake, put your shifter into Park, and turn on your hazard lights. If you have a standard transmission, put your vehicle into reverse or first gear. And if you can, put some heavy objects in front of the tires on the side without a flat to keep the car from moving.
*Don’t skip this one! If you’re stressed out on the freeway shoulder it can be easy to forget this step as you rush to take care of the flat. You don’t want your car to start rolling while you’re working on it – that’s how cars get damaged and people get hurt.
3) Check your supplies.
At this point, you’ll need to get into the trunk to make sure that you have everything you need to change the tire. This means opening the interior trunk lid to reach the spare tire, lug wrench, and jack. You aren’t changing that tire without these three ingredients – if any of them are missing, it’s time to call a tow truck.
4) Loosen the lug nuts.
When your spare, wrench and jack are out of the trunk and ready to go, it’s time to remove the flat from your car. Remove the wheel cover (if your car has one) so that you can see the lug nuts. Put the lug wrench on the first lug nut and turn it counterclockwise (“lefty loosey,” as opposed to “righty tighty”).
You don’t want to remove the nuts completely – just break them loose so they’ll be easy to turn after you…
5) …Use the jack to lift the vehicle off the ground.
Place the jack on a flat space near the flat tire beneath the edge of the car. The best place for the jack may vary depending on your vehicle. Your owner’s manual should have a suggested placement for the jack.
*Don’t mix up #4 and #5 – you won’t be able to break the lug nuts loose if the tire is off the ground. Jacking up the car and then setting it back down to loosen the lug nuts is a big, frustrating waste of time.
6) Remove the lug nuts and the flat tire from the car.
As you take off the lug nuts, place them in the wheel cover or somewhere close by where they won’t roll away. (You’re going to need them again soon.) Also, even though it’s flat, make sure the tire doesn’t roll away when you remove it either.
*Note: If by some magic your hands aren’t already dirty, they will get dirty at this stage.
7) Place the spare on the lug bolts.
Once the flat tire is off, lift the spare into place and slide it onto the exposed lug nuts. Make sure the spare is facing the right way so you can put the lug nuts back on.
8) Put the lug nuts back on.
Start by putting the lug nuts into place with your fingers – get every lug nut “finger tight” before tightening them with the wrench. And double-check each lug nut after applying the wrench, because the tire can shift on the lug bolts as you tighten the nuts.
9) Lower the jack and put the flat and tools back in your car.
Congratulations! The hard parts are over. As you lower the jack, keep an eye on the spare tire to make sure it’s sitting properly on the lug bolts – if you’re not sure, give each nut one more twist of the wrench to ensure a safe drive.
Also, make sure you’ve picked up after yourself when you’re done. You don’t want to be the driver who successfully changed a flat tire, only to leave said tire (or other important parts) on the side of the road.
10) Drive on (carefully).
Spare tires are often smaller than standard tires, and usually have a recommended maximum speed. To avoid damage to your car, stay below the speed recommended on the tire – no matter how much you’re ready to finally get on with your drive.