Believe us, we get it: the idea of changing a flat tire on the side of the highway while cars whiz past at 65-miles-per-hour is terrifying. No one wants to get a flat tire, whether it’s on a road trip or just the commute to work. But we promise, you can change a tire, and we’re going to help you. If you’ve never changed a car tire before, we recommend going through the process at least once in the driveway. That way, if the worst ever happens, you’ve had practice and know exactly what you’re doing. Follow our how-to guide as we go through changing a flat tire in just a few simple steps. And remember: before you start on any road trip, make sure you have a working spare tire, a jack, a lug wrench, and the owner’s manual for the car. These four items can save your vacation! We also recommend having a flashlight just in case a flat tire strikes in the dark.
- Pull over, set the parking brake, and turn on your hazards. Try to find a safe spot without too much traffic around. If you’re on the interstate, get off on the nearest exit and pull over on that road—driving on a blown tire is still safer than trying to change a tire on the freeway! Pull over as far as possible; you need lots of room to change this tire.
- Loosen the lug nuts with the lug wrench. If the tire has a hub cap, remove that first with the flat part of the lug wrench. Not sure if your tires have a hubcap? If the lug nuts aren’t visible, your tires have a hubcap. If the lug nuts are tight, try standing on the lug wrench or hitting it with something heavy. Don’t take the lug nuts off all the way—just loosen them.
- Use the car jack to lift up the car. This is where the owner’s manual comes in handy. Different cars require the jack to be put in different places, so check the manual to see where the jack should go on your car. Jack the car so the wheel is about six inches above the ground.
- Take the lug nuts completely off the tire now, and then take off the tire. Put the lug nuts somewhere safe, like the hub cap or someone’s pockets—you’ll need them soon! Pull the tire straight off the car and put it flat on the ground.
- Put the spare on the car. Make sure to line up the screws with the holes in the wheel with the air valve facing out.
- Put on the lug nuts, tightening them a little bit by hand. It’s important not to tighten them all the way until the car is back down on the ground.
- Lower the jack so the car comes down to the ground again. The wheel should be totally on the ground.
- Tighten the lug nuts. There’s a special pattern you should use for tightening lug nuts. It helps to picture it like a star if your car has five lug nuts or an X if the car has four. Start with the top lug nut, and then skip every other lug nut until they’re all tightened. Make sure they’re on tight enough to survive the drive to a tire store to fix the flat tire!
With a little patience and a few deep breaths, changing a flat tire is totally possible. Practicing now can make a big difference to your confidence and ability if a flat tire happens while you’re driving. Follow these easy steps, and you’ll be back on the road in no time!