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Sooner or later, it's bound to happen to most everyone. You're driving along with your mind on the important meeting agenda, and suddenly your car pulls to one side and you hear that dreaded flapping sound of a flat tire.
Nowadays, many drivers have roadside assistance services that will come fix your flats, but it's always smart to know how to change a flat yourself. Because it's a fairly common occurrence, car manufacturers have tried to make the tire change process one that virtually anyone can do.
Before Starting Out
It's a good idea to get your car serviced before heading out on a road trip. Part of the checkup should include a look at the tires.
Look for any unevenly worn spots, or skimpy tread. If the tires are iffy, invest in new ones. You'll need them eventually anyway, and it's better to start out on a trip with new tires than have a blow-out in the middle of nowhere.
Even if you're not heading on a trip, you should familiarize yourself with the tools you'll use in the event of a flat tire. Most cars come equipped with a simple jack and lug wrench, as well as a spare tire. Check your owner's manual if you aren't sure how to access these items.
Pull out the jack and the tire, and make sure the tire is in good shape. If your spare is flat, get it fixed.
It only takes a few minutes to make sure you have all the tools, and you'll save yourself a big headache later if you find yourself on the side of the road with a flat.
Optional Items to Pack
Besides the crucial jack, wrench, and spare tire, you might also want to consider placing these tools in your trunk to make a tire change much easier and more comfortable:
- Flashlight (with extra batteries)
- Tarp or mat to kneel on
- Plastic rain poncho
- Fix-a-flat™ spray foam
- Tire gauge
- Tire blocks
Changing a Flat Tire
Follow these simple steps to fix the problem and be on your way in no time:
- Find a safe spot to pull over. If you're on the freeway, getting off is the safest bet, even if you have to drive on a blown tire. Otherwise, pull as far onto the shoulder as possible. Don't park in the middle of a curve, where approaching cars can't see you. Also choose a flat spot; jacking up your car on a hill can be a disaster. If you have a manual transmission, leave your car in gear. Be sure to set your parking brake!
- Turn on your hazard lights. Get the jack, wrench, and spare tire from the trunk of the car and bring them over to the tire that is flat. Use other tools or supplies if needed.
- Use the wrench to loosen the lug nuts. You may need to remove the hubcap. Don't remove the lug nuts at this point; simply loosen them by turning the wrench to the left (counter-clockwise). If the lug nuts are really tight, try placing the wrench on the nut and standing on the wrench arm to use your full weight on it. You can also try hitting the wrench arm with a rock.
- Use the jack to lift the vehicle off the ground. Different car models may have different places to put the jack; consult your owner's manual for specific locations. Once the jack is securely in the correct spot, jack up the car until the tire is about six inches off the ground.
- Remove the lug nuts and pull the tire off the car. Make sure to place the lug nuts in a pile that won't get scattered, and pull the tire straight toward yourself to remove it from the wheel base.
- Place the spare on the car. Line up the lug nut posts with the holes in the spare, and push the spare all the way onto the wheel base until it can't go any farther.
- Put on the lug nuts. Don't put them on tightly, just make sure they're on enough for the spare to stay on the car for a moment.
- Lower the car back to the ground. Use the jack to bring the car back down to ground level. Remove the jack from underneath the car.
- Make sure the lug nuts are tightened. With the car back on the ground, you can now tighten the lug nuts. Rather than tightening them one by one in order, start with one lug nut, tighten it about 50%, move to the opposite nut (across the circle) and tighten that one about the same amount. Keep tightening opposite lug nuts gradually in turn until each lug nut is as tight as it can be.
- Put your flat tire and tools back in your trunk. Make sure you don't leave anything on the side of the road.
Once in a while, a tire isn't completely destroyed when it goes flat. If the flat is caused by a nail or other sharp object, and you can't or don't want to change your tire on the side of the road, you may be able to give yourself a few miles of leeway by using a flat-fix type spray.
Simply follow the manufacturer's directions. In ideal situations, the spray foam will allow you to at least find a close off-ramp and pull into a service station or a rest stop before you have to change your tire.