Do you count on your auto club membership or some service through your vehicle’s manufacturer to help with 'roadside assistance' or breakdowns? Whether you do or don’t, it is incredibly important to know how to change a tire.
Why Learn How to Change a Tire?
There are a few good reasons to teach yourself how to change a tire, including no cell service, a dangerous situation where you cannot safely sit around and wait for someone to arrive, or because you just want to get back up and running.
The good news is that we are here to walk you through the process, and you will probably be happy to hear that it is not rocket science or all that difficult. It starts with having the right gear, of course, and that’s the first thing we’ll consider.
What Do You Need to Change a Tire on a Car or Truck?
Whether it is a small car or a truck, the basic tools needed to change a tire are the same:
- Car Jack (may be incorporated into the spare tire area of your vehicle)
- Lug Wrench (may also be incorporated into the spare tire area of your vehicle)
- Spare Tire
- Owner’s Manual
- Tire Gauge
- Handy Extras: You may also benefit from access to a flashlight, wheel chucks or wedges, warning devices (i.e. flares or small reflective signs), a rain poncho or tarp, an array of tire repair tools (i.e. tube patch kit, canned air to inflate a tire, spare lugs, etc.), and safety gloves.
- A Grypmat is also helpful for organizing your tools!
That seems like a lot, but you can easily tuck all of these things into the spare tire area or wheel well of a vehicle’s trunk. Having them on hand can make a big difference with how easily and quickly you can change a tire! If your car did not come with a tire changing kit, you should be able to find what you need online.
Step-by-Step How to Change a Tire
Now that you have all the tools, you'll need to know how to use them to change your tire. Here's what you'll need to do:
1. Start with a Safe Spot to Do the Work
One of the only significant challenges of changing a tire is finding a safe spot to get it done.
After all, you cannot plan on the moment when the tire loses air. That means you may find yourself on a highway or other dangerous place. It is key to remain calm, ensure your vehicle is under control, and then think about a safe spot to change the tire.
Tips for Finding a Safe Spot
- The moment you realize the tire is flat, you need to slowly reduce the speed (never brake hard or make a hard turn).
- As you are slowing, engage the hazard lights and scan the area to find a place that is level and has enough room for you to maneuver safely around the car. This could mean you have to creep along on the rim, but getting to a safe spot is much more important than preserving the tire’s rim.
- Just go incredibly slowly and keep looking for an area that gets you out of traffic and/or harm’s way. Level spots are best as they prevent the car from rolling and they allow you to be seen by oncoming vehicles. If you are on a highway, be very wary of the nearest shoulder because it may still be extremely dangerous for you to work on one side of the car if it places you within the travel lane.
- Also, be careful about soft dirt or grassy areas because the jack can sink and the vehicle can be unstable; leading to a collapse.
- Once you’ve found a good spot, turn off the car or truck, engage the emergency/parking brake and turn on the hazards (if you haven’t done so already).
2. Get Ready for the Tire Change
The next step in how to change a tire properly and safely is to grab the tools you have assembled for such an emergency.
That means you will already know where the jack, spare tire, tools, and other gear is stored. At this point, you may already be in a panic because you don’t have a jack. Never fear, we've included some suggestions for dealing with that dilemma as well in a section below (read that first before getting set up if changing your tire now!). But, trust us, preparing ahead of time by having what you need is way easier!
You will want to lay out everything you need in an organized manner and get yourself set up for the conditions. This is where that Grypmat would come in!
A few setup steps to keep in mind:
- No matter what time of day (or night), put up the safety signs or flares you have tucked into your gear.
- Get your flashlight set up on the flat tire so you can see what you are doing.
- Use wheel wedges on the front or rear tires to prevent any unexpected rolling or movement.
- Give the flat a good scan. It could be that your tire tools (such as a can of “fix a flat”) can come in handy and help you make it to a safer location to change the tire.
If the tire is indeed flat and not able to be repaired with a quick fix that could get you home or to a better spot, it is time to get the process started.
3. Remove the Cover or Hubcap and Loosen the Lugs
Before you use the jack, you need to loosen up the lug nuts a little bit. The reason to do this now is actually logical: the weight of the car helps you to loosen the lugs.
If they are sticky, it will be much harder to loosen them if the wheel is off the ground and able to turn and move freely when you try to loosen the lugs.
To loosen the lug nuts, you just turn the lug wrench in a counterclockwise direction. Be sure you are holding the lug wrench firmly and pushing it in a downward direction. If one or more of the lugs won’t loosen, it may be necessary to use an oil (WD40, for example) to loosen them. Apply a bit more pressure by stepping downward on the wrench rather than trying to wrestle it by hand. Remember, this is the part when you will LOOSEN, but will NOT remove the lugs.
4. Use the Jack to Lift the Car
Some experts say you want to learn how to change a tire on your specific vehicle by using the owner’s manual. That is because they feel that each manufacturer has a place they see as ideal for the placement of the jack.
While it may be true that an owner’s manual will tell you the “best” spot to secure the jack, it is a safe bet that the area of the vehicle’s frame right alongside the flat tire will be safe. In fact, this is such a good spot to position the jack that many newer model vehicles will have a very clear area of durable, molded plastic designed for the jack. All four tires will have these spots to help secure a jack most effectively.
Then you just begin to gently crank the jack and lift the car. You will NEVER slide your body beneath the car or put any part of your body beneath the vehicle, so it needs to be lifted only around six inches above the ground to affect the tire change.
Here is a video we recorded on how to safely lift your vehicle using a jack:
How to Change a Tire Without a Jack
Here’s the thing, it is entirely possible to change a tire without a jack, and you may want to explore a few video tutorials showing you how to do this safely and effectively.
However, one of the safest and simplest ways you can accomplish this is to look for a way to drive the vehicle until your flat tire is over an area of open soil or earth. In other words, the space below the flat will provide the room to work that the jack normally does.
You would require a block, wheel chuck, or something that can be lodged under the side of the vehicle’s axle closest to the flat, AND you would have to increase the amount of space below the flat by digging it out to have enough space to change it.
As you can see, this might be a very challenging matter. That means you’ll want to ensure you have the basics – jack, spare tire (fully inflated), lug wrench, etc. – at all times to make the process easier.
5. Remove the Lug Nuts
Once you have your car jacked up, NOW you can take off the lug nuts.
If the tire has a hub cap, it is best to flip it up and use it as a bowl to hold the lug nuts as they are removed. If not, find something that can hold them all together, including any wells inside of the car door area, the floor of the car’s front or back seat, and so on.
The lug nuts should come away very easily because they are already loose, and you may not even need the lug wrench to get them off completely.
We highly recommend using a small- or medium-size Grypmat while changing your tire as well. These are mats designed to keep your tools and lug nuts in one place and prevents them from rolling away on the side of the road.
There’s nothing more detrimental when changing a tire on the highway than to have a lug nut roll away into two-foot-high grass. Grypmats are made of silicone and are non-slip, so they store away with your kit easily as well.
6. Remove the Tire
Once your lug nuts are removed and safely set aside, it is time to remove the tire. Tires are heavier than they seem, so be quite careful as you remove the tire from the bolts that hold it in place.
Grab it tightly on the sides (treads), then gently and slowly pull it in your direction. Keep sliding it until it is free from the vehicle. Set it down and then gently lay it on its side to stop it from rolling away. You can even slide it partially under the vehicle in case of jack failure.
7. Mount the Spare
Now is the big changing-the-tire moment when you can put your fully inflated spare on the car.
Double check that it is full by standing it up and giving it a bounce. You want it to be very responsive. You can then simply line up the rim of the tire with the lug bolts you removed the flat tire from.
We say “simply”, but it can take a few moments to get the new tire on the bolts. Once you get one in place, the rest are going to automatically line up.
Don’t shove the tire roughly or quickly into position. Just push it gently along the bolts and stop once they have popped through and the tire ceases to slide along them. Do not spin the tire just yet!
8. Put the Lug Nuts Back On
You can now put the lug nuts back on the bolts, by hand, and tighten them all of the way. Do a check after all of them have been turned tightly by hand and try to crank them down as much as possible without using any tools. They will turn in a clockwise direction and should be tight enough to hold the tire in place firmly.
9. Lower the Car
If you put the old tire under the car, be sure to safely remove it before lowering the jack.
Now you can lower the car slowly to the ground. Jacks operate differently, so be sure to get the jack to drop the car in a slow and controlled manner.
It is dangerous to just slam it back down, even though it is only six inches. Plus, you don’t want it entirely on the ground. Instead, you want it almost all of the way down, but without the fullest weight of the car on the tire.
The tire shouldn’t be able to spin, but the jack shouldn’t be all of the way down, either. Why? This will let you get the optimal amount of pressure as you complete the process of securing the lug nuts.
10. Tighten the Lug Nuts
With the car almost all of the way on the ground, use the lug wrench to tighten the lug nuts fully – turning it in the same clockwise direction. Push down firmly and use all of your weight, but never stomp on the wrench and over tighten the lugs.
Once the tire is firmly in place, remove the jack and any blocks you may have used. Give the lug nuts one last test to ensure they are as tights as possible. Then pop the hubcap back into place or stow it if your vehicle has a smaller spare.
11. Check the Tire Pressure
It is a good idea to know the tire pressure of all four tires after you have changed a flat. Many newer vehicles tell you what the current PSI on your tires is at the moment, and you want to be sure that the spare matches the other three.
If you have an undersized spare, it should be around 60 PSI, no matter the make. If the spare needs more pressure, you can use your canned air (if you have purchased it for the tool kit) or you can just drive slowly and cautiously until you reach the next gas station with an air pump.
12. Get Back on the Road!
Now it is time to get your gear stowed away. While it might be tempting to grab the reflective road signs first, leave them to last to keep yourself safe. Put everything away safely and maybe do a sort of mental checklist or have one ready with your gear.
The following order for packing up would be best:
- Jack and any blocks
- Lug wrench
- Wheel chucks (or remember to remove anything you put in front of or behind tires to keep the car from rolling)
- Flat tire (put this either in the trunk or back seat)
- Hubcap (if it doesn’t fit on the spare)
- Safety reflectors
Congratulations! Once you are back in the car and moving along the road – whether it is at regular speed or a slower speed until you can get to a service tech or tire shop – you have successfully changed a tire!
We do urge you to head to a garage shortly afterward to have the original tire repaired or to get a new spare in the vehicle’s trunk. You can also ask the garage to checkout your work and make sure there are no problems with the tire.
Q&A: Things to Be Aware of When Changing a Tire
These are the most common questions about how to change a flat tire.
Q: How long does it take to change a flat tire?
A: Once you have the hang of it, you can expect a tire change to take around 15 to 30 minutes. You can even give it a practice run if you are worried about the process – just remove your functional tire and put it back on to see how long it takes. It is never a bad idea to do this at least once before you ever find yourself doing it for real. There are video tutorials available as well!
Q: How much does it cost to change a tire?
A: The price of changing a tire varies depending on what tools and tires you need. Doing it DIY will cost you the price of the tools and other items you keep on hand, and a bit of money when you have the tire checked by an expert – usually it takes them a few minutes, so around half of an hour or $15-$30. Tires, of course run anywhere from $20 for a used option or up to $200 or more depending on the make of the vehicle.
Q: Should the spare be smaller than the original tire?
A: Many manufacturers put a smaller tire in as spares. They are often called “donuts” and are not meant to be driven for very long distances or at high speeds. In fact, even normal street speeds can be risky. If you have a donut, you should use it, but stick to the shoulder of the road with hazards flashing and keep your speed slow. Then, find the nearest tire shop to get a full-sized replacement or get the original repaired.
Q: Should you put a block of wood under the jack’s base to prevent it from settling or becoming off balance?
A: Some experts think it is a good idea to use a piece of 2x6 lumber under the jack’s base when parked on asphalt. If you have concerns about balance, you can include a block of wood in your tire changing tool kit.
Q: What should you do if the tire is stuck and won’t come off when it is up on the jack?
A: You may want to add a small rubber mallet or hammer to your car’s tool kit, as well as a solvent like WD40. Combined, they can loosen up a wheel that is rusted or stuck to the hub. Just be careful you don’t rock the vehicle and risk a jack collapse.
Safety Tips for Avoiding a Flat
So, by reading this, you’ve learned the step-by-step process for changing a tire. You know how to get yourself to a safe spot, get setup to do the work, and do the actual tire change. We offered lots of pointers for keeping yourself safe throughout the process. We have also mentioned a few steps to take to be amply prepared for a flat – even practicing a tire change in the comfort and safety of your garage or driveway.
However, you can also boost your safety by doing the following:
- Checking or monitoring your vehicle’s tire pressure.
- Getting regular service that includes rotating the tires every three to five thousand miles.
- Watching the tires for signs of uneven wear. This is a major cause behind a flat or blow out and can be a proactive way to actually avoid an unexpected and dangerous issue!
Now That You Know How to Change a Car Tire or Truck Tire ...
Did you already realize that you are unlike the vast majority of modern drivers now that you know how to safely change a tire? It is amazing that so many drivers are unaware of how simple a process it is, once you have prepared for it and even done a few practice runs.
Now you can head out on the road knowing how to make one of the most essential repairs, and how to handle a major auto emergency. Get others to learn by sharing this information with them and be sure that every driver in your household has also given it a quick read to be sure they have a basic understanding of the steps needed whenever a flat tire strikes!