First Things First: Does Your Car Have a Spare?
Before you hit the road next, check your vehicle’s owner’s manual to find out what equipment came with the car for changing a flat.
If you have a newer vehicle, you might be surprised to find out that it doesn’t come with a spare tire. This is the case for many newer cars, which, instead of spare tires, come equipped with a tire repair kit. This kit (which your car manufacturer might call an inflator or mobility kit) includes an air compressor, attached hose, and tire sealant.
Another alternative that your car may be equipped with are “run-flat” tires—meaning if you do get a flat, you can still drive the vehicle. Just be sure to keep your speed under 50 miles per hour, and head straight to the nearest tire shop, because run-flats are only meant to go a short distance.
A few manufacturers have collapsible spare tires. If this applies to your vehicle, it will have an air compressor, as well, to inflate the tire just before putting it on. (This is unlike typical spare tires, which should always be stored fully inflated.)
Each of these options are relatively rare, though, so it’s best to prepare yourself in the event you do need to swap out a flat tire and replace it with a fully inflated spare.
What You’ll Need
Don’t leave home without making sure these items are stowed in your vehicle, and know where they are.
- Vehicle’s owner’s manual
- Fully inflated spare tire
- Car jack
- Lug wrench
- Wheel wedges
- Tire gauge
- Working flashlight or headlamp and spare batteries
Also nice to have: A pair of gloves, plus an old blanket or tarp could come in handy and limit your chances of getting covered in tire grease and road grime. These items can also help protect you from getting burned from the extreme heat of the pavement here in Arizona.
If you’re driving and think you have a flat, ease up to reduce your speed—don’t brake abruptly. Turn on your emergency flashers/hazard lights, and scan for a safe spot on the side of the road to pull over as soon as you can. What do we mean by “safe?”
- It should be wide enough to give you ample space between the lane and your car.
- It should be as level as possible, so your vehicle doesn’t roll.
- It should be on a straight stretch of road, rather than a curvy spot, so you’re easily visible to oncoming traffic.
Once you’ve parked your car in a safe place, set your parking brake. If you have a passenger, ask them to watch for traffic so they can warn you to move if needed.
Step-by-Step: Changing Your Tire
With your car parked in a safe zone and your parking brake set, you’re ready to change your tire.
Step 1: Get all your tools out and ready to go.
If you’ve pre-checked all these items, you’ll know exactly where they are.
Step 2: Place the wheel wedges.
Wheel wedges ensure your car won’t roll while you’re working to fix the tire. Is one of the front tires flat? Place the wedges behind the rear tires. If your flat is one of the rear tires, then the wheel wedges go in front of the front tires.
Step 3: Loosen the lug nuts.
Remove the hubcap or lug nut cover if you have one. Using your lug wrench, loosen, but don’t yet remove the lug nuts. Work in a star or crisscross pattern, alternating top and bottom, rather than loosening the lug nuts in a circular or consecutive pattern. Turn the lug nuts counterclockwise. If they’re too tight, you can try standing on the wrench and bouncing to get the lug nuts to budge. Aim to loosen each lug nut ¼ to ½ of a turn.
Step 4: Place the jack and raise the vehicle.
Find the “jack point” under the car, nearest the wheel that has the flat tire. Check your owner’s manual if you aren’t sure where the jack point is. Crank up the jack by turning the handle clockwise to lift the car, until you see light between the ground and the tire.
Step 5: Remove the lug nuts and the flat tire.
Finish loosening the lug nuts and pull them off entirely, placing them in a secure spot. Pull the tire off the wheel, and place it flat on the ground, behind your car and out of the way.
Step 6: Position the spare tire.
Line the wheel rim up with the lug bolts, and push the spare tire on. Replace all the lug nuts, and tighten them with your fingers by turning them clockwise.
Step 7: Lower your vehicle slightly.
Turn the jack handle counterclockwise to lower your car to the ground, but keep the jack underneath the car for now.
Step 8: Tighten the lug nuts and remove the jack.
You’ll need your lug wrench again. Tighten the lug nuts by turning them clockwise, in a crisscross pattern. Repeat until they’re as tight as you can possibly get them, and remember, you may need to stand and bounce lightly on the wrench for extra leverage. Turn the jack handle to make sure your car is completely on the ground, then remove the jack.
Step 9: Check the pressure in your spare tire.
If your spare came with the car, then the owner’s manual should indicate the correct tire pressure for your spare.
Step 10: Put away all your equipment.
Carefully stow your jack, lug wrench, the flat tire, and any other equipment in your vehicle.
Step 11: Head (slowly and steadily) straight to a tire shop or mechanic.
Spare tires aren’t made to be driven at high speeds or for long distances, so take your car to the nearest shop. Depending on the state of your flat tire, you may be able to have it repaired and replaced, or you may need to purchase a brand new tire.
Want more tips for staying safe on the road? Find them here, and be sure to check out our full list of driving courses.