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How To Change A Flat Tire

I was driving with my family last week when I noticed a car pulled over to the side of the road. There was a young woman in the front seat staring at her phone. She was about the same age as my daughter, and she looked perplexed.

The area was remote and we figured she needed some help, so we pulled over. My two sons and I got out to see what we could do. 

As I approached her car I noticed a flat tire. There was severe damage to the sidewall. The tire was ruined.

I leaned down to the window and greeted her. "Need some help?" She said "Yes" with a sigh of relief. I asked if she had a spare. She said "No."

Uh oh. Things just got a little more complicated...

After some discussion, she decided that her mom could come and get her, and that they could then go down to the local tire store to get it replaced. "Sounds like a good plan" I said, and offered to remove the tire so she could be ready when her mom arrived.

I asked if she knew where her jack was and she walked me back to the trunk. We opened the trunk and I instinctively raised the floor panel to find the jack. The young lady gasped...

There, under the floor panel, was a donut spare. Right where it should be. She had no idea it was there. We laughed at the good fortune as I realized she hadn't been taught a few basics about car maintenance.

With her permission, I determined to teach her how to change a tire. I made my young boys pay attention, too.

Before we begin...

WARNING: Changing a tire is dangerous. Do not attempt this if you aren't sure of your safety. Make sure you are in a safe location to change your tire. Make sure your jack is on stable ground and that your break is set. Never get under the car while it is on a jack - make sure to keep hands and legs out of harm's way.

Changing a is a good think to know in an emergency. It isn't hard, and only takes about 15 minutes if you know what you're doing.

Find the spare and the jack. In most cases they will be in the trunk under the floor panel. Make sure the jack has a sturdy place to sit and tighten it by hand to the correct location on the frame under the car. Your owner's manual will show the correct placement. 

It is critical to get the placement right or you risk damaging the body of the car, so be careful with the jack.

Assemble the crank arm and start lifting the car. Once you have the weight off the tire, but before the tire leaves the ground, take a break and loosen the lug nuts. The friction of the tire on the ground will help keep the wheel steady. Be careful not to pull a muscle.

Once you have the lugs loosened, get back to raising the car until the tire is clear of the ground. Now go back and remove all the lugs. Be careful to place them to the side in a pile; you'll need them again.

Carefully lift the tire and pull it away from the car. You may have to wiggle it a little, but it should come off pretty easy. Tires are pretty heavy, so be ready to support the weight and try not to scrape the lug bolts as you pull the tire off. Set it aside.

Now grab your spare and place it onto the lug bolts. Tighten the lug nuts back on each bold to finger-tight. Use the tire iron to tighten them each a little bit. Use a cross pattern to make sure you are seating the wheel properly.

In most cases, your spare will be an emergency "donut" spare. These smaller tires designed to get you to the nearest shop, and not much more. Don't drive around on your donut spare any more than you have to.

Once you have the lug nuts soft-tightened, go ahead and lower the car until the tire meets the road. Take a break again to give each lug another good tighten, this time with some strength to tighten them down. Not too much; about as much pressure as it takes to open a new jar of peanut butter.

Lower the car and replace your jack to where it belongs. Place the damaged tire in your trunk and head to the nearest shop right away to have it repaired or replaced.

NOTE: This is a fairly generic review of how to change a tire. Some cars may require special placement or may have hub caps or covers to remove before you can get to the lugs. Every car is a little different. Your owner's manual will have the details.

Be careful out there.