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How do I…Change a flat tire

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Tire technology, pressure warning systems, and improved material quality have made it far less common for tires to fail.

Even so, road debris and sidewall-eating potholes are a reality, and knowing how to change a tire remains a valuable life skill.

A little preparation goes a long way; your owner’s manual can help. Familiarize yourself with the location of the spare (does it even have one?), tool kit, jack, and any special adapter sockets for locking or aftermarket wheel nuts. Check the pressure in the spare; “temporary” types are smaller and require higher pressure, usually listed on the door-jamb placard or the spare’s sidewall.

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If a flat occurs while on the road, always move the vehicle to a safe location to make the change, even if that means very briefly driving (and at very low speed) on the flat. A tire or wheel can be replaced, you cannot.

Tire changes should occur on a level, solid surface. The vehicle should be off and in park (or reverse for a manual) and the parking brake applied. Chock the diagonal opposite tire if possible.

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Prior to lifting the vehicle, loosen the affected wheel’s nuts one turn (only) with the wrench. Most cars and crossovers have notches or tabs on their rocker panels to indicate lift points – slot the top of the jack onto this as you raise it.

Once off the ground, undo the nuts (or bolts) while supporting the tire, then remove it. Check that the hub surface is clean, and then mount the spare, reversing the fastener removal process. Snug the nuts before lowering the tire to the ground; tighten them completely in a cross-pattern after it contacts but before putting the full weight of the vehicle on it.

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Remember that temporary spares should not exceed 80 km/h, and pay attention to any unusual noises, as loose wheel nuts often cause a hum or growl.


Brian Early is a longtime Wheels contributor and a Red Seal automotive technician with over 25 years’ experience.

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