How to Change a Flat Tire

Changing a flat tire is not a very pleasant experience. It seems like your car purposely tries to get a flat tire at the least opportune moments, like when you are rushing home from work or late for an appointment.

All vehicles made after September 1, 2007 are required by law to have a low tire-pressure warning system. If that is the case, you might be able to avoid the icky process. But even if you are a hapless soul, changing a tire doesn’t have to be all bad. With knowledge comes power.

OK, so you come out of the store and notice you have a flat tire, or you are driving along and all of a sudden you hear a loud bang and the tell-tale thumping noise of a dead tire. You carefully pull off to the shoulder of the road. Checking to make sure no other motorists are going to run you over, you exit your vehicle and inspect the car. Sure enough, one of your car’s tires is completely flat. You are not going to be able to keep driving, so you are going to have to remove it and install your car’s spare tire in its place.

Remember, driving on a flat tire will ruin the tire immediately!

Jack up the Car

The first step is to find your car’s spare tire, jack and tire iron. The spare tire is typically located beneath the floor mat in the trunk, unless your car doesn’t have a trunk. If you own an SUV, minivan or pickup, the spare tire is often mounted on the tailgate or underneath the vehicle itself.

Once you have found the spare tire, remove it from the car. If you have an air pressure gauge handy, you will want to check the spare tire’s pressure. If this tire is flat, too, you’re in a bit of trouble. But let’s just assume you have been keeping tabs on the spare tire’s health, and its air pressure is perfect.

The next step will involve removing the flat tire. Make sure that the car is in gear (or in “park” if the car is an automatic) and the emergency brake is set. The car should be parked on a flat piece of pavement. Do not attempt to change a flat if the car is on a slope or if it is sitting on dirt. It’s also a good idea to block the tire opposite of the flat tire. Therefore, if the left front tire is flat, it would be a good idea to place a brick or other large, heavy object behind and in front of the right rear tire. Blocking the tire makes the car less likely to move when you are raising it.

Use the tire iron (the L-shaped bar that fits over the wheel lugs) to loosen each wheel lug. The wheel lugs are almost certainly very tight. You’ll have to use brute force. You loosen them by turning them counterclockwise. If you need to, you can carefully put your foot on the tire iron and exert your body weight on it to help loosen the lug nut but be careful not to slip off or let the lug wrench slip off the nut.

Now, at this point, you don’t want to actually remove the lugs. You just want them slightly loose. Once you have accomplished this, move the jack underneath the car. If you don’t know where the proper jacking points are, look them up in the owner’s manual (you keep your owner’s manual in your car, right?).

Maneuver the jack underneath the jack point and start to raise the jack. Most car jacks these days are a screw-type scissor jack, which means you simply turn the knob at the end of the jack using the provided metal hand crank. Raise the jack until it contacts the car’s frame and continue expanding the jack.

Remove the Flat and Install the Spare

Raise the car with the jack until the flat tire is completely raised off the ground. Once this is done, remove the wheel lugs completely. Depending on how tight the lugs are you might be able to remove them by hand. Set the lugs aside in a secure location where they can’t roll away.

Position the spare tire over the wheel studs. This is the most physically challenging part of the whole process. You’ll have to hold up the tire and try to line up the holes in the wheel with the protruding wheel studs located on the brake hub. One trick that might help is to balance the tire on your foot while you move it into position.

Once each of them is snug and you can’t tighten them any further by hand, use the tire iron to finish the job. At this point, you don’t need to get the lugs super tight. You just want them snug for now. Make sure that the wheel is fitting flush against the brake hub.

Once the spare tire is on, carefully lower the jack. Pull the jack away from the vehicle. The final step is to tighten down the lugs completely. The reason you tighten the lugs now is that the tire is on the ground and it won’t rotate around like it would if it was still hanging in the air.

Wheel lugs have a specific torque rating that they are supposed to be tightened down to, but there is pretty much no way you can figure that out using a simple tire iron. The general rule here is to tighten down the lugs as much as possible.

That’s it. Put the flat tire in the space where the spare tire was and put the jack and tire iron back in the car. Most compact spare tires are smaller than regular tires (they look dinky and people commonly refer to them as “rubber doughnuts”), so it is possible that the flat tire won’t fit in the spare tire well. Also, compact spares have a limited top speed. The tire’s top speed will be written on its sidewall. If your vehicle has a full-size spare, you won’t encounter these problems. With the spare installed, you should be able to reach your house or the nearest service station.

Remember, safety first. If you are unsure – call someone!

Towing Company: A1 Towing, 406-443-4044
Service and Repair Shop: J4 Automotive, 406-227-8622

Important note: This content is created to help you become more familiar with your vehicle. The information presented herein is generic in nature and applies to almost every vehicle on the road today. For specific information and recommendations for your particular vehicle, we recommend referring to your vehicle’s owner’s manual. If you do not have one, we recommend purchasing one for your vehicle. The owner’s manual will list the proper operating procedures, maintenance intervals and requirements and the fluid types needed to keep your vehicle in a reliable and trouble free state of operation. This in turn will deliver the best return on your investment and provide you with the optimum safety and economy in operation.