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Having a flat tire can be a scary experience for someone who has never changed a tire before. You can help alleviate a lot of problems by being prepared. Make sure the car you are driving has a jack, lug wrench, and a spare tire that is properly inflated. Putting a flat spare tire on to replace a bad tire is a wasted effort.
Familiarize yourself with the type of jack that is in your car. Most cars built today come with a scissor type jack with a screw type lift. It raises the vehicle by turning a large screw with a special handle. Older cars came with a bumper jack that raised the car with a with a ratchet type effect. It's possible that your vehicle has a different type of jack where you raise the car up under a sturdy part of the frame. Always refer to your owners manual if possible to position the jack correctly.
Be Prepared in Advance
Keep a small shovel, safety reflectors, and work gloves in your trunk so you are prepared in advance. A small sledgehammer, block of heavy wood, and a can of rust penetrating oil should be included for a seized wheel. A first aid kit and wet wipes should also be included. A flat tire could have a nail, glass, or some other sharp object embedded in it. Its possible chords from the tire are coming out which are sharp and you could be easily cut if not careful. A 4-way lug wrench can help speed up the removal of the lug nuts by spinning them off.
It's possible you will have a flat in less than ideal conditions. It could be raining, snowing, or at night. Keep a good work light that is mounted on a stand available. Working in the dark trying to hold a flashlight with one hand is very difficult. A good raincoat will be appreciated if you have to change a tire while it's raining. A pair of good work gloves should be kept in your car for any type of emergency. They can help protect your hands from cuts and bruises.
Keep an extra coat and warm hat in your car in case your flat tire happens in the winter. Trying to change a tire while improperly dressed can lead to hypothermia. A hand or foot operated tire pump and tire gauge should also be part of your tire changing equipment. You should be prepared in case your spare tire is not properly inflated.
Pick a Safe Area
Slowly drive to a safe spot before attempting to change your tire. Pull off to the side of the road where the ground is level and away from traffic. The car could slip off the jack if on a slope or even be blown off by winds created by fast-moving traffic. If the ground is snow or ice covered, a spot needs to be cleared for the jack to set safely on. This is where your shovel will come in handy.
Having a flat tire when driving on a gravel or muddy road presents its own challenges. A clear flat spot for the jack needs to be created and the car needs to be on level ground. You always need to be prepared for the car starting to sway and fall off the jack. People have been seriously injured from this due to body parts under the car.
Before You Begin
After you have your vehicle in a safe place, remove the jack, accessories, and spare tire from the trunk. Activate your emergency flashers and if you have reflectors or flares, they should be set up at least 200 feet behind the car. Warn traffic so they have a chance to slow down and avoid hitting you. Stay out of the driving lane while working on the vehicle.
Before raising the car up on the jack, the wheels should be chocked so the car is more stable. Remove the hubcap so the wheel is accessible. Always loosen the lug nuts while the car is still on the ground to lessen the chance of the car falling off the jack.
Raising the Car
The car should be raised with the jack in the proper location. There should be a notch in the frame near the front and rear on the side of the vehicle. A bumper jack should be fitted on the bumper in either a notch of a sturdy location in it is not the type that has a notch. The car should only be raised high enough for the tire to be removed.
This is a scenario that you will probably never encounter. Some Chrysler models and others used these on one side of the car with the idea that the spin of the wheel could loosen the lug nuts. This wound up with people breaking the studs and sometimes cracking the wheel.
A Seized Wheel
After raising the car and removing the lug nuts, it's possible the wheel still will not come off. Rust and other conditions can cause the wheel to freeze onto the hub. This is where you need the penetrating oil. Spray a liberal amount around the studs and where the wheel is mounted to the hub.
Let it soak for a few minutes and lower the car down so that the tire is barely touching the ground. Use the hammer to hit the block at the wheel edges to loosen it. If you hit on the wheel while the car is raised on the jack, it's possible to cause the vehicle to fall.
The Next Step
After removing the flat tire, make sure you put the lug nuts in a safe place. If you lay them on the ground while you are working, they can easily be kicked and lost. You will need them to install the spare correctly.
Put the spare tire onto the hub carefully. The lugs need to be lined up with the holes in the wheel. Do not try to force anything, you could wind up knocking the car off the jack. After the wheel is fitted properly, install the lug nuts and tighten them in a crisscross pattern. Tightening them wrong can cause the wheel to be out of balance causing a wobble when you drive.
Only tighten the nuts snugly while it is still on the jack. Trying to tighten them all the way while the car is still raised is potentially dangerous. This is another way that the car can be knocked off the jack.
You need to reverse the jack so it lowers the car safely back to the ground. Then you will finish tightening the lug nuts, using the same crisscross pattern as before. The nuts need to be really tight so they do not work their way loose while driving the car. If you are not sure that you have them tight enough, drive slowly to a qualified mechanic to have them checked.
After the car is safe on the ground and the lug nuts tightened again, the hubcap needs replaced. This might need lightly tapped with the hammer to keep it from falling back off when you start driving again. Put the spare tire, jack, and tools back away in the trunk. Changing a tire is a dirty job so you should break out your wet wipes and clean up the best you can.
Changing a flat tire on the road without any experience is definitely a big job. Take your time and make sure everything is done right. Trying to rush things can lead to a possible accident. Always keep an eye out for traffic, this can be the most dangerous part of changing a tire. It's better to put on your flashers and drive slowly to a safe place than get hit by a car.
Being familiar with the process will make things easier once you have an actual emergency. Practice changing a tire in a safe spot so you have the experience behind you. Learning to do this with adrenaline hopped up can lead to mistakes and injuries. Take your time, find a good spot, and stay safe.