Things you need to change a tire: A checklist

Michael Pollick

If you have a European automobile, the tire-changing process will be noticeably different. Consult your owner's manual before attempting any repairs.

Tools needed to change a tire

Changing a tire is a fairly straightforward process. However, changing your tire in the middle of a storm is a different story. Drivers need to know how to change tires safely, no matter the weather or road conditions. If you find yourself on the shoulder of a busy highway late at night, or a deserted country road, it’s crucial to have the right equipment and know-how.

You may need to change your tire for any number of reasons, such as a popped tire, a damaged valve stem or a slow air leak. Most of the time, these incidents are sudden and unpredictable. You may be able to drive the car to reach a better spot, but you may need to switch the tire in a less ideal situation.

If you find yourself in an emergency tire-changing situation, here is a helpful checklist to follow. You’ll be ready for anything, from road trips to routine inspections.

What you need to change a tire

Replacement tire

Every vehicle should have at least one replacement tire in good working order. You can store this tire in a special wheel well, in the trunk or attached to a bracket on a rear door. This tire may be the same size as the other tires, or it may be a smaller spare also known as a “donut”. This spare tire should be fully inflated and in good condition. You can use a portable tire gauge to check the air pressure of the tire.

If possible, it’s best to replace the flat tire with a full-size spare. This way, you can drive your vehicle at normal speed until you can get a new spare or have the other tire repaired. However, if you only have access to a temporary spare, remember it is not designed to handle highway speeds. You should only use a temporary spare to get you to the nearest repair shop.

Lug wrench

Tires often attach to cars with a set of four or five heavy-duty lug nuts, typically hidden behind a hub cap. You’ll typically need a special tool called a lug wrench to pry off the hubcap and loosen or tighten the lug nuts. Mechanics often tighten lug nuts with commercial pneumatic wrenches, which are extremely difficult to break loose. A lug wrench provides you with an extra level of torque to help loosen them during an emergency tire change.

Some lug wrenches have handles, which work well for ratchet-style or scissor jacks wrenching. Others feature various socket sizes to fit different tire brands. You should always have an appropriate lug wrench in your car’s tire repair kit.

Vehicle jack

You can complete most of the tire-changing process while the vehicle is still on the ground. However, once you’ve removed the hubcap and loosened the lug nuts, you must lift the car several inches off the ground to remove the damaged tire. This step requires some form of jack, and every passenger vehicle should have one as part of their tire changing kit.

Jacks that work well for vehicles are scissor-style jacks, ratchet-style jacks, a pneumatic bottle jack or even a small floor jack. The most common jack is a basic mechanical scissor jack or ratchet jack. However, owners may prefer a portable bottle, floor or other hydraulic jack. Ultimately, you’ll want an easy way to lift and lower the car’s chassis at least 6-inches for a tire change.

Helpful accessories to change a tire

Tire chocks

One major challenge of changing a tire is keeping the vehicle stable. Tire chocks help keep the car from rolling out of position during a tire change. You can use something as simple as large rocks or blocks of wood, or you could purchase tire chocks to keep handy. You should place the chocks under the wheels on the opposite side of the damaged tire. For example, if a rear tire is flat, the chocks should go under the front tires to prevent it from rolling forward.

Compressed air

When you leave a car in storage, sometimes a temporary or full-size spare tire can lose air pressure. So, make sure you have a resource for compressed air. Some car repair kits include a battery-powered air compressor, while other products contain compressed air cans and chemicals designed to seal minor tire leaks.

Personal protective gear

Changing a tire can be a dirty, physically demanding task even under the best conditions. You should prepare for all types of weather. Keep a plastic rain poncho in your car so you can stay dry if you need to change a tire in the rain. You’ll also want a pair of heavy-duty, latex or plastic gloves to protect your hands from dirt and grease.

It’s also helpful to have a container of water-activated soap so you can remove dirt and grease from your clothes after the repair is complete. Some drivers may even want to store a change of clothing in the trunk.

Warning equipment

A working flashlight is invaluable in many situations, including a nighttime tire change. You can use it to illuminate the tire or serve as a warning signal to cars passing by. Some drivers opt for road flares and place them strategically around their work area. There are also car repair kits that include reflector triangles as well as a reflective vest to help increase visibility.

How to change a tire

The vehicle manual should include a section on emergency tire repair or replacement. If not, you can follow this basic process regardless of the make and model of your vehicle.

  1. Slowly guide the vehicle off of the road to a safe location. An empty parking lot or a wide road shoulder would be ideal. Try to find a flat, firm workspace so you can move around easily.
  2. Locate the spare tire, lug wrench and jack. Make sure all are in good condition.
  3. Place tire chocks on the opposite tire to prevent a roll-out and put warning equipment around the vehicle.
  4. Use the lug wrench or a claw hammer to pry off the hubcap and place it near your workspace. It can serve as a place to keep the lug nuts.
  5. Loosen, but do not remove, the exposed lug nuts with the lug wrench. Use as much leverage and force as necessary. You’ll want the lug nuts to be just loose enough to turn by hand.
  6. Find an appropriate location on the car to use the jack, so you can lift the car off the road. Many cars have a notch specifically for a ratchet jack hook. Carefully use the jack to lift the vehicle approximately six inches off the ground. This should leave the tire slightly suspended in the air.
  7. When the wheel has cleared the ground, carefully remove the lug nuts by hand and place them in the hubcap or other nearby location. Pull the damaged tire to remove it from the bolts on the car.
  8. Position the replacement tire on the bolts and carefully push it into place. Retrieve the lug nuts and hand tighten them on the bolts.
  9. Slowly lower the vehicle back down on the ground with the jack and use the lug wrench to tighten each lug nut.
  10. Place the damaged tire and all repair equipment back into the trunk, along with any warning devices or personal protective gear.

If you use a temporary spare tire, be sure to drive slowly to the nearest automotive repair shop.

In case of an emergency, call for help

Even if you have all of the tools to perform a tire change, you may still need to call for professional assistance. If the area is unsafe or the weather conditions are hazardous, you may not feel comfortable performing a repair yourself. In an emergency situation, it’s best to utilize a roadside assistance plan. Many cell phone service providers offer roadside assistance plans for a reasonable monthly fee, and automobile clubs such as AAA offer emergency road repair. You can also call a nearby auto repair shop for a tow to the nearest garage.

Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money

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