How to change a flat tire, and all the tools you need to do it safely

How to change a tireShutterstock

  • Getting a flat tire is an inevitable part of being a driver, but with the right know-how and tools, it's a slight inconvenience at worst.
  • As a car enthusiast, I've swapped my wheels countless times. Below, I'll walk you through changing a tire, my recommendations for tools, and a few other tips for maintaining your tires.

There comes a time when every driver ends up with a flat tire - it's an inevitable occurrence that you should always be prepared for when you're on the road. Although it is without a doubt an inconvenience, it shouldn't be completely debilitating or expensive to fix.

Every car should come with a tire iron, jack, and spare tire, so all it takes is knowing how to change a flat tire to save you from the aggravation of sitting on the side of the road waiting for help to arrive or paying for an otherwise unnecessary tow.

From unlucky roadside flats to swapping new sets of wheels on my car, I've done my fair share tire changes over the years. I'll walk you through exactly how to complete the job, plus my recommendations for tools if you're looking for replacements or upgrades, and a few tips on maintaining safe tires.

Here are the basic essentials for changing a tire:

Here are other helpful items for maintaining safe tires:

Keep scrolling to learn how to change a tire.

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1. Find a safe spot

1. Find a safe spot

The last place you want to be with a flat tire is stopped in the middle of traffic, so do your best to get the car in a safe place. If you're in on a busy city street, try to make your way to a side street. If you're on the highway, be sure to pull over to the right shoulder.

2. Locate your spare tire

2. Locate your spare tire

Every vehicle is different, but finding your spare tire shouldn't be too hard. Most cars have a spare tire well underneath the carpet of the trunk. You will also find that some vehicles mount the spare tire directly under the body in the rear or visibly on the rear hatch (for trucks and SUVs).

You don't want to make the mistake of using a spare tire, throwing the flat one in its place, and forgetting to replace it — because when the time comes to change a flat again, you'll be stranded and out of luck. Be proactive by double-checking that your spare has good tread and holds air before you hit the road.

If you do need to replace a spare tire (or the tires on your car), I recommend shopping on Amazon or at Pep Boys.

3. Loosen your lug nuts

3. Loosen your lug nuts

Next, you'll want to loosen your lug nuts. It's important to do this before jacking up the car because once the tire is off the ground, the cranking motion will spin the wheel rather than loosen the lug nuts. If you do that, you'll more than likely have to lower the car back down to the ground to loosen them — so do it right the first time.

Loosening the lug nuts can be the hardest and most labor-intensive part of the job, especially if an air-tool-happy mechanic last installed your wheels. Instead of breaking your back trying to loosen them with the basic wrench that comes with every car, I strongly recommend upgrading to the Gorilla Automotive Wrench. It has a handle that expands to 21 inches to give you the leverage and torque needed to loosen lug nuts (and other bolts) with ease. Remember "righty tighty, lefty loosey" and you won't have any issues with removing or installing the lug nuts.

Although gloves aren't absolutely necessary to complete the job, it's a good idea to keep a pair of work gloves in your car if you don't want to get your hands dirty. I like the DEX FIT work gloves because they're protective and comfortable. You'll still have all the dexterity needed to change a flat.

4. Find your jacking points and jack up your car

4. Find your jacking points and jack up your car

Before you begin jacking up your car, it's important to locate your car's jacking points. Every car has several (usually four, two on each side) reinforced points on the under-body for safely and securely supporting a jack. When you jack up your car in a spot that's not a jacking point, you run the risk of damaging the underside of your car or the jack failing, which could be very dangerous if you're underneath the car.

Find the jacking point that's closest to the tire your changing and set your jack in place. The jack that comes with your car might be fine, but the archaic jack that came standard in my late-80s BMWs was janky, hard to keep stabilized, and didn't exactly give me confidence, so I replaced it with this scissor jack I found on Amazon. It has a large, stable base, so I don't have to worry about it popping out from underneath my car even if the ground isn't completely level. It gives me serious peace of mind.

This jack specifically uses a screw mechanism, so you simply twist it clockwise (to the right) to raise the jack. There's no need to lift your car up to the heavens — as long as the tire is a few inches off the ground and you have enough room to pull it off and replace it, you should be in good shape.

5. Finish loosening the lug nuts and replace the wheel

5. Finish loosening the lug nuts and replace the wheel

Once your tire is off the ground, you can finish removing the lug nuts with your wrench or by hand if they're loose enough, and then pull off the wheel with the flat tire. Make sure you don't lose any of the lug nuts because you'll need them to secure your new tire to the wheel. Most modern cars have five lugs, but you'll find that some older (usually smaller) cars have four lugs.

Next, you can take your spare wheel and mount it on your car. While holding the wheel in place, screw on one lug nut by hand to secure the wheel. Then, screw on the rest of the lug nuts and evenly tighten them with your wrench.

Slowly lower your jack so that your car returns to the ground gently, and make the lug nuts are torqued — you'll know they're tight enough when you can't turn them anymore without exerting a lot of force.

6. Know your limits and when to call for help

6. Know your limits and when to call for help

Changing a tire is a very simple task, but it does take a decent amount of physical effort. If you don't think you're up for the task because of a previous injury or an existing medical condition, don't risk your health. It's ok to call a friend or professional roadside assistance service.

Alternatively, if it's freezing cold, pouring rain, or you don't have the right tools for safely changing the tire, you should also consider calling for help.

7. Tips for avoiding flats and maintaining safe tires

7. Tips for avoiding flats and maintaining safe tires

You can't completely avoid getting flat tires, but you can absolutely reduce the chances of it happening.

The easiest way to do that is to periodically check on your tires to make sure they're filled with air to the correct PSI.

Most passenger cars recommend 30-35 PSI, but if you have a custom wheel and tire set up, it could be slightly lower. You can use the Rhino USA Tire Pressure Gauge to read your PSI and then add air accordingly. Plenty of gas stations and convenience stores have free air pumps, but if you want your own portable pump, I recommend the EPAuto 12-volt Portable Air Compressor. It plugs into a 12-volt socket/cigarette lighter and has a built-in tire-pressure gauge.

Another important step is to rotate your tires regularly.

Depending on your car being front-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive, your front or rear tires will wear out quicker than the pair that's not under power. By rotating your tires, you can lengthen their lifespan and prevent blowouts from badly-worn treads. You can schedule tire rotation services on Amazon or at Pep Boys — or, since you now know how to change tires, you can do it yourself.

It's worth noting that tire-rotating is only applicable to cars that have the same wheel and tire specifications in the front and rear of the car. You should not rotate your tires if your car has a staggered wheel set up, meaning that rear wheels and tires are bigger or wider than the front.

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