How do I put on a spare tire?

December 07, 2016

The most common incapacitating car problem is generally agreed to be a flat tire. Active Tools Education Center says that in the U.S. alone, 220 million people get flat tires over the course of a year; that boils down to seven punctures every second, and that’s just in the United States! Luckily for these 220 million people, flat tires are not only the most common car problem, but they are also one of the easiest to repair. Despite the frequency of this predicament, and the simplicity of its repair, few people know what to do when they get a flat tire. Shamefully, I’m among those who would be stuck on the side of the road for hours trying to figure out where to start– if I was left to do it on my own.

According to statistics, every driver will be on the side of the road with a flat at least five times during their lifetime. I got the first of my five out of the way a week or two ago. So, what do you do if you get a flat?

The moment you get the first indication that you may have a flat, pull over. If you ignore the loud hissing sound, the car behind you honking profusely, the TPMS light, or whatever the warning might be in your situation, your flat tire could result in a blowout. Blowouts can cause dangerous collisions. If you can’t pull into a parking lot or other safe area off the highway, be sure to pull over as far as possible into the shoulder of the road, and clearly show where you are with your 4-way hazards. (Many people suggest that you even open your hood and trunk to increase visibility.)

My next step was to call someone to help me. If that’s your next step, there are a few things you can get ready while you are waiting for help to arrive, (because I felt awfully helpless and useless sitting on the side of the road impatiently waiting). As a reminder, always make sure your car is completely visible before you start to do anything. You can do this by turning on your 4-way hazards, opening your trunk and popping your hood (and even using flares or a triangle hazard sign if you have them). Next, get the equipment you’ll need. Most cars have spares or repair kits located under the floorboard in the trunk. You can also help by finding the jack lift location for your car in the owners’ manual.  You may even be able to loosen the lug nuts before they arrive.

If you’re more courageous than I am, or don’t have enough time to wait for someone to show up, I’ll tell you what my rescuer did, so you can give it a shot.

First of all, find your equipment– likely from under the floorboard in the trunk. Take these out and make sure you aren’t missing any pieces. Next, loosen the lug nuts with the lug wrench. (This will make the tire easier to release when you jack your car up to change the tire.) Then, put the jack together and place it under the car. (Your owners’ manual will tell you where the best lifting point for your car is.) Lift your car until the tire is an inch or two off the ground.

Next, finish removing the lug nuts. (And put them in a safe place where they won’t roll away.) Carefully pull the tire and rim straight towards you. You might need to wiggle the rim as you remove it. Next, get the spare, and line up the holes with the lug spaces on the car. Put the lug nuts back in, and screw them in loosely. Slowly lower the car, and set the jack aside. Next, tighten each of the lugs halfway in a star pattern. (NOT around the circle in order!) Then go around and tighten them the rest of the way. Check that the wheel is tightly attached, and you’re done! Put your equipment away, and you should probably drive to a gas station to double check that everything’s working properly. (You’ll probably have to change the air pressure in the spare. Storing it in the heat and cold can change the air pressure significantly.)

It wasn’t that hard, was it? (I mean, I didn’t do my repair, so I wouldn’t really know– but it didn’t look very hard…)

In any case, having a flat tire is dangerous: traveling at high speeds with a nail in your tire is dangerous, parking on the side of the road is dangerous, lifting your car off the ground is dangerous, even driving on a spare is dangerous, (and you should take your tire somewhere as soon as you can). But luckily, it’s an easily solved problem, and– if done correctly– shouldn’t cause any major problems.

While there’s no way to avoid getting a flat, there’s less of a chance that your flat tire will result in a dangerous blowout if you keep your tires inflated according to standards, and keep an eye on your tires by regularly checking for wear. Remember, it’s dangerous to drive for too long on a spare tire. For your safety, try to take your car into a qualified mechanic to get the flat repaired or the tire replaced within the next few days!