A AAA membership can buy you peace of mind if you’re ever stranded while driving, and one of their handy mobile mechanics can help quickly get you going. But there’s actually a lot you can do on your own, without needing to call for the calvary. Even if you don’t fancy yourself as particularly handy, some common roadside issues can be addressed using the equipment you have in your car. One of the most common roadside issues is a flat tire, and it’s one that you can tackle yourself. Read on for a detailed guide on how to change a flat tire. If you’re reading this by the side of the road, here are the basics:
- Stop on even ground that’s safely away from traffic
- Find your spare, jack and wrench under the trunk mat
- Loosen the lugs with the wrench before lifting the car
- Find the correct spot for the jack and lift the car
- Remove the flat and place the spare
- Hand tighten the lugs before lowering the car
- Lower the car, then tighten the lugs
- If you’re driving on a compact spare, drive slowly
Stop The Car and Prepare Your Equipment
Whether you forgot to properly inflate your tires or you rolled over something, having your tire suddenly go flat while driving can be a terrifying experience. The very first thing you want to do is slowly drive somewhere safe. Your impulse might be to stop the car immediately, but it’s more important to first move completely out of the way of oncoming motorists.
Once you’re stopped, you’ll want to make sure you’re stopped on even ground, preferably a paved road. Turn on your hazards and make sure you have the necessary equipment. If you have wheel chocks, placing them under the tires on the opposite side of the side you’re working on will ensure the car doesn’t roll away (for example, if you lose a front tire, place the wheel chocks on the rear tires). If you don’t have them, pieces of wood or rocks can suffice in a pinch.
Besides a spare, the only equipment you absolutely need is a lug wrench (typically X-shaped) and a jack (a scissor jack is typically provided). These will be found under the carpet inside your trunk. Of course, you’ll want to also consult your manual for any relevant information.
Lifting the car
You want to first loosen the lugs using the wrench without completely removing them before lifting the car up. The next step is to place the jack underneath the car. There is a specific spot where the jack is supposed to be placed, so you’ll need to feel for this metal bar (the video above explains it well).
If you have jack stands, you can use these to prop up the car. Otherwise, the jack by itself will do. However, it’s important to remember to never get under the car if it’s only propped up by a jack. Jacks can fail, and if they do, you’ll want to make sure you’re not under the car. Fortunately, replacing the tire doesn’t require getting underneath the car at all. Nonetheless, for your safety and for the sake of your car, you’ll want to work quickly.
Placing the spare
Once the car is propped up, you can completely loosen the lugs and remove the tire. Place it on its side (just because it’s flat, doesn’t mean it won’t roll away). Then, place the spare and tighten the lugs by hand. Once it’s secure enough, lower the car and tighten the lugs completely using the wrench. It’s important to remember that a spare tire isn’t like a regular tire. They must be inflated at a higher PSI than a regular tire, and you also can’t drive as fast. A spare is only intended to get you from where you are to somewhere that can properly replace your tire. AAA has a 50/50 rule. Don’t drive more than 50 miles and keep your speed below 50 MPH. Of course, this only applies to compact spares. If your car comes with a full-size spare tire, you can drive normally.
Prevent Future Flats
Often, getting a flat is just a bout of bad luck. But there are ways to help reduce the risk of flats in the future, one of the most important being proper inflation. If you don’t know what the proper PSI is, a sticker showing PSI for your front, rear and spare tire can be found on the frame of the driver’s door. You can always check your tire pressure at a gas station, but this can be tedious. That’s why it can be worth investing in either a digital or manual tire pressure gauge. For adding a small amount of pressure, you can keep a bike pump in your car. A bike pump is surprisingly handy for topping off your spare tire if needed.
What many drivers don’t realize is that there’s a right and wrong way to check your tire pressure. The best time to check is before the car has been driven (such as in the morning) or at least three hours after driving when the tires are cold. If you’re driving to a gas station, make sure it’s not too far away and you’re not driving at high speeds. As you drive, the air molecules in your tire move faster from increased heat and friction. That means that if you check your tires while they’re hot, you’ll get an artificially inflated PSI compared with the “true” PSI.
While you should already have everything you need to change a tire, we’ve picked out some equipment that you can keep in your car to make the process safer and easier, as well as gear to prevent future flats.
1. AstroAI 2 Pack Digital Tire Pressure Gauge
Cheap, compact and easy to use, this two-pack of tire pressure gauges can be kept in your glove compartment to regularly check the PSI of your tires. They also measure other metrics like BAR and KPA. The nozzle and screen light up, making it easier to work at night. Remember to check your pressure when the tires are cold.
AstroAI Digital Tire Pressure Gauge (2-Pack)
2. Streamlight MicroStream flashlight
It’s always a good idea to keep a flashlight in your car, but you don’t necessarily need anything big or expensive. This compact light from Streamlight only needs a single AAA battery to run, so you can keep some spare batteries in your car to ensure you always have enough juice for the flashlight. It has a pen clip to attach to your shirt or the brim of your hat for hands-free use. It’s also small enough to comfortably hold in your mouth if you don’t have a hat.
Streamlight MicroStream Ultra
3. Camco Wheel Chock
You might be debating whether or not you really need a wheel chock. This option from Camco costs less than a cappuccino, so they’re practically making the decision for you. This is only a single, so you might want to order two. It’s made from plastic, so while it’s not the sturdiest option on the market, it’ll suffice for light, short applications like tire changes.
Camco Wheel Chock (Single)
4. Bell Air Attack 650 High Volume Bicycle Pump
Yes, a bike pump. If you’re trying to take a car tire from flat to full, using a bike pump will be difficult and back-breaking. But for simply topping off and adding a few PSI, a bike pump is more convenient than driving to the gas station. Plus, if you’ve changed to your spare and see that it’s a few PSI off, you can easily use a bike pump to add some air.
Bell Bike Pump
5. Slime 32 Ounce Tire Sealant
Not every puncture requires a new tire. There are some instances where you can actually repair a puncture. The rule of thumb is that if the puncture is on the sidewall, the tire will have to be completely replaced. Punctures on the tread (the part where the tire contacts the road) can typically be safely patched. This tire sealant from Slime can help temporarily plug leaks.
Slime Tire Sealant
6. HOKENA LED Road Flares Emergency Lights
If you’re repairing your car at night, these LED road flares can help let drivers around you know that you’re there and to exercise caution. They come in a zippered pouch and include bonus items like an emergency blanket and a window-breaker multi-tool. The flares can be placed on the road or on your car.