Changing a flat tire is a pretty simple task. It does involve some degree of concern for safety, though, so let’s cover that first. If you’re changing a flat tire, odds are you’re not doing it in the safety of your driveway. Chances are, you’re changing it in the rain or snow on a dark night in the middle of nowhere or on the side of an interstate highway. If you’re on the highway, drive the vehicle to the nearest exit ramp. People drive like idiots and have little concern or patience for a stranded motorist, so stopping on an interstate is one notch above a suicide run. Driving a mile or so on a flat tire to the next exit is not going to hurt it enough to risk laying under a car on the shoulder as cars whiz by at 70+ MPH…less than 5 feet from you.
If you MUST do it on the highway, pull as far to the right as physically possible. Go off the road onto the grass if you can…the key here is to put as much space between you and the lanes of traffic as possible. That in mind, you need a firm surface to put the jack down so that it is solid and less likely to fail, killing you. If you’re in the left lane when your car breaks down or develops a flat, DO NOT settle for stopping in the left lane! Do whatever you gotta do to get to the right shoulder. Stopping in the left lane or on the left shoulder will surely get you killed. It’s a recipe for disaster. Cut people off if you must, but get it to the right. Hazard lights…use them.
Next, you need to be on a flat surface, if possible. If not, you need to chock the tires on the downhill side of the vehicle. Parking brake needs to be applied and the vehicle needs to be in park, ignition turned off. If you don’t chock the downhill side, you run the risk of the vehicle rolling off the jack and killing you. Chock it. I generally throw the new tire under it and then swap it with the flat one after I’ve taken it off the car.
Find the jack and lug nut wrench for your vehicle (this is something you should already know the location of prior to driving the vehicle). Using the wrench, loosen the lug nuts (5 little round things in the center of your tire. This might not be easy…man up and do it. Put them in your pocket. Don’t do what I did once and set them on the ground. When they roll off, and you lose them you got problems on a grander scale. Once you have them off, set the jack under the frame of the vehicle nearest the tire that’s flat. Don’t use the bumper, use the frame…the solid piece of metal that looks firm. Do exactly what the name of this tool implies…jack it up and lift the vehicle off the ground enough that the flat tire is off the ground. Pull the flat tire off and put the new one on in its place. You may need to jack the vehicle a little higher to get the new tire on.
Once it’s on, place the lug nuts back on the vehicle and hand tighten all of them. Then take the wrench and tighten every other one as much as you can before the wheel spins freely. It doesn’t matter which one you start with, just make sure you skip the next one in line so that you’re doing every other one. If we say the first one you tighten is #1, then you would do #3, #5, #2, #4 in that order. This ensures the tire is on evenly and not torqued. Lower the jack so that the vehicle is resting back on the ground and then tighten the lug nuts as hard as you can using the same alternating method. Replace the jack and wrench, and put the flat tire in the trunk or back of the vehicle.
Congratulations, you’ve now successfully changed your first tire. Now, please learn from my experiences and consider the following troubleshooting tips:
1. The little miniature tire you may have for a spare tire is often referred to as a “donut”. Not all vehicles have donuts…some have regular sized tires. If yours has a donut for a spare, you need to be aware that it’s not designed for continuous driving. Put it on and drive to the nearest tire store or garage and have the flat tire either repaired or replaced and get the donut back into spare status. Driving on a donut tire is asking for trouble.
2. If the tire won’t come off the vehicle after you’ve removed the lug nuts, make sure it’s completely off the ground. If it is, then kick it. Hard. If kicking it doesn’t work, a sledge hammer will. Just make sure you’re hitting the rubber of the tire, not the metal of the wheel. This happened to us on the Dodge Caravan once. Also make sure you chocked it, because chances are if you’re kicking it hard enough, it’ll come off the jack. Not that it fell off on me when I kicked it…just saying…safety first.
3. If you’re changing a tire on a Dodge Caravan….good luck. Dodge sucks. They put the spare tire under the undercarriage in between the driver and passenger. There’s a little hole in the floor of the inside compartment with a bolt. You gotta turn that bolt to release the spare, which will be hanging by a chain that you gotta figure out how to get out of the spare tire without seeing it…because it’s under the vehicle that has only about 6″ of clearance under it. Oh, and it will be next to impossible to put the flat tire back in that chain and lift it back off the ground to stow it as you drive off. You gotta take the stupid thing to a mechanic to get it back together. Try this in the dead of winter with 2″ of snow on the ground and no gloves to keep your fingers warm. Lesson to take home from this…don’t buy Dodge vans….EVER!!!
4. Think about what you’re doing…you’re crawling under a 2-ton piece of machinery. It won’t give when it lands on you. I’ve seen people become trapped under a vehicle they’re working on…it’s not pretty and it rarely ends well. A 2-ton vehicle will crush bones and internal organs without hesitation. Be safe…apply the parking brake and chock the vehicle so it doesn’t roll of the jack if the parking brake fails…which does happen. If you’re under the vehicle when it rolls off the jack, I pray you’re ready to meet Jesus face-to-face, because that’s more than likely what’s coming next for ya’.