Your tires are the only connection between your car and the road, but as robust as they are, wear and damage are common. Over time, tread wears out, so tires should be replaced before they get to 2/32” tread depth. Going beyond this, the thinner tread can easily be punctured by road debris. Abnormal wear or belt damage can cause part of the tire tread to wear out faster, and could even wear right through the belts. An impact with a pothole or curb could cause a flat tire. Finally, just normal seepage could lead to a flat tire, if you aren’t regularly checking and adjusting tire pressures, but you’re already doing that on a weekly basis, right?
What if You Get a Flat Tire?
If you notice you have a flat tire in the driveway or garage, do not attempt to move the vehicle. This could cause tire sidewall damage or wheel damage, increasing your repair costs.
If you’re driving you may notice you have a flat tire because the vehicle starts pulling, you hear that flat-tire “flopping” noise, or the TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) is sounding the alarm. In this case, do not attempt to brake or turn suddenly, as this could cause a loss of control – the tire is already not giving you any traction. Gently ease off the accelerator and turn on the four-way flashers, or hazard lights. As much as possible, allow the vehicle to slow without using the brakes, and gently steer your vehicle to the side of the road. When you’re ready to get into the breakdown lane, shoulder, or parking lot, gently apply the brakes to bring yourself to a stop.
How to Change a Tire
The steps to change a tire are similar for most vehicles:
- Put the transmission in park or reverse (for manual transmissions), set the parking brake, and turn off the engine. If you have wheel chocks, use them to block the wheel opposite the flat tire. For example, if you need to change the left front (driver side front) tire, block the right rear (passenger side rear) wheel.
- Put the jack in place, with just enough pressure to keep it from moving, but don’t lift the vehicle yet. Use the lug nut wrench to break loose the lug nuts, but don’t remove them yet. The weight of the vehicle will make loosening the nuts easier.
- Jack up the corner of the vehicle until the wheel is just off the ground, and remove the lug nuts and flat tire. Put the flat tire under the vehicle next to the jack – this is for your protection!
- Move the new wheel into position. You’ll probably need to lift the vehicle a little more, since the spare tire is effectively larger than the flat tire you removed. Put on the lug nuts and snug them up with the lug nut wrench. Put the flat tire back in the trunk and lower the jack until the full weight of the vehicle is supported by the spare tire.
- Tighten the lug nuts to the best of your ability, then put everything back in the trunk. If you’re using a temporary spare tire, drive carefully to a qualified tire technician who can repair or replace your flat tire and put it back on your vehicle.
This is one of those driver skills that really shouldn’t be ignored. True, you could call roadside assistance or wait for help, but why not just do it yourself and get back on the road? All the tools you need are in the car, and instructions for your specific vehicle are in the owner’s manual.