How to change a flat tire in four simple steps

January 21, 2021

Learn how to change a flat tire, or brush up on your knowledge with these four simple steps

Going through the steps of how to change a flat tire

If you've ever heard that fateful "POP!" while driving, followed by the tell-tale sound of flapping rubber, then you likely know the headache that comes along with a flat tire. But changing a tire doesn't have to be a daunting task! Read on as we show you how to change a flat tire in four simple steps, and with a little practice, you'll be a pro. 

How to change a flat tire

First and foremost, make sure that you are in a safe location before attempting to jack up your vehicle or change a flat tire. In the best case scenario, you should try to find a parking lot or driveway - somewhere away from the flow of traffic. Of course, that's not always possible, so if you're on the shoulder of a road, make sure the tire in question is facing away from traffic.

Step 1: Loosen the lug nuts. Using your lug wrench from your roadside emergency kit, break loose the lug nuts from the studs, but don't remove them completely just yet. If you have a hubcap, you may have to remove it first in order to access the lug nuts. 

Whenever you're breaking lug nuts loose, or tightening them back into place, it is important to do so in a star-shaped pattern, or move from one lug nut to the opposite rather than going in a sequential circle. There are a number of reasons for this, but primarily it helps ensure that the nuts are tightened evenly and that the wheel is seated properly. 

Sidenote: Although your vehicle likely comes with a lug wrench, it is essential to make sure that it fits ahead of time, especially if you have custom wheels. If needed, auto parts stores sell lug wrenches with various fittings that work with most standard wheels. 

Step 2: Jack up the car. Now that the lug nuts are loose, you'll want to jack the car up into position before removing the wheel. Most jacks are stored in the trunk near the spare tire, but this is certainly not always the case. Your owner's manual should tell you where you can find it.

It's important to remember that there specific places the jack must be positioned beneath your car. If you apply the force of the jack to a spot that can't support it, you could damage your car. Again, your owner's manual should help you identify these spots. 

Before jacking up the car, make sure to engage the parking brake or chock the other wheels to prevent it from rolling as you do so. It's also a good idea to try and find a level place to perform your tire change. Slide the jack into position and raise the car until the tire is just barely off of the ground. 

The exact process of jacking the vehicle will depend on the type of jack you have. However, most manufacturers include scissor jacks, which require you to crank the lever clockwise to raise it and counter-clockwise to lower it again. 

Step 3: Remove the wheel. With the car raised, finish removing the lug nuts and place them in the hubcap to prevent them from rolling away or otherwise getting lost. You can now remove the wheel from the lug studs by placing your hands on either side and pulling it towards you. You should always wear gloves when removing a tire as there are often sharp bits in and around the tire, especially if it is flat or damaged. 

Step 4: Mount the spare tire. You can now attach the spare tire. Use the valve stem as a guide to make sure it's facing the proper direction; the valve stem should always be facing out and away from the vehicle. 

After mounting the spare onto the lug studs, carefully replace the lug nuts by hand at first to ensure that you don't cross thread them. Then, tighten them partially with your wrench, but don't apply too much force as you could knock the car off of the jack - wait until the vehicle is on the ground to finish tightening. Lower the vehicle, allowing the weight to press down on the tire, and finish tightening the lug nuts with your wrench. 

Finally, place the damaged or flat tire in your spare compartment. It's possible that a tire shop could repair it if the damage isn't too great. 

Of course, changing a flat tire isn't the only time you may need to change a tire. The steps above will help you with a number of tire maintenance and brake maintenance tasks! 

How long can you drive on a spare tire?

The answer to this question greatly depends on what kind of spare tire you have. For some vehicles, the spare tire is the same as the other four, complete with the wheel and hubcap. In that case, as long as the tire pressure is maintained, the mileage is no different than the others. 

However, many spare tires are smaller, temporary tires known as "donuts." They're not meant to withstand the same speeds or mileage as a regular tire. If your spare is a donut, try to drive below 50 mph and don't travel more than 50 miles while it is attached.

How long does it take to change a tire? 

Like any skill, you get better at changing a tire with practice. The better you are, the quicker the process. If you have a few tire changes under your belt, it may only take you 10 minutes to change your flat tire, especially if it's a vehicle you've worked on before.

However, if you are changing a tire for the first time, it could easily take up to 20-25 minutes or more. It may take you some time to find the jack, the lug wrench, figure out how to get the spare out of the compartment, figure out where to place the jack, and so on. 

Of course, even 25 minutes can feel like an eternity if you're stuck on the side of the road with a flat. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to prepare ahead of time and minimize the time spent on certain steps. 

For example, it's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the location of certain tools, like your jack and your lug wrench. Take a few minutes to locate your spare and practice getting it out of the compartment. Look at your owner's manual and make sure you know where the jack points are beneath the vehicle.

If you're up to it, you can even go through a few practice runs from the safety of your driveway. This is an especially helpful tactic for parents with teen drivers, but can be good practice for anyone who doesn't change tires regularly.

How long can you drive on a flat tire? 

The short answer is not at all. If your tire has completely lost the air within, your wheel will quickly grind the rubber to a pulp and begin scraping against the asphalt. Not only does this destroy the tire, the wheel and possibly the suspension can suffer, too.

Driving on a flat tire isn't just damaging, it's dangerous. Without air in the tire, it loses all the traction it needs to properly brake, steer, and maintain control. 

However, we don't get to choose when we get a flat and that moment frequently occurs while we're driving in the middle of the road. Often, you're left with no choice but to travel a short distance to an exit or an off ramp to find a safe place to stop.

In such a case, you can drive for several hundred yards at a very slow speed (15 mph or less) in order to get to safety. Although your tire will more than likely be destroyed, your rims may be fine. In any case, you'll be out of harm's way, and that is priority number one. 
Changing a flat tire using a jack and a lug wrench

Changing a tire isn't always simple and sometimes, you need a helping hand.  When you add Germania's Roadside Assistance Service to your personal auto policy, help is never far away! 

Visit our website to learn more about Germania's auto insurance products!

Read more: Routine tire maintenance is an essential step for preventing future flats! Read our blog to learn more!

by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Strategist at Germania Insurance.

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