Note: Please do not undertake if you are clumsy or sincerely don’t have the foggiest idea of what you’re doing. Because it’s dangerous. There. You’ve been warned.
All warnings aside, a girl should know how to change a flat tire. Why? Simple: if you live in the country like I do, there are pockets of deep dark woods outside the range of cell phone towers (thus out of the range of CAA.) Maybe you don’t even have a cell phone, and happen to break down where there is little to no traffic (or perhaps traffic you don’t want to stop.)
Therefore, because roadside mechanics are not always at your beck and call, you ought to know how to swap out your flat tire for that little dummy tire in your trunk.
Step one. Don’t let your tire go flat in the first place. Keep the proper amount of air in your tires (ask the pimply faced dude at your local garage to show you how to use a tire gauge and air compressor or figure it out yourself.) Make sure your tires are in good condition (e.g. not bald, not crinkly looking, etc.) A good mechanic will help you decide if your tires are safe to use.
Step two.Don’t let your dummy tire go flat. Plus, make sure you have the following in your trunk (it all comes with your car unless someone stole it): a lug wrench (a big long thing), a jack (that other contraption in your trunk), and a pair of gloves to protect your hands (well gloves don’t come standard with a new car but you should have a pair.) If your car has locking nuts (like if you have really purdy rims) be sure to carry the unlocking thingy.
Step three. Okay. You tapped your resources. You’ve tried your cell phone and have no service. Zilch. You’ve gotten out of the car and decided your tire is flat, a puddle of rubber on the ground. At this point, if it’s not safe to stay where you are, you can make the decision to keep going and damage your rim (quite frankly WORTH it if you’re on a high-speed highway and others are zooming past at 120 kilometres an hour.) Then drive to where you are safe to change a tire, or wait for help.
Next. You are in a fairly safe area. This means not perched at the top of a steep hill. And not near traffic that could rear-end you, which will likely kill you or seriously maim crucial parts of you. You should at least limp your car to a flat spot, otherwise you won’t be able to jack up the car safely.
Next step. Head to the trunk to find your supplies. Dummy tire, lug wrench, and jack. You need all of these. I suggest gloves to protect your hands. Maybe, if you’re lucky, a mechanic will happen upon you after seeing your trunk open and gear out.
After that. Prepare for the battle royale if you have little upper body strength. Use your lug wrench to loosen your nuts. Remember the cardinal rule: righty tighty, lefty loosey. This goes for almost anything mechanical (screws, bolts, etc.) Always righty tighty, lefty loosey. Memorize it!
Sometimes you’re lucky and they loosen easily. If you find some stubborn ones, place the lug wrench so that you can stand on it. Use your weight while holding onto the car. Just don’t fall. Be prepared for the lug wrench to move out from underneath you.
Typically this is the hardest step, especially if the nuts have rusted or they were put on by an impact wrench. Give it a good go, but if you feel yourself straining too hard, stop trying to change your tire and wait for help.
If you’ve been successful, don’t take the nuts off yet. Hold ye horses.
After the nuts. Amazingly, you have loosened up the nuts. Nice going! Now you need to jack up the car so you can take off the wheel. Be super-careful during this step; your car is heavy and you don’t want it on top of you. That equals mucho pain.
Consult your car manual for the best place to put the jack. It needs to be sturdy enough to hold up 3,000 pounds or so. That’s a lot. So place your jack underneath the most solid looking thing under your car, e.g. your frame. The car manual will help you decide where your car is most sturdy, plus give you these tips all over again.
Put your car in park so it can’t roll. Driving a standard? Put on the parking brake after putting it in first or reverse. For extra safety, find something to put behind the wheels so it doesn’t move without you.
Found the sweet spot for your jack? Good. Get ready to put a little muscle into jacking up your car. depending on the quality of your equipment. I highly recommend learning how to use your jack LONG before you’re roadside. Each one works differently, so follow the directions either in your car manual or on the jack itself. And for the love of Jebus, do not put any part of your person underneath your car. If it falls down, you don’t want that 3,000 pounds on you.
Sweaty? That’s okay. You’re almost there. NOW you can take off the nuts. Don’t lose them! Put them in your pocket.
Now you need a Herculean effect to pull the tire off. Depending on the size of your car and weight of your rim, this may be a bit challenging. Be prepared for the tire to come off and be super-heavy.
Take the dummy. Place the dummy tire on the wheel. It may take a little adjusting but it should go on there. If not, turn it around… you may have it on backwards.
It’s on! It’s almost over. Good for you! Take the nuts and put them back on the wheel. Tighten them as much as you can with your fingers. Don’t tighten the bolts beside each other… jump around so you tighten a bolt on the top, then one on the bottom, then another one, etc.
Next. Ease down the jack. Again, keep all body parts away from the car. I can’t stress this enough. This is most important! If the jack comes down too fast, you don’t want to be underneath the car. Again, the whole sandwich effect is not good for you.
Good. The car’s back on solid ground. Now you can really put some mustard back into tightening those nuts. Remember righty tighty lefty loosey? Turn the nuts to your right; or clockwise. Told you that saying rocked! Tattoo it on your hand.
You need to tighten the nuts in a star formation, criss-crossing back and forth. As you tighten the nuts for the first time, you’ll notice some of the other nuts aren’t quite so tight anymore. Keep jumping to other nuts and tightening them until all four or five are as tight as you can make them. If you can’t make them tight, don’t drive your car far. Or at all. You should be able to put them on, though, until you can drive to within cell phone range.
Done! Put away away your tools. Heave the flat tire into your trunk. Curse the grease on your favourite shirt. Pat yourself on the back.
Once you’re done, test the car carefully. Very carefully. Make sure your nuts are tight. If in doubt, stop a little ways down the road and check’em one more time and see if they need anymore lug wrenching (righty tighty.)
Dummy tires are only good enough for about 80 kilometres at no more than 80 kilometres an hour. You should probably go slower to be safe.
Nowadays not enough gas stations have someone on staff who can plug a tire and put it back on your car. You’ll probably have to find a mechanic to do it. If it’s night, you may have to wait until morning before finding a mechanic to plug your tire (cheap) or sell you a new one (bad.) Be sure to change your dummy as soon as possible.
Final step. Brag to anyone and everyone you know: tell them you changed your own tire. It’s very liberating.
Disclaimer: This article is only meant to be a guide and not the Bible when it comes to changing tires. I am not a mechanic but I can change a tire. Plus, I only bled a little thanks to an owie spot on the jack handle.
Ideally, ask a gearhead friend to show you how to change your tire. They can show you where to put the jack and whatnot.
Even more ideally, call CAA if at all possible and let a professional do it. Or use a can of tire inflator, which will inflate a small car tire and help seal the wound (trucks may need two or three cans.)
In fact, buy one of these for about 10 bucks. It could just be your friend on a cold, dark night.