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April 15, 2024

How To Change a Tire

By John Trindle

How to Change a Tire:


  • 1 Automobile
  • 3 Round Tires
  • 1 Tire Round on the Top, Flat on the Bottom
  • 1 Busy Highway


When you hear the sound of doom (a pow, perhaps, then a flub-dub-dub-dub), move over to the slow lane if possible. Pull over to the side of the road as well as you are able. If you can, aim for somewhere flat and hard, rather than muddy and tilted. The car will try to pull toward (steer against your will in the direction of) the putatively flat tire.

Assuming you made it to the slow lane, pull as far off the road as is feasible, if the car is pulling toward your (you *are* the driver, right?) side. If the car is pulling toward your passenger, you can be more conservative. You want the damaged tire over the flat and hard part of the shoulder, rather than in the ditch, and as far away from the busy traffic as possible. Curbs are right out. If you pulled off the fast side of the road, reverse the directions.

Get out of the car, making sure you don't open the door into traffic. Curse. Curse some more. Ask your passenger for help in composing curses more suitable to a person of your intellectual stature. Throw something CHEAP or UNIMPORTANT down on the ground. Breathe.

In the event that you are the first owner of the car, or bought it from someone as anal-rententive as you hoped, look in the glove compartment for the owners manual. In the owner's manual is a map to the Lost Treasure of the Incas. Or, if you're lucky, a diagram pointing you toward the location of the spare tire. If no owner's manual, curse again, and start looking.

You will find that the manufacturer has stashed the spare in one of three places. 1) If you have a passenger vehicle, it is in the bottom of the trunk or hatchback under all your worldly belongings, and some things you've never seen before. Remove all items, placing them carefully in the ditch, and try not to think of Grapes of Wrath.

2) If you have an SUV, it's on the back, if you're lucky. If not, see #1 or #3.

3) If you have a pickup truck, the spare tire is hidden UNDER the car, just where mud can splash it. The mud cakes onto the bolts holding the wheel to the frame, rusting them solid.

The location of the lugwrench (a big iron bar, suitable for self-defense if nothing else) and the jack are left as an exercise to the student. If you're very lucky, they will be near the spare.

I'll wait while you collect the jack, lug wrench, and spare wheel and tire next to the damaged tire.

Ready? Very nice. First, read the owner's manual to find the "jacking point", or most solid piece of the car near the damaged tire. If you can't find the owner's manual, look for the biggest, thickest piece of metal near the wheel, accessible from the side of the car (usually), and generally shaped like the top of the jack. The top of the jack, for those of us who failed geometry, is the opposite end from the part it likes to sit on most. Put the jack directly under the jacking point.

Some jacks have built in handles, some have handles that attach, and some use the lug wrench. Determine which you have, and attach the handle to the part it attaches to. Unfortunately, there are enough variations so you'll have to figure this part out.

There are two kinds of jacks usually found in cars. The more common one is the scissors jack. It's shaped like the dreaded predator of 9th grade geometry, the Parallellogram. When you put the handle in the only possible place, and turn it clockwise (top to the right for the digital watch generation), the two horizontal corners should get closer together, and the top should get further from the bottom. Careful, this jack likes to fall over before it is tall enough to brace itself on the car.

The other kind of jack is a hydraulic, or bottle, jack. It's called a bottle jack since it is about the size and shape of a 40 ounce bottle of beer. Don't you wish you had one right about now? Me too. This one is a little trickier since it has two controls. One of them accepts the end of the handle, and the handle can be moved up and down. The other control accepts the little bitty forky (or pinchy) end of the handle, and is turned. Turn it clockwise (top to the right) to allow you to raise the bottle's cap, and to the left to let the bottle cap lower.

OK! I know, since you are a fine example of Kipling's infinite resource and sagacity, that you now have the jack under the car, in the proper place, and you have extended it to the point where it is touching both the ground and the jacking point. Whee! Congratulate yourself. The hard mental part is done, and now it's time to sweat a little.

Extend the jack further until the car raises up an inch or two, but the tire has not yet begun to lift. If you can see four, five, or six identical six sided thingies, these are your lug nuts. If you can't, you have a wheel cover you need to remove. Sometimes the lug wrench (the heavy weapon thing) has a screwdriver-like end good for prying. Use that.

OK, now you can see four, five, or six (six??) six-side lug nuts. Use the end of the lug wrench (aha! That's why they call it that) which matches the thingies in size. Put it over one of the lug nuts. Put all your weight on the LEFT side of the lug wrench (if it's an L, point the long part of the L to the left. If it's a cross, make it as flat (horizontal) as you can so there's an arm sticking out to the left. Put all your weight on the extreme end of the lug wrench (a foot is a good tool here).

If the wrench turns easily, or you hear breaking plastic sound, curse the folks who put fake lug nut covers on your car. Remove all (four, five, or six... six? what the heck are you driving??) fake plastic lug nut covers and place them on the ground, where they will roll into the ditch, never to be found again. Proceed to the next step.

If it takes all your weight to shift the wrench, and it suddenly gives way, you're on the right track. Do the same thing to each of the other lug nuts. Don't remove them, just loosen them an eighth of a turn or so.

When all the lug nuts have been "broken loose" (and some will sound broken, groaning like the undead. You *are* tromping on the LEFT side of the wrench, RIGHT? I mean, CORRECT?), go back to raising the car. Turn the jack handle clockwise, if appropriate, or pump the handle up and down if it's the bottle one. Raise the car until you can pass your flattened hand (carefully!) between the flat bottom of the tire and the pavement.

If it's a front tire on a rear wheel drive car, or a rear tire on a front wheel drive one, you should be able to turn it. Errr, unless you set the parking brake, and put the car in gear, which is a great idea if you're jacking up the car. Never mind. Just get it high enough so you could see daylight under the tire, if it weren't getting dark by now.

Now, take the lug wrench (remember the lug wrench?) and loosen all four, five, or six (OK, what is this, a Hummer? Tractor-Trailer? and you're reading this?) nuts. If you're REALLY unlucky, you have an old VW or Spitfire and these are bolts, not nuts. It's the same procedure, just more difficult.

OK, you've removed all the nuts. Place them in the wheel cover you removed, for safekeeping. Lift the tire from the 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock position (DIGITAL CLOCK PEOPLE: get a cuckoo clock. Really. OK, left side and right side) just a hair and pull toward you. With some rocking and cursing (and what's Rock without a little obscenity?) the entire wheel will come toward you, fall off the bolts and bonk you in the head. Unless you had the VW or whatever above and it already did that. Curse some more, and fall back into the wheel cover, scattering the carefully saved lug nuts or bolts to the four winds.

Good. Fine. Tell your so-far worthless passenger to look for the damn things while you tilt the spare tire up to the horribly amputated remainder of the car, which is called the "hub".

Notice the following A) there are more holes or fewer holes in the spare wheel than holes/studs in the hub; 2) There is no air in the spare tire at all, and it has a flat spot in the SAME DAMN PLACE as the damaged tire; or iii) Some ripoff artist has sold you a car with a wheel from the Lego(tm) set he had as a kid.

If it's A) or 2), you need to start walking, or use that cellphone your mother told you you should have, because you're essentially screwed. Option iii) is a space-saver spare, which is OK, really. Lego(tm) makes good stuff. None of the Above is my favorite response to the preceding paragraph. However, with None of the Above you *will* have to jack the car up some more, since a tire with air in it is taller than a tire without.

Now that your passenger has found only one of the (4, 5, 6, you know) lugnutbolts, you might think you have a problem. Hah! hah. Hahmmmm... OK.

It's just more work, that's all. Use the one fastener the dimwit actually located to keep the spare tire propped up against the hub, in generally the right orientation. Put it in the highest position possible.

If you are indeed missing fasteners, go around to the other three wheels and remove one (1) fastener each from them, until you have (1) fewer than you need to complete your set. So, if you have 4 per wheel, and lost all four of the ones you removed previously, you will end up with 3 lugnutbolts per wheel. And that, my friend, is enough to get you home. And maybe to the garage the next day, but don't speed. Cool, huh?

OK, what we want to do here is tighten down the nuts (that's what I'll call them from here on out, you weirdo 60s hippies are on your own) in an even fashion, so the wheel is centered on the hub (so it doesn't wobble) and so we don't forget to tighten anything.

First, tighten all the nuts with your fingers. You may want to push on the tire to straighten it up as you do so, to take the weight off the nuts and make them easier to turn. Fiddle with it, you'll see.

All nuts "seated" finger tight? Does the wheel look right? I mean, besides the space-saver ones which look goofy anyway. Now we need to use a "Star" pattern to tighten down the nuts, so that we get everything even. Number the bolts (in your mind) from the topmost, clockwise (top to the right) from one to 4, 5, or 6. This is just so I can describe it to you, once you have the image of the pattern in your head, forget the silly numbers.

4 bolts: Tighten #1, then 3, then 4, then 2. Repeat.

5 bolts: Tighten #1, then 3, then 5, then 2, the 4. Repeat. This is like drawing a 5 pointed star without lifting your pencil.

6 bolts: (Doesn't your trucking company cover this?) Tighten #1, then #4, then #2, then #5, #3, then #6. Repeat. The whole point is to tighten opposite sides, to even things up.

During this pattern process, do not apply your whole weight. Just use your arms. Try to tighten up the bolts a little bit more each time. Tightening one bolt up way too soon will just make the wheel sit funny.

Now, this isn't extremely critical, especially if you're just going a few miles. It's nice, though, and if you are putting on wheels that will stay there for thousands of miles, it becomes important. And remember, missing a nut or two completely will let them vibrate and fall off, and that's not so good. Your car has 4, 5, or 6 nuts for a reason.

OK, the nuts are on as tight as you can get without putting your weight on the lug wrench, or moving the car itself. They don't even have to be that tight, just snugged up evenly so the wheel can't move when you grab it at 9 and 3 o'clock (position, folks, not time) and shake it a bit.

Lower the car to put weight on the tire. With the scissors jack, just crank that handle counter-clockwise (top to the left!) to lower the car slowly. With the bottle jack, use the pinchy/slotty part of the handle to turn the valve (the control that *doesn't* let you pump the bottle cap up) a teeny bit counter-clockwise to slowly lower the car. Lower it enough where the daylight (hah!) is no longer visible under the spare tire, or so that the spare is obviously taking up some weight. Stop cranking the scissors jack, or re-tighten the control on the bottle jack, and breathe.

The tire is now braced against the ground by the weight of the car, but not so much that there is a lot of stress on the lug nuts. You can now position the lug wrench so that the handle part sticks out to the RIGHT (cross-shaped one, flat as it was before, but put your weight on the RIGHT). Lift yourself carefully off the ground with one foot on the end of the lug wrench, causing it to turn clockwise about 1/8 turn... and perhaps groan a little. Do this in the "star" pattern you used above, to evenly tighten the nuts. Repeat once.

Lower the jack the rest of the way, causing all the weight of the car to settle onto the wheel. If the tire looks better than the one you replaced, congratulations!!! You've changed a tire!!!

Gather up all the leftover bits and throw them into the car. Drive carefully (45 or under if using a space-saver spare) home or to the service station. Wash your hands, you're filthy.

Article © John Trindle. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-04-28
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