How to change a flat tire?

Every driver should know how to change a tire.  You could rely on roadside assistance but it could take hours and cost you a lot of money.  In addition, the weather could be terrible or you could be in the middle of nowhere on a road trip.  It is my opinion that knowing how to safely change your tire should be required for a driver’s license.  So I am going to discuss how this is done, a few stories, and even what to do with the flat tire and wheel.

To the rescue

One evening, my wife and I were coming home from a date.  In fact, we had just finished dinner and we needed to stop by the house before heading to a movie.  We noticed four young men standing around a vehicle with the flashers on.  The car obviously had a flat tire.  A few of them had removed everything from the trunk and were trying to get the spare tire out.  Another was on a call with his mother who was calling roadside assistance.  I stopped and asked them if they needed help to which the one on the phone said, “someone is here to help”.  I proceeded to help them release the spare tire from its compartment and had them all gather around to show them how to remove the tire.  At that point, one of them asked, “are you a mechanic”.  To which another said, “No.  He’s just a man.”  We all had a good laugh and changed the tire as a team.  The whole ordeal took less than twenty minutes and we made it to our movie.  Now, this story is meant to be light hearted and show how important is it to learn how to change your own tire.  

*If at any time during the process you do not feel comfortable doing something or you feel unsafe, stop and seek professional assistance

Safety first

Make sure that you are clear of traffic and you are on a hard level surface.  Place some cones or reflectors if you are still on the road.  Make sure the vehicle is in park with the parking brake engaged.  

What will you need?

  • gloves
  • safety glasses
  • mat or pad
  • magnetic tray or dish
  • safety cones or reflectors

Click “Shop this article” to jump to recommendations for each of these items.

The spare tire

Spare tires on most passenger vehicles are in the trunk in a somewhat hidden compartment.  For larger vehicles including SUVs and trucks, the spare tire may underneath the vehicle.  Reference your owner’s manual on the location and method to release the spare from where it is stowed.

Remove the wheel and tire

  1. Loosen the lug nuts – Use your tire iron or lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts before jacking up the vehicle.  This is a very important step.  Lug nuts can be tricky to break loose when they are up on the car jack.  It is also dangerous to put a lot of force on the wrench when the vehicle is off the ground.  You run the risk of it falling off the jack.  Once you have the lug nuts loosened just a quarter to half turn, then you are ready to place the jack.
  2. Placing the car jack – Locating a good place for the car jack can be tricky. You are lifting up a heavy object so you want to make sure you are placing the jack on a hard flat surface directly under the vehicle’s frame.  That is usually in the middle vehicle near the wheel well that has the flat tire.  The front and rear are fenders and mostly plastic.
  3. Lifting the vehicle – As you begin to raise the car jack, go slowly making sure that it is raising up straight and not at an angle.  If it is not raising up straight, back it down and reassess your jack placement. Once the wheel and tire are completely off the ground, you are ready to remove it.
  4. Remove the wheel and tire – Remove the lug nuts working in opposite directions and place them in your magnetic tray.  To do this, remove a lug nut then remove the one on the opposite side of the wheel.  Do not remove the lug nuts going clockwise or counterclockwise.  Once all have been removed, carefully remove the wheel and tire.  They are both very dirty and surprisingly heavy so move slowly.  This is where your gloves come in handy.

Install the spare wheel and tire

  1. Place the spare on the lugs – Position the spare in front of the lugs and rotate it to match the lug holes with the lugs.  Lift and place carefully.
  2. Replace the lug nuts – This is very important to do properly.  Hand-tighten the lug nuts working in opposite directions.  This is the same manner you removed them.  Once they are hand-tight, push the spare in all directions making sure that it is straight.  Then tighten the lug nuts but do not apply too much force.  Again, working in opposite directions.  
  3. Lower the jack – You can now lower the jack slowly.
  4. Tighten the lug nuts again – Now that the tire is on the ground, tighten the lug nuts one more time working in opposite directions.  If you have access to a torque wrench, then tighten each lug to the proper foot/pounds as indicated in the owner’s manual.  


Many people skip this step and run into issues in the future.  Return all of your tools and gear back to your roadside kit and secure the flat tire and wheel.  This way you know where everything is and can be ready for the next time.

What to do with the flat tire?

This depends on the cause of the flat.  In most cases, your tire can be repaired by your local tire shop.  Here are some common causes of a flat tire.

  1. Puncture – Look around the tire and see if you can see something like nail or debris embedded in the treads or sidewall of the tire.  Punctures in within the treads are almost always repairable.  Punctures to the sidewall may not be repairable.
  2. Blowout – A blowout is what everyone fears.  This is when the tire basically explodes.  In many cases, these can be avoided by replacing your tires when they are worn and maintaining proper tire pressure.  A blowout is pretty obvious because it will look like your tire exploded and will be torn to shreds.  These are not repairable.  Time to get a new tire.
  3. Seal break – The tire and rim form a seal.  When that seal is broken, it can cause a seal break and let out all the air at once.  Similar to the blowout, it will likely sounds like a minor explosion.  If this happened, take the tire and wheel into the shop and they can help you assess the damage and get the tire back on the rim properly.

Never drive on a flat tire. 

The wheel will cut right through the tire and start to scratch and bend the wheel.  Even if you are close to your destination, a few feet it all takes to cause major damage and cost you a lot more money to repair both the tire and wheel.  Only drive as far as necessary to safely be off the road and out of the way of traffic.

Making it home before curfew

When I was a teenager, I got a flat tire on the way home from a friend’s house one weekend.  It was a country road which meant that I had time and space to safely replace the flat.  I had all the tools I needed and I knew my spare was present and ready to roll.  I changed that tire in 10 minutes and made it home before curfew.  The next morning, my dad saw the “donut” on my care and asked when I got the flat.  To which I explained my sub 10 minute flat tire replacement.  I think he was impressed and I was glad he taught me how to change my own tire.

Final thoughts

Properly replacing a flat tire should be practiced so that when you are out on the road, you can confidently take care of the situation.  Always reference your owner’s manual for guidance.  Knowing what to do can take a potentially scary and stressful situation and turn it into self confidence booster.

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Protective Eyewear

Matt or Pad

Magnetic Tray

Safety Cones or Reflectors

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