Getting stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire is an awful feeling. What's worse is that sometimes it's an unavoidable issue.
Sure you can take all the precautions that you want like buying expensive new tires to handle all kinds of weather conditions. But if you run over something sharp while going 70 on a highway you'll probably going to have to pull over.
Hopefully you'll never run into this issue, but if you do, changing a flat isn't that hard as long as you have the necessary tools, a spare tire and this step-by-step guide on what to do.
1. Pull over somewhere safe:
You're going to need a level and solid surface to make sure your car doesn't start rolling while you're changing your tire. If you're near a road, park as far away from traffic as possible and turn on your hazard lights (emergency flashers) to warn other drivers. Avoid hills and soft ground at all cost since you should never change a tire on an incline.
We reached out to Robert Sinclair, Manager, Media Relations at AAA New York, to find out what people should do if a driver can't get over to the side of the road while on a highway.
"If a driver gets a flat on the highway and there's no safe place to pull over, they should pull to the right lane, turn on their four-way flashers and drive on the flat tire until they reach a safe place," said Sinclair to AutoWorldNews. "It's true the tire will be ruined, and there may be some damage to the wheel and, perhaps, some other components. But, that's better than being dead!"
"Being in or around a broken down car in the midst of fast moving highway traffic is a formula for disaster," he added. "The number one cause of death for a law enforcement officer is a traffic mishap by the side of the road, far more than shootings or stabbings. Tires and even vehicles can be replaced. A life cannot."
2. Hit the brakes:
It might seem like an unnecessary step to list, but when you're panicking about having a flat tire applying the parking brake and putting your car in the "Park" position is a step that's far too easy to forget. If you have a standard transmission, you should put your car in reverse or first.
*Check your trunk to make sure you have a spare tire before doing any of the next steps.
3. Find a heavy object:
Unless you're prone to flat tires and happen to have a heavy object in your car, you'll need to look around for a big rock, piece of concrete or bricks to block the wheels at the opposite end of the car from the end that is about to be raised.
4. Take off your hubcap/wheel cover
If you have a hubcap on the tire you're going to need to remove it. Use a screwdriver to pry it off where the edge of the cover meets the wheel. The cap should easily pop off as if you were taking off the lid of a can of paint.
Sinclair said its key to have a screwdriver in your car at all times, and if you don't have one already in there go get one.
"The lack of a screwdriver is a tough nut to crack when trying to remove a hubcap. Proper preparation is critical to being able to handle a roadside emergency," said Sinclair to AutoWorldNews. "You might be able to wedge the wrench to remove lug nuts in the hubcap to remove it, or perhaps some roadside object can be used. In a pinch, most hubcaps have decorative openings that you could slip your fingers behind to pull the hubcap off. Prevention is the way to go."
5. Loosen the lug nuts:
Don't take off the lug nuts just yet, loosen them by using a wrench (assuming you didn't lose the one that came with your car) counter-clockwise. Sometimes it takes a lot of force to break your lug nuts free. Use all your body weight or stomp on the wrench if you feel it is necessary.
6. Locate your tire and jack:
Chances are your jack can be found in your trunk under the frame near the spare tire that you're going to be using. Take it out and place the jack under your car and make sure it is in contact with the metal portion of your car's frame. Then jack your car up until the tire is about 6 inches off the ground. If you notice any instability, lower the jack and fix the issue before lifting the car again.
It's worth mentioning that most modern uni-body cars have a small notch or mark behind the front wheel wells or in front of the rear wheel wells where the jack is supposed to be placed.
*If it seems like the jack is going to crack the molded plastic along the bottom pull out your owner's manual to figure out where you're supposed to put the jack.
7. Remove the lug nuts and tire:
Now you can take off the lug nuts and place them in neat pile so they don't scatter (ala the famous scene from "A Christmas Story"). Pull the tire straight toward yourself to remove the tire from your wheel base.
8. Use the spare:
Put the spare tire on the wheel base, making sure to align the rim of the spare tire with the wheel bolts. Then put the lug nuts back on.
9. Tighten the lug nuts
The lug nuts should turn easily at first, but you will need to use a wrench to tighten them as much as possible using a star pattern. Going in a star pattern around the tire, one nut across from another, give each one a complete turn until they are all tight. Don't use too much force during this step as it can could offset the jack.
10. Start lowering your car
Next you should use your jack to lower your car back down without applying full weight on the tire yet. Check your lug nuts to make sure they are completely tight.
11. Lower your car to the ground completely
You're now ready to lower your vehicle to the ground completely using your jack. Once it's all the way on the ground remove the jack from under your car. Check your lug nuts once more.
12. Replace the wheel cover or hubcap
If your car has hubcaps, place the hubcap against your wheel and kind of whack it back into place using the heel of your hand (NOT a wrench, trust me). Don't hit it too hard though so that it still looks presentable on your spare.
13. Pick up your old tire and go
Don't just leave your old tire on the road. Pick it up and take it to your most trusted mechanic. Get an estimate for the cost of repair. Tiny punctures can be repaired for under $20. If the tire is beyond repair they can dispose of it properly and either sell you a replacement or recommend a good brand to consider.