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By Jonathon Mecomber

The car: if there’s one thing that’s more American than sugar, fast food, or baseball, then it would probably be the car. Yes, when we aren’t stuck in traffic, we Americans are deeply in love with our vehicles. Whether we own them for business or for pleasure, our auto addiction certainly isn’t showing any signs of going away anytime soon.

Despite our infatuation with these heavy pieces of steel, glass, and rubber, a 2016 survey by found that 40.8% of the over 2,000 respondents were either  “clueless” or “not very confident” with their ability to change a flat tire. Keep in mind that this figure includes all different age groups ranging from Baby Boomers to Millennials. Though I haven’t conducted a formal study among Binghamton University students pertaining to their automotive knowledge, I would suspect that this number may be even higher based off of what I have heard from my friends and acquaintances. So what are you to do if you fall into this category? Well fear not, fellow motorist. By the time that you are done reading this article, you’ll be changing tires quicker than the pit crews at the Indy 500.

First things first: before you happen to find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having a flat tire on the side of the road, it would be wise to ensure that you have the proper tools to complete the job. Fortunately, most cars come with all of the things that you will need. This includes a spare tire, a scissor jack, and a lug nut wrench. Most cars will either have the spare in the trunk underneath the carpet or underneath the vehicle itself. Occasionally, the spare tire may also be mounted to the rear or the vehicle. Regardless of where it is located, it’s a good idea to check the pressure of the spare at least every few months in order to ensure that it will be ready when you call it into action. The lug nut wrench and scissor jack will usually be located somewhere near the spare. Also (and this is very important), if you have wheel locks in place of lug nuts, make sure that you know where the key is. Otherwise, you are going to have a very hard time removing your wheel.

Okay, so after you have made sure that your car is equipped with all of the right tools and that your spare is properly inflated, we can begin the tire changing process.

Step 1: Park your car in the safest possible location.

Ideally, this would be on sturdy, level ground with plenty of distance between yourself and oncoming traffic.

Step 2: Locate the scissor jack and lug nut wrench.

As mentioned before, this should be somewhere near the spare or in a storage compartment in the trunk.

Step 3: Retrieve your spare tire.

Again, the spare is most commonly located underneath the trunk carpet, underneath the car itself, or mounted on the rear.

Step 4: Using your lug nut wrench, loosen (but don’t remove) each lug nut on the wheel.  

We loosen the lug nuts while the tire is still on the ground as we may not be able to do so once it’s in the air without the tire spinning. Also, it’s not uncommon for the lug nuts to be fastened onto the wheel tightly. If you are having difficulty loosening the nuts, position the handle of the wrench parallel to the ground and use your foot and body weight to push the handle.

Step 5: Place the scissor jack underneath the proper lift point on your vehicle that is closest to the tire which needs to be changed.

Most vehicles have designated lift points directly behind the front wheels and directly in front of the rear wheels along the lower side of the rocker panels. However, if you aren’t sure where your car’s lift points are, the owner’s manual should have a detailed depiction of where you can find them.

Step 6: Raise the scissor jack until the flat tire is off of the ground.

Depending on the style of your particular jack, some may use the lug nut wrench as a handle to raise the jack. Others may have their own handles included.

Step 7: Fully remove the lug nuts and remove the wheel from the hub.

If you are having trouble taking the tire off, place each hand on opposite sides of the tire and wiggle it off. Also make sure to put the lug nuts in a safe place where you won’t lose them.

Step 8: Take the spare tire and mount it onto the hub.

This step can be difficult with large or heavy tires. One way to make this easier is by sitting on the ground and using your hands and feet to lift the tire onto the hub.

Step 9: Fasten the lug nuts back onto the wheel by hand.

Since the tire is off of the ground, you won’t be able to completely tighten them down just yet. We’ll take care of that later.

Step 10: Lower the scissor jack completely and remove it from underneath the car.

Just like step 6, but in reverse.

Step 11: Using the lug nut wrench, tighten down the lug nuts until snug.

Since this is only temporary, you don’t have to worry about torque specifications. As long as the lug nuts are tightened down snug to the hub, your spare won’t be going anywhere.

Step 12: Put away your tools and the flat tire.

It’s always a pity to lose tools. Make sure that they are accounted for.

Congratulations! You have successfully changed a flat tire. Now, some caveats: the spare tire is not intended to be used for long distance travel or high speeds. As soon as you can, either have your flat tire repaired or replaced and put it back onto the car. Until then, it’s best to keep your speed under 50 miles per hour and to only travel as far as necessary. But hey, by this point, the hard work is already over. See you in the pits!

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