At one time or another we’re going to find ourselves on the side of the road with a flat tyre. Knowing how to change a flat tyre will not only see you back on the road quickly, but mean you can drive with the confidence that if you’re unlucky enough to experience a flat tyre, you won’t have to fork out on roadside assistance or make a phone call to a friend.
Step One: Position the car
Position the car on flat, hard, even ground (when possible), safely out of the way of passing traffic. Jacking a car on uneven ground, grass or an inclination is incredibly dangerous and we would not recommend considering this unless you are confident you can do so safely. Remember that the average car contains over a tonne of steel and has the potential to kill or severely injure you if it falls off a jack.
Always put the car in gear (or ‘park’ if it’s Automatic) and make sure the handbrake is on securely. If you have anything available that can be used to chock the wheel (stop it from rolling back by being wedged underneath) we strongly recommend doing so. Avoid using something light if you can and use a heavy object like a large wedge-shaped rock. Collapsible wheel chocks can be purchased for only a few dollars and are a worthwhile investment.
Step Two: Retrieve your Spares
Now retrieve the tyre and the wheel tools required to change it. These are kept in various locations depending on the vehicle but are typically in the boot. If you are unsure of their location, it should be noted in your Owner's Manual. Some cars like this Alfa Romeo require vehicle specific tools, though this is a rarity. Any vehicle specific tools are almost always included in your tool kit and outlined in the Owner's Manual.
Step Three: Access the Wheel Nuts
Depending on your wheels, the wheel nuts that hold the wheel on may be behind a cover like the ones pictured here. We required a tool to remove the cover that was supplied in the vehicles tool kit. This tool can vary from a large adjustable grip like this one to a conventional Allen Key. It is usually very straight forward to see how it is removed if your vehicle has one, and once again is usually covered in your owner's handbook. Once removed, you will be presented with 4, 5 or 6 wheel nuts that hold the wheel secure.
Step Four: Crack the Wheel Nuts
Before jacking the car, you will need to loosen the wheel nuts holding the wheel. DO NOT loosen them all the way, just loosening them enough so that the nuts are no longer tight will suffice. If you try to loosen the nuts while the car is jacked up, it will cause the wheel to spin.
Top Tip: it is always preferable to push downwards on the tool supplied (where possible) to avoid falling backwards if it loosens suddenly.
Some vehicles, particularly those with aftermarket wheels, have what is known as lock nuts. Lock nuts are irregularly shaped wheel nuts that require a specific tool to loosen. The lock nut should be supplied to you by either the wheel shop that fitted the wheels for you, or by the previous owner if it is second hand. A lock nut is pictured above.
Step Five: Jack the Vehicle
Now that the wheel nuts have all been loosened, we can jack the car. Your car will have a jacking point next to each wheel along the side. There will either be a specific slot for your jack to sit into (outlined in your Owner's Manual) or a large rib of folded metal along the sill. Pictured below is the more common Steel Rib on a Peugeot.
If your car has a vehicle-specific slot, be sure that the jack is pushed in as far as it can go and is positioned on the ground securely. The location and correct use of the slots if applicable will be detailed in your owner's manual.
If jacking on the steel rib, there will typically be two notches in the bottom of the rib where the metal is thicker. Position the jack central to this point and make sure it is sitting on flat ground. Jack the car until you see the weight start to rise and re-check your jack's positioning. If the metal lip it’s being jacked on is folding over with the weight, the jack looks to be leaning in one direction, or you feel like it just isn’t right, let the jack down and re-position it now!
Once you are happy with the jack's position, jack the vehicle until the wheel is off the ground.
Step Six: Remove the Wheel
Now that your vehicle is safely jacked up and the wheel nuts are loose, you can proceed to remove the wheel. Remove the wheel nuts completely – you can do so by hand, but may require the help of the tool.
Take care not to place any of your body underneath the car. Your car may be jacked safely but it’s not a risk worth taking.
Once you have removed the wheel nuts, the wheel should pull off with minimal effort (it may require a wiggle to pull it forward). It’s advisable to slide the flat wheel under the car now until you have fitted the spare. In the event the car falls off the jack, the spare wheel can catch its weight.
Step Seven: Fit the Spare Tyre
As you will have noticed, there are either 4, 5 or 6 threaded studs that poke through the holes in the wheel. The hardest part of positioning the spare wheel is getting these holes to line up. Try to look at the studs' orientation before you lift the wheel up so you don’t have to move the wheel around much.
Have two wheel nuts next to you so once the wheel is positioned properly you can screw two of the nuts on to hold the wheel in place. Only do this by hand, if you use a tool you risk ruining the threads on the stud. Remember: Lefty Loosy, Righty Tighty. So rotate the wheel nut clockwise to tighten and anti-clockwise to loosen.
Step Eight: Lowering the Car
Once you have wound all the wheel nuts on by hand as far as you can, lower the car off the jack. Before you do so, have a quick glance underneath the car to make sure you have not left tools, spares or anything else underneath the car. Do not climb under the car to do this.
Let the car down slowly and be sure to keep yourself and anyone else clear of the car.
Step Nine: Tightening the Wheel
Once the car is on the ground, you will need to tighten the wheel nuts for the final time with your tools. Tightening them in a specific pattern will ensure that the wheel has equal tension across the mating surface.
If the car has 5 studs as above, start at one nut, then skip one, then tighten the next, skip the next and finally tighten the next one. This pattern is shown below.
If the vehicle has 4 or 6 studs, simply tighten one bolt, then tighten the opposite one and do so for all of the wheel nuts. Once you have done this, go over them once more to ensure you did not miss one.
Wheel nuts do require quite a bit of tension. Use the tension they had on them when you removed them as a guide for how tight the nuts should be. If you’re still unsure, the average person's entire body weight on your average vehicle supplied breaker bar should suffice. Wheel studs are quite strong when in good condition so again, make sure you check them all and tighten them more if you feel it is necessary.
You’re all finished!
Pack your flat tyre and tools back into their respective locations and continue on your way. Drive carefully on your spare tyre especially if it is a “Space Saver”. These are usually thin, brightly coloured and come with a warning label advising not to exceed 80kmph. This is with good reason and should be adhered to.
If you're looking to stock on the tools you need to change a flat, take a look at our huge range of tools from Aussie and global brands. We've got everything you need when it comes to doing DIY & Maintenance on your vehicle. Check out our range today, or take a look at our other articles on DIY fixes or maintenance!