What to do?
Slow down and pull over to the side of the road as soon as it is safe to do so. DO NOT stop in the middle of the road, especially if you are on a busy highway or expressway. That’s a good way to get rear-ended or killed!
Pull off on the RIGHT shoulder of the road, and try to get your vehicle as far OFF the highway as possible. This will hopefully reduce the risk of someone running into your parked vehicle. It will also leave some room if a tire on the left side of your vehicle needs to be changed.
Turn on your hazard flashers so other drivers will see you. Raising the hood is also a good idea as this is a universal signal for help.
If it is night or visibility is poor, and you have a safety flare, reflective triangle, or portable warning light in your trunk, place one of these safety warning devices some distance behind your vehicle to alert oncoming drivers.
You now have to decide whether to change the flat tire yourself or to call for assistance. If you have never changed a flat tire, or you lack the physical ability to do so, or your vehicle has no jack or spare tire, the choice has already been made for you. You will have to call for help on your cell phone or wait for help to arrive. In some areas, there may be call boxes placed at intervals along expressways that a stranded motorist can use to call for help. If you don’t see any call boxes and don’t have a cell phone, you’ll have to wait for a cop to drive by, or a motorist assistance truck to come by, or a Good Samaritan to stop and offer assistance. BE CAREFUL because you don’t always know the motives of a person who may be offering to help you. Most people are good, honest people. But some are not.
If it is safe to do so, you should get out of your vehicle and stand back some distance from the highway until help arrives. That is to reduce the risk of being involved in a rear-end crash by other road users.
If your stranded in a “bad” neighborhood, you might be safer waiting inside your vehicle with your doors locked.
How To Safely Change A Flat Tire
WARNING!: Every year dozens of motorists and Good Samaritans are killed attempting to change flat tires along busy roads. The risk is greatest when changing a tire on the LEFT side of the vehicle nearest the roadway. To minimize the risk of being hit while changing a tire on the left side, your vehicle should be pulled over as far to the RIGHT as possible to put more distance between you and passing traffic. Placing safety flares, triangles, or lights some distance behind your vehicle will also help alert traffic. If someone has stopped to help you, the second vehicle should be parked some distance BEHIND your vehicle to serve as a barrier. Leave at least four car lengths distance between the vehicles so if their vehicle is rear-ended and pushed forward, nobody will be crushed between the two vehicles. The second vehicle should also have their hazard flashers on, as well as their headlights if it is dark or visibility is poor.
Any passengers or others who are not involved in the tire changing process should stand well back from the road and vehicles. Somebody should help watch oncoming traffic and wave if necessary to warn other motorists to pull out and around your vehicles.
The first step in changing the tire is to make sure your vehicle won’t roll forwards or backward when the flat tire is raised off the ground. Place the transmission in Park if it is an automatic, or in 1st or 2nd gear if it is a stick shift. Also, set the parking brake.
WARNING!: On rear-wheel drive vehicles, the parking brake and transmission lock the rear wheels only. If your vehicle has rear-wheel drive, and you raise one of the rear wheels off the ground, your vehicle could roll forwards or backward if the road is tilted or sloped even slightly and the parking brake doesn’t hold. The same can happen with a front-wheel-drive car if you raise a front wheel to change a tire and the parking brake on the rear wheels doesn’t hold. You don’t want the vehicle to move when you are trying to change a flat tire. To prevent this from happening, wedge two blocks of wood, two bricks, some large rocks, or other objects under BOTH sides of one of the tires on the other end of the vehicle from the flat tire. If a rear tire is flat, wedge or blocks a front wheel. If a front tire is flat, wedge, or blocks a rear wheel. This should prevent any unwanted movement when the flat tire is raised.
DO NOT attempt to change a flat tire on a vehicle if you are parked on a hill or slope. Move the vehicle to flatter ground if possible before attempting to change the tire. If this is not possible, call a tow truck, or attempt to reinflate the flat tire using an aerosol can of inflator/sealer.
NOTE: if your vehicle has a Tire Pressure Monitoring System with pressure sensors inside the wheels, DO NOT use aerosol inflator/sealer unless the product says it is safe for TPMS applications. The sealer in some of these products may gum up the sensors.)
After blocking the wheels, locate the jack, lug nut wrench and spare tire in your vehicle. If you don’t know where it is, check your owners manual in the glovebox. Jacks are usually located in the trunk or cargo area of the vehicle, and are usually hidden under a panel or cover. The spare tire may be in the trunk, mounted underneath the back of the vehicle, or hung on the rear door in the case of many SUVs.
In fact, nearly one-third of new vehicles today are not equipped with a spare tire to save weight for better fuel economy. Many of these vehicles have run-flat tires that can support the vehicle for distances of up to 50 miles at speeds of up to 45 mph. But if the vehicle does not have run-flat tires, or the original run-flat tires have been replaced with ordinary tires, your only options if you have a flat are to reinflate the tire with a can of inflator/sealer, remove the flat tire and take it to a tire dealer or other facility for repairs, or to call a tow truck.
The positioning of the jack is very important so it will lift the vehicle properly and not damage anything or slip. The old fashioned bumper jacks from the 1960s and 1970s have been replaced with small scissors jacks that are positioned under the side sill of the body or suspension lift points. Refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for the correct location where to place the jack.
CAUTION: Not placing the jack properly may damage the vehicle or cause it to slip while raising the vehicle.
Remove the spare tire from the trunk or under your vehicle BEFORE you raise the vehicle with your jack.
Loosen the lug nuts BEFORE you raise the flat tire off the ground. The weight of the vehicle on the wheel will prevent it from turning as you attempt to loosen the lug nuts.
To loosen the lug nuts, you may have to remove a hubcap, wheel cover, or nut covers on the wheel. Hubcaps and wheel covers, including the small ones that just cover the lug nuts in the center of the wheel, are usually pried off. The lug wrench may have a flat on the end of the handle for this purpose. Otherwise, you may have to use a screwdriver or similar tool to pry the cover off. Once the lug nuts are exposed, slip the lug wrench over one of the nuts and turn it COUNTERCLOCKWISE to loosen it. Just loosen it a bit. Don’t turn it more than half a revolution. Then loosen the next lug nut and so on until all have been loosened.
Loosening lug nuts is a LOT harder than it sounds because the nuts are tightened with considerable force (typically 60 to 80 ft. lbs. of torque or more depending on the vehicle, type of wheels, and lug nuts). Most OEM lug wrenches are about worthless because they are too short and don’t’ provide much leverage. The L-shaped handle often slips off when you try to loosen the lug nut.
Some mechanic at the repair shop or tire dealer might over-tightened the lug nuts with an impact wrench that last time the tires were rotated or changed, which meant that you might have a tough time loosening the lugs. You’re going to need a stout four-way lug wrench, breaker bar, or impact wrench to get them loose if they are frozen solid and won’t budge.
TIP: Carry a four-way lug wrench in your trunk or a 12-volt portable impact wrench for changing tires.
Once all of the lug nuts have been loosened, crank the jack to raise the tire off the ground. You only need enough height so you can remove the wheel and mount the spare without hitting the ground. Raising the vehicle too high increases the risk of the vehicle rolling or the jack slipping.
DO NOT place your hands or feet UNDER the tire while removing the flat tire or mounting the spare. This will reduce the risk of injury should the jack slip or the vehicle roll forward or backward. Grasp the tire from the sides and wiggle the wheel of the hub. Likewise, when you lift the spare tire into place, grasp it from the sides.
When mounting the spare, line up the holes in the wheel with the lugs on the hub, then slip the wheel into place. Install and finger-tighten at least one lug nut before installing and finger-tightening the rest.
Use your lug wrench to LIGHTLY tighten all the lug nuts so they are snug but not fully tightened. Then lower the jack until the tire contacts the ground and the weight of the vehicle is on the tire. Now final tighten all the lug nuts in a star-pattern (opposite lugs moving back and forth in a circle) until they are all tight. Tighten the lug nuts by turning the lug nuts CLOCKWISE.
Make sure your lug nuts match your wheels and that you use the correct tightening procedure.
Tighten the lug nuts in a star pattern and to the recommended specifications (Look up the lug nut torque specs for your vehicle!). Typical lug nut torque specs are around 80 to 90 ft. lbs. for most small to medium-sized passenger cars with 4 and 5 lug wheels, 100 ft. lbs. for large cars, 110 to 150 ft. lbs for full-size pickup trucks and SUVs with 6 to 8 lug wheels).
Since you probably won’t have a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts if you are doing a roadside repair, check the torque when you return home to make sure the nuts are not too tight or too loose, and that they are all tightened evenly to the same amount. Checking the torque on the lug nuts is very important to prevent a wheel from coming loose. Over-tightening is also bad because it can distort brake rotors and may break the lug stud on the hub or axle.
After all of the lugs have been properly tightened, replace the hub cap, wheel cover, or nut covers as needed, then replace the jack and tools in your vehicle. Load up the flat tire and take it to a tire dealer or other repair facility to have it inspected and patched (if possible). And your work is done!
Stay Safe and always be alert when you are driving!