Do It Yourself: Change a Flat Tire #30DaysofGOOD Do It Yourself: Change a Flat Tire #30DaysofGOOD
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Do It Yourself: Change a Flat Tire #30DaysofGOOD

by Mike Senese, Jessica De Jesus

July 29, 2012

Things are easier said than done, or so the old adage goes, and we couldn't agree more. That's why we do 30 Days of GOOD (#30DaysofGOOD), a monthly attempt to live better. Our challenge for July? Do It Yourself.

If you drive a car, there will inevitably be a dreadful moment when you hear a peculiar sound. It starts as a far-away noise like driving over low-profile lane markers, but suddenly it gets very loud: "whup-whup-whup. WHUPWHUPWHUPWHUP." Bad news—that's the sound of a flat tire, and when it happens, it's a good idea to quickly (but safely) pull off the road.

Luckily, there's good news with flat tires too, particularly that a spare tire and tools are packed in the trunk of your car. Follow the right steps and it's a quick replacement that will hardly interrupt your travels.

When you pull onto the shoulder of the road or highway, move far enough over that you're clear from passing vehicles. You likely won't know which tire went flat until you get out and look, so give yourself room to operate on both sides. Also, remember to not drive very far on a popped tire, as there's a high likelihood this will damage the rim, which can be a very pricey replacement.

When safe, exit the car and look to see which tire is flat. It should be pretty evident, with the airless tire squished to the ground. Found it? Time to operate.

Open the trunk and lift the floorboard up to show the spare tire and tools (some cars and trucks keep their tools stored on the side of the trunk or underneath). Undo the screw and washer that holds everything in place, pull the tire out, and set it on the side of the road. The toolset will include a tire iron and a small manual scissor jack with driver bar that you will use to rotate the jack screw and lift the vehicle in the air.

Before you lift anything, first set the parking brakes and loosen the lug nuts while the car is on the ground. Lug nuts are usually held in place very tightly, often with more torque than the manual calls for. The resistance of the tire on the ground will make it possible to use your bodyweight to help crank the nuts off the wheels. You may have to stand and bounce on the tire iron. Once the nuts are loose, you can jack the car up.

To lift the car, peek underneath to find the reinforced spot of the frame between the wheels, closest to the tire you need to change. Line up the center of the jack under this area, with the jack perpendicular to the car's body. Insert the driver bar into the jack and rotate to start raising it. As you twist the driver, a rhythm will likely set in and you'll have the car up in the air quickly. Be extra cautious that the jack is in a sturdy spot and not raised too high—if poorly placed, it's easy for the whole thing to slip off sideways and drop to the ground.

With the tire in the air, you can now continue to loosen the lug nuts. The wheel will start to press against the bolts due to its weight, so you may need to lean your body against it to keep the nuts from binding as you undo them. Once all are removed (make sure to set them aside in a safe spot), you can pull the tire off the lugs.

Take the spare tire (which is likely going to be a mini-sized "donut" designed to just get you to the tire store) and line it up with the placement of the lug. It's easier to get it in position on the ground than in the air. Once lined up, lift the spare and slot it onto the bolts. Hand tighten a couple lug nuts in place so the wheel holds steady without needing assistance.

Put the rest of the lug nuts onto the bolts and hand tighten them, making sure they are all facing the right direction (tapered end goes into the rim). Give the rim a few good pushes to make sure there's no extra slack, then slowly and carefully lower the car down to the ground. Once on the ground, you can use the tire iron to further tighten the nuts, but it is important to do so in a criss-cross pattern to help pull the rim onto the hub evenly, instead of having one side tightened more than the other, causing the tire to spin unevenly. Continue to follow a star pattern for tightening the nuts, applying body weight onto the tire iron so the nuts all hold in place.

After the spare tire is mounted, pack everything up and tuck it all into the trunk. Then bring the flat tire to a shop to have it either repaired or replaced. This should be done quickly, as your distance and speed are usually limited on a spare tire. If you're on a budget, ask the shop for a good-condition used tire—used spares are not always available, but some places keep a selection of them in stock.

Read more of Mike Senese's DIY tips and projects at DO IT.

We're giving away $1000 for you to share your own DIY skills with others. Participate in our Host a GOOD Workshop challenge.

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Do It Yourself: Change a Flat Tire #30DaysofGOOD