While to some people, changing a flat tire may sound like no big deal, to others it is a daunting task. For some of those who think it’s a piece of cake, modern vehicles may change your mind. That’s because some vehicles have the jack equipment stowed in very out of the way places and, on some models, correct jack placement is critical. You don’t want to have to read the owner’s manual on the side of a busy freeway to figure all that out!
Most modern vehicles have a tire pressure monitoring system that will indicate that you have a low tire. Technology has improved to the point that some cars even tell you which tire is low, so pay attention to your dash lights. If that light comes on, you need to quickly find a safe place to investigate the situation.
Tires can go flat over a short or a long period, depending on the size of the leak. When you need to change a tire, the most dangerous place for you to change it is on the edge of the interstate highway. If possible, get off the highway, even if that means driving on the shoulder at a very slow speed until you can exit—or at least to an area of the road where you can safely pull off the road (which to me is at least 10 to 15 feet from the edge of the highway). Ideally, you want to exit and get to a safe location out of sight of the highway, where you can raise the car using the tools provided. A lighted area is preferable if this happens at night.
If you’ve never changed a flat before, let me encourage you to practice doing so in the safety and comfort of your garage or driveway. Become familiar with the tools and the procedure. Follow the directions given in the owner’s manual. If you have children of or near driving age, demonstrate the technique to them and then let them duplicate the process. The last thing you want to do is figure out how to change a flat when you’re pulled off the side of a road!
The owner’s manual will tell you the exact location where you must place the jack in order to raise the vehicle safely. You can damage your car, or injure yourself, if you place it incorrectly. Here’s another little hint: Always loosen (but don’t remove) the lug nuts holding the wheel in place before you jack up the car. It’s much easier to remove the tire if you do it that way.
When putting the spare tire on, be sure to start each of the lug nuts by hand. Remember to put the beveled edge of the lug nut toward the wheel. Then, with your tire iron, tighten them in a star pattern. To do this, tighten one, then skip one, tighten one, then skip one. Eventually, all five nuts will be tight.
Note: Tighten the lug nuts as best you can with the wheel off the ground. Then you can lower the jack completely and re-tighten in the star pattern with the wheel firmly on the ground.
Most cars come with the wrench or tire iron you use to tighten the lug nuts. To make it easier to change the tire, position the wrench in such a way that you can stand on it, using your leg and body weight to loosen each lug nut. However, you do not want to do that while tightening the lug nuts (because you can over-tighten them). After tightening all of the lug nuts, drive 50 to 100 miles, and then check them again to make sure they are still tight.
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