How to Safely Change a Tire on the Side of the Road: 10 Simple Steps

Deflated tire.

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Changing a flat tire seems easy, but nothing is straightforward when two-ton metal machines are flying by at 50 miles per hour. Many things can happen when you and your vehicle are so vulnerable. So, what’s the best way to safely change a tire on the side of the road?

It’s best to call a tow truck or roadside assistance. If the roadway is less congested and you have enough room to pull off, you can change the tire on your own. Trust your judgment, but err on the side of caution if you’re on a busy interstate or highway with limited room. In those situations, get professional help.

If you don’t have any other option, things are a little different. Here’s a 10-step guide on how to safely change a tire on the side of the road.

1. Plan Ahead

The average driver experiences five flat tires in their lifetime, so you should assume it can happen to you on any given day. Prepare early by keeping the following equipment in your car:

  • Spare tire
  • Owner’s manual
  • Car jack
  • Lug wrench
  • Wheel wedges
  • Warning triangles
  • Reflective vest
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Gloves
  • Towel
  • Flashlight

Bad weather might also come into play, so it’s a good idea to keep a poncho, umbrella and a heavy coat in your car. Always keep your roadside assistance service’s contact information in your wallet if you need additional help.

2. Get Out of The Way

If and when you get a flat tire, turn on your hazard lights and pull over as quickly as possible. Driving on a flat tire to find a better spot might cause further damage to the vehicle. Pull over at the first paved level surface you see.

Wait until the traffic lightens up and give yourself a moment to gather your thoughts before tackling the flat tire.

3. Immobilize the Car

The first step to safely change a flat tire is to demobilize the vehicle. Put on the emergency brake and double-check the road before stepping out of the car. Then put the wheel wedges against a front and back tire.

This step is especially important if you had to pull over near a road construction zone. Forward-moving pedestrian vehicles are responsible for 61.5% of work zone fatalities, and 9.4% resulted from a vehicle propelling another vehicle into the victim. You can eliminate both possibilities by immobilizing your car as soon as you pull over.

Walk around the vehicle’s far side as you put the wedges in place. Avoid walking between your car and oncoming traffic, as getting pinned between vehicles is one of the most common roadside injuries. Keep this tip in mind throughout the other steps to safely change the tire without further mishap.

4. Make Yourself Visible

Next, you must make yourself and your car visible to other drivers. Put on your electric vest and place the warning triangles 50 feet apart behind your vehicle. This step is crucial if you get a flat tire at night or in a dimly lit area. Don’t ever assume that drivers can see you.

5. Remove the Hub Cap

Assemble the spare tire, jack and other tools from the trunk and place them near the flat tire. Taking fewer trips to and from the back minimizes the risk of getting struck by a vehicle or road debris. Take the lug wrench and remove the damaged hub cap if the wheel has one — it varies between different models.

6. Loosen the Lug Nuts

Loosen the damaged wheel’s lug nuts. Don’t remove them yet, as they need to stay on to keep the wheel in place during the next step. Some lug nuts will be more stubborn than others, so use all your weight on the wrench to gain extra leverage.

7. Raise the Car

Consult your owner’s manual to determine the best spot to put the car jack. Once you find a good place, keep turning the handle clockwise until the damaged tire is several inches off the ground. Don’t put your body under the car while raising it. Keep yourself on the side at all times.

8. Replace the Tire

With the vehicle in place, you can remove the lug nuts. Keep them in a closed container so you don’t lose or knock them over. The damaged tire should now come off the wheel without issue. Now, place the new tire on the bare wheel by lining up the holes with the bolts. Screw the lug nuts back into place, but don’t tighten them just yet.

9. Lower the Car and Tighten the Lug Nuts

Turn the jack clockwise so the new tire gently rests on the ground. Tighten the lug nuts as much as possible, then continue lowering the car until its full weight is back on the ground. Remove the jack and wipe everything clean. The wheel, lug wrench and your hands are likely dirty at this point.

10. Check the Spare Tire’s Air Pressure

Use the tire pressure gauge to check the spare tire’s pounds per square inch. If you used a donut tire, the measurement should be at least 60 PSI to hold you over. Manufacturers make spare donut tires with higher PSI because they lose air over time and need more pressure to support the vehicle’s weight.

If your spare tire was identical to your other tires, then the PSIs should be within the standard 28-32 range.

Stay Safe On the Road

Many things can go wrong while driving, including flat tires. Keep a cool head and follow this guide on how to safely change a tire. You’ll be back on the road in no time.

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