How to Avoid Going to Flat Tire City

The last thing you need on your way to or from work is a flat tire. Here are the best pointers for changing it so quickly and efficiently that pit crew members would be proud.

Flat Tires Make Us Feel A Certain Way. And That Way Is Usually Sad Or Mad. Photo: Scotty Reiss
Flat tires make us feel a certain way. And that way is usually sad or mad. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Before You Get a Flat Tire, Learn How to Change a Tire

In a time when most new cars have a roadside assistance feature, many drivers rely on others to assist them when inconvenience strikes. But what if you don’t have that luxury, or if your service is expired, and you get a flat tire? Many automakers only give you a free trial of roadside assistance, and then it it comes at a monthly fee, which not everyone renews.

Your best bet is to be empowered with the knowledge of how to change your own flat tire. You never know when you’ll need to change it yourself, or simply, that it’s being done right.

Related: 10 Best Run Flat Tires for Your Car

Changing A Flat Tire Photo: Alicia Nijdam

Changing a flat tire can be a lot harder than it seems; we’re happy to give you the best tips to make it easier. Photo: Alicia Nijdam

First of All, Not All Flat Tires are Obvious

A flat tire can feel like the car is pulling to one side. You may hear a noise that sounds like knocking or thumping. You may feel a sudden vibration or see smoke, but either way, something feels “off.”

One time I was alerted by another motorist to my quickly deflating tire. They pulled up beside me at a stoplight and asked me to roll my window down. Thanks to this good Samaritan, I wasn’t on the highway when the tire went totally flat. Has this ever happened to you?

But if you ARE on a highway, you need to slow your speed gradually and don’t jam on the brakes. Steer yourself to a safe area. Ideally, an area large enough to allow you to change your tire without risking injury from other drivers.

The only reason you should continue driving on a flat tire is IF you’re not in a safe area. Driving on a flat can damage your wheel, which can be costly.

So, get to a safe area, make sure the car is in park, and engage the parking brake.

Related: Buying New Tires? Dos & Don’ts to Find Your Best Fit

Storage Bins Under The Seats Hold The Jack And Any Tools You Might Need!

Some cars have storage bins under the seats that hold the jack and any tools you might need to change a flat tire. Photo: A Girls Guide to Cars

First Things First

You need to locate the spare tire, tire iron, and jack (if your car didn’t come with a spare tire, you can order one). In most cars, you can find the spare tire inside the trunk under a floor cover. It may also be in a compartment on the side of the trunk. Occasionally, the spare is mounted underneath the rear of the vehicle. If the spare is under the car/truck, the jack can be with it next to the tire. It may also be in a compartment in the trunk/hatch OR under a cover.

It’s your best move to know where these items are located in your car ahead of time, but in the instance where you can’t find it in any of these places, you should refer to the owner’s manual.

Related: The Secret to Easy Car Repair

Mini With Gold Wheels. Photo: Sara Lacey

The first rule of order with a flat tire is to loosen those lug nuts. Photo: Sara Lacey

Step 1 – Remove the Flat Tire

In order to remove a flat tire, you need the tire iron.

  1. Use the tire iron to loosen the lug nuts but don’t take them all the way off. You will need to turn them counterclockwise. It can be challenging, so step on the tire iron if you need extra force.
  2. Next, use the jack to lift your car so it’s not resting on the ground. You will need to put the jack under the frame of the car under a sturdy steel piece. You want to make sure the jack is well underneath so it’s not at risk of slipping out.
  3. Once the tire is raised, pull off the lug nuts and remove the wheel.
A Spare Tire And A Charging Cable Are Stowed In The Cargo Area. Photo: Allison Bell

A spare tire can usually be found stowed in the cargo area. Photo: Allison Bell

Step 2 – Replace the Flat Tire with the Spare

  1. Slide the spare time on.
  2. Put the lug nuts back on but only tighten them by hand. Do not over-tighten!
  3. Lower the jack and remove.
  4. Once the car is resting on the ground, use your tire iron to tighten the lug nuts fully.
Off Road 2018 Jeep Wrangler

In the case of a flat tire, some cars have full-size spare tires. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Know Your Limits

If you have a compact spare (often referred to as a doughnut), you will need to get it replaced with a full-size tire as quickly as possible. This tire is not recommended for speeds higher than 50 mph.  If you speed on a compact tire, it can cause further issues to your vehicle. Compact spare tires are good for 50-70 miles. That means there is plenty of range to get you to a service station or tire store.

When you replace your tire, don’t forget to replace your spare; temporary spares that have driven their  recommended limit are no longer safe for your car.

Make Sure You Have The Correct Air Pressure In Your Tires. It Is One Of The Best Ways To Get Better Gas Mileage.

Keep your hot rims in perfect shape with tire maintenance to avoid a flat tire. Photo: AGGTC

Take Precautions to Avoid a Flat Tire

Some flats can be avoided entirely with regular tire maintenance.  You should keep your tires inflated according to manufacturer recommendations and have them rotated and balanced regularly. Treadwear should also be monitored, as very worn tires are more likely to go flat and can create extra hazards.

The 2023 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

Keep your tires well maintained and know where all your gear is in case you get a flat tire. Photo: Tabatha Chovanetz

Get Back on the Road, Safely

Knowing how to change a tire can get you back on the road quickly. Things you can do to make sure you’re prepared for a flat tire:

  1. Know if you have a spare and where it’s located
  2. Perform routine maintenance on your tires and monitor the tread
  3. Check your spare tire inflation once a year to make sure you’re spare isn’t flat when you need it
  4. Consider a roadside assistance membership like AAA in the event you have car trouble
  5. When you buy tires, be hazard protection is included. It’ll pay for all or part of the replacement tire, taking some of the sting out of the pain of a flat tire

And then, drive in confidence knowing that most likely, you won’t have a flat, and if you do, you know what to do.

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Jana Askeland is a Carolina girl who grew up around cars. Her dad was in the car business, and... More about Jana Askeland