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Easy DIY #46: How To Change A Car Tire (For Those Who Don’t Know)

No, I’m being totally serious. Some people – even some of the macho men I’ve known – haven’t a clue how to change a car tire. Most of the guys who don’t know how, tend to keep quiet and not ask because they think they’d feel silly or be made fun of by their mates, while those who do know how tend to take it for granted that “everyone” knows how as well!

Fear not – now you can read this article and look at the accompanying images, and afterwards pretend you knew it was this easy all along!

This is a fairly basic task that any lady should be able to accomplish with the minimum amount of drama, fuss or broken nails! I mean, even a man can do this, so how hard can it really be? *wink* The tools you need to change your tire include a jack (various different types between all the millions of different types of vehicles over the years), a wheel spanner (or preferably a power bar and socket in the right size) to loosen and tighten the wheel bolts or nuts – and of course, the spare tire.

The first step I’d say, is to familiarize yourself with the location and operation of these items in your vehicle well in advance so that when disaster strikes, you already know where to find them and have a good idea how to use them. You might actually consider doing a few dry-runs by practicing this at home or in your garage or driveway just so you you don’t fall about trying to figure it out when you get an actual flat tire. Also it might be worthwhile to look up a few video tutorials on YouTube and the like!

You should also make a habit of checking your spare tire’s air pressure each time you check or inflate your other tires at the gas station – there’s no point being upset if you need the spare and it’s flat! It’s also wise to carry a good solid brick in the trunk in case you’re on uneven ground, to rest the jack on, and to perhaps include a little hand cleaner and water and even an old hand towel in your tool kit! (Tip – dishwashing liquid makes great hand cleaner!)

Car designers usually build in one or two places where you can use an ordinary scissors-jack on the car – ttypically two per side of the car, one near the front, behind the front wheel; and one near the rear, in front of the rear wheel. You should familiarize yourself with their locations by consulting your owner’s manual, or by dropping in at a machanical workshop just to ask a “mac” to show you.

There are a lot of reasons why you mght want to – or need to – change a tire yourself instead of calling the AA or a recovery vehicle, insurance etc. to come out and do it for you, and you might wish to consider them while reading this. Perhaps you’re on a trip between cities for example, when disaster strikes – and you’re literally in the middle of the middle of nowhere. You might not have cellular reception – or you might not be able to tell the towtruck/mechanical rescue guy exactly where you are – or the time you’d spend waiting for them to reach (or find) you may be longer than you’re willing to spare.

Then there’s the probability that you might get attacked while stuck at the side of the road while waiting for rescue or recovery to arrive – which in South Africa, sorry to say, is virtually a given. Yes, you would also be at risk while changing the tire yourself – but on the plus side, at least you’d reduce the amount of time you’d be exposed to that risk by changing the tire yourself and getting back on the road again. The choice is yours, but I prefer to be self-reliant as far as possible.

At this point I should mention safety – whenever you lift a car, it becomes risky and dangerous, and potentially unstable. This is even more the case if you jack the car up on soft or slippery surfaces, such as a gravel road for example, and basically have the car standing balanced on three wheels and a spidery jack! This instability may also be added to by the state of your vehicle’s park brake – if it’s not that tight, it could allow the car to roll while on the jack – which would not be something you’d like to happen! Best to put the vehicle in gear while you’re doing this in any case, because you just don’t know what might happen.

It’s best therefore to change your tire on even, firm surfaces such as on a tar road or a concrete drive, preferably on a level area – with your park brake applied and the vehicle in gear.

The next step is to roll up your yoga pants legs some, so that they don’t get in the way, and get to it.

The actual process of changing a tire is basic and simple, What you need to do is insert the jack under a sturdy part of the car’s frame – not the bodywork, because the weight of the car resting on the jack would damage the bodywork! Don’t jack the car up as yet – first you need to loosen the wheel nuts or bolts – which is a far easier task if the weight of the car is holding the wheel still than if it’s spinning freely off the ground!

If your car has hubcaps or wheel covers, you have to remove them first in order to access the wheel nuts or bolts, using a hubcap puller or by inserting a small screwdriver tip, nail or other suitable tool into one of the tiny holes in the rim of the hubcap, or just by pulling hard enough to dislodge the plastic wheel cover. This all depends on the sort of car you have. Mags or alloy rims usually don’t have hubcaps or wheel covers, so if that’s the case, you can skip this and go straight to the next step.

Then you need to loosen the wheel bolts, not all the way out yet, but just loosed enough by one or two turns that they aren’t too tight to turn once the car is jacked up and the wheel is off the ground – because then you will only rotate the wheel while trying to loosen the nuts or bolts!

Loosening a tightened wheel bolt or nut sounds simple, but it can be very difficult. These things are tightened so hard because the last thing you want is for these things to come loose, especially while you’re driving! Believe me – this has happened to me before, and in the dark near midnight with nobody around to help me find the missing wheel bolts, it wasn’t pleasant!

Loosening and tightening them isn’t just about brute strength, it’s a matter of leverage. While the stock wheel spanner may be perfectly fine to loosen a wheel nut if you’re a 150kg gym-bunny, it’s not so easy to accomplish if you’re a 70kg pianist, or a housewife with two inch acrylic nails who can’t remember the last time she could close her fists.

I recommend augmenting the stock wheel spanner with a quarter-inch power bar and the right size socket to fit the heads of your wheel bolts or nuts. Let me explain: there are different types of wheel spanners out there that come with different types of vehicles, and they’re perfectly fine to do the job if you’re big and strong – but a power bar is longer, sturdier, and has a joint at the head allowing you to use it to apply leverage while loosening or tightening that these spanners don’t do.

While loosening the bolt or nut, you need to attach it with the bar standing at the “ten-to” clock position and then apply force to it by pressing against it in the counter-clockwise position with your foot, up to and including standing on it! That’s right – your body weight can help you to unscrew the inscrutable!

You need to repeat this action with all the wheel bolts or nuts on that wheel. Most cars have 4 bolts or nuts holding the wheels on, some have 5 and some have 6. If you don’t have one, you can buy a power bar and the right socket at a hardware store (eg Builders), automotive supplier (eg Midas) but it’s also cheaper if you can find one at a pawn shop or second-hand store as I did.

Next, you should take your spare tire out of the trunk and place it flat, the outside facing up so as to not scratch it, under the part of the car you’re jacking up i.e. behind the jack or behind the wheel you’re jacking up. The point of this is, if your car comes off the jack for any reason, it probably won’t fall onto the ground and either damage the vehicle – or injure you.

Once this is accomplished, you can jack the car up – ensuring that the jack is stable, with the top part firmly under or into the appropriate jacking point socket or flange – without worrying about getting the wheel off! As you remove each wheel nut or bolt, it’s wise to put them aside somewhere safe so that they don’t get lost, roll away or fall into a hole or something silly, leaving you short some – or all – your wheel nuts or bolts! A little plastic dish or old lunch box, the inside of the hubcap, or even just an off-cut part of a plastic bottle should do fine. You can keep it inside your toolkit in the trunk.

Now you have the flat wheel off, what do you do with it? Stick it in the trunk? Not yet! Slide it flat on its back side underneath the car and replace the spare with it in the same position, and slide the spare out to take its place on the wheel hub. Leave the flat tire there until you have the replacement wheel fitted.

Placing the tire onto the wheel hub is one of the more strenuous parts of the exercise – it entails lifting the tire – which can be quite heavy especially if you’re dainty and weigh just 60kg! Men like to brag about their physical strength, but there is, as most girls know, more than one way to break an egg!

Yes, you could use brute strength (if you have it) but you could also inflict an injury on yourself – say you are that strong, but you might have a back problem or injury that would make that task painful and cause you lingering pain for days afterwards – you’d like to avoid that, wouldn’t you?

Here’s how:

Sit on the ground (this is the easiest way) and place your feet under both sides of the wheel as it sits on the ground with the back of the wheel resting against the wheel hub. Then, with your heels on the ground, lift the wheel with both feet slightly so that the bolt holes in the rim meet the holes or bolts in the drum or disk. You can use your hands to stabilize and position the wheel. In the case of cars where there are bolts or studs on the wheel hub, you can simply push it onto them and release. In the case of wheel bolts, you need to line up one or more holes in both the rim and the wheel hub and then insert one bolt at a time, turning them in one or two turns. Then you can release the rim with your feet and insert the other bolts. You can then tighten the wheel bolts lightly, bearing in mind that you need to retighten them once the car has been lowered.

At that point it should be safe to remove the flat tire from under the car again to put in your trunk. After that, you can lower the car onto the ground again, and tighten the wheel bolts with the spanner or power bar. You don’t need to stand on the power bar in tightening the wheel nuts or bolts – but just taking it past finger-tightness and leaning on the power bar with your body weight through your shoulders for a few seconds is enough. I’m not suggesting you have super strength, but the last thing you want is to push too far and snap a wheel bolt off!

Once done with that, you can put away your tools and accessories, replace your hubcap or wheel cover, and clean up. I find dishwashing liquid with degreasing properties to work great for this purpose. A small nailbrush makes it even easier to scrub off any grease or tire black from the fingers! And that’s it – you’re done! Happy trails!

This simple trick makes fitting a wheel a cinch!

Don’t forget to have that flat tire seen to as soon as convenient – it would be pretty inconvenient to get another flat and not have a spare!

Below my list of necessities for this task:

Pictures included!

Have a DIY day!


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All material copyright © Christina Engela, 2021.

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