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You're driving along, jamming to your favorite song, when suddenly your car starts acting weird. The ride doesn't feel as smooth and the steering wheel jerks. Over your favorite chorus, you start to hear the telltale flap of a flat tire. As you make your way to the shoulder, you feel a pang of panic in your stomach. But don't worry , learning how to change a tire is easy, and almost everyone can do it on their own.

AAA roadside assistance has changed the flat tires for millions of members, making us tire-changing pros. Read our expert guide on changing a tire so you can get back on the road (and back to singing your favorite song) before you know it.

1. Pull Over Somewhere Safe

Ideally, you'll discover your flat tire when your car is safely in your driveway or a parking lot. But if you're driving, common signs you have a flat tire include:

  • The vehicle pulls in one direction
  • You feel vibrations in your steering wheel
  • You hear a flapping or thumping sound

As soon as you start to experience any of the signs of a flat tire, you need to get out of traffic as quickly and safely as possible. Driving on a flat tire is not only dangerous, but it can seriously damage your vehicle's wheel, suspension, braking and steering systems. Turn on your hazard warning lights, ease your foot off the accelerator and pull over, braking and steering gently to maintain control of the vehicle.

Pull off into a parking lot or side street, as those are the safest spots to be while changing a tire. If you're on the highway, look for a nearby exit ramp where people will travel at a slower speed than on the highway itself.

If none of those options are available, pull to the right shoulder of the roadway. Look for solid, level ground on a straightway that is well lit so other drivers can see you. If the flat tire is on the left side of your car, pull off the shoulder enough so that you can safely maneuver on the driver's side of the vehicle without interfering with traffic.

2. Take Safety Precautions

Once you've pulled over somewhere safe, put your car in park (or reverse if your vehicle is a stick shift) and turn it off. Remove the keys from the ignition, set the parking brake and turn on your hazard lights.

If you are calling roadside assistance, do so now. Have your location, vehicle's make and model and license plate number ready to share with the dispatcher. While it might be tempting to stay in the car, there's a chance the car may be hit, especially if you are near the road, so it is safest to wait outside your vehicle away from the road.

Put on your safety vest (if you have one) before you get out of your car and then:

  1. Set out hazard cones roughly 100 feet behind your vehicle.
  2. Place wheel wedges (or large rocks or sticks) around your tires, or at least the tire on the opposite corner of the flat.
  3. Have passengers exit the car and move away from the road to wait safely.

3. Gather Your Tools

Locate your owner's manual (usually stored in the glove compartment) and read the section about changing a tire for information about the process for your specific vehicle, which varies slightly between vehicles.

Find your spare tire, jack and wrench (most newer models have a jack with a built-in wrench). Most cars store the spare tire in the trunk under the floor, but larger cars may have the spare tire mounted on the back or underneath the car. Most spare tires are considered temporary or donut tires, which means they have a smaller diameter than a standard tire.

Place the spare tire in a grassy or dirt-covered area near you so it won't roll away. Be aware that oil or residue may leak out of the tire, but that's normal.

Many modern cars no longer carry spare tires to make cars more fuel efficient. If your vehicle doesn't have a spare tire, look for a tire repair kit instead and follow the directions to repair your tire.

The following tools are not required to change a tire, but they are helpful:

  • Flashlight
  • Gloves
  • Tire gauge
  • Rain poncho
  • Kneeling mat/floor mat from the car
  • Portable tire inflator
  • Small board to put under jack if the ground is too soft

4. Remove the Hubcap and Loosen the Lug Nuts on the Flat Tire

If your car has a hubcap or wheel cover over the lug nuts, use the flat end of the tire iron or a flathead screwdriver to pry it off. Set it aside upside down to create a bowl you'll put the lug nuts in later.

Inspect the lug nuts. If you notice one lug nut that looks different from the others, your wheels may require a special key to unlock them for theft prevention. Usually, you'll find the key for that lug nut in your glove box or with the spare tire.

Remove any debris, such as snow or mud, from the lug nuts before placing the head of the wrench over them. Turn the wrench a quarter or half turn counterclockwise to loosen the lug nuts.

By starting to loosen the lug nuts before you jack up your car, the car's weight will hold the wheel stable so you aren't inadvertently moving the tire instead of loosening the lug nuts.

5. Place the Jack Under the Vehicle and Raise It

Once you've loosened the lug nuts, it's time to set up the jack. Place it under the metal frame next to the tire you need to replace. Your owner's manual will tell you the proper place to do this, and some cars may even have a notch in the metal frame where the jack should go.

Otherwise, look under the metal frame next to the tire with your flashlight and feel behind the metal body. You must place the jack under the metal frame of your car. If you accidentally put it where there's plastic, it could crack, damaging your vehicle.

If the ground is soft under the jack, place a piece of wood underneath it to keep it steady before raising it.

Once you've ensured the jack is in the proper place and have loosened the lug nuts, raise the vehicle. Most modern cars come with a scissor jack, meaning you must turn the handle clockwise to raise it. Other vehicles come with a pump jack, so you'll move the handle up and down to engage the hydraulics. After a few turns or pumps, stop to double-check that the jack is in the right place. Lower it and readjust if it isn't.

Raise your car until the tire is roughly 6 inches off the ground so you have enough space to work. This can take a few minutes , if you get tired, stop and take a break. When you finish, remove the handle or place it under the car so you don't hit it accidentally while changing the tire.

Whatever you do, never put your body under the car while you are jacking it up. If the jack isn't in the right place, it can fail and your vehicle will fall.

6. Loosen the Lug Nuts the Rest of the Way and Set Them Aside Before Removing the Flat Tire

When your car is high enough, continue removing the lug nuts. You should be able to do this by hand. Set them aside where you won't lose them, like inside the hubcap or wheel cover, on the floor of your front seat or in your inside door pocket.

Grab the tire with both hands and pull it slowly toward your body. Pull smoothly to avoid shaking the car as much as possible, since doing so can cause the jack to fail.

Once the tire is free of the wheel hub, place it flat on the ground so it doesn't roll away from you.

7. Put the Spare Tire on the Wheel Stud and Replace the Lug Nuts

Grab the spare tire with both hands so that the valve stem (where you put air into the tire) faces you. Lift the tire and place it on the wheel hub, spinning the tire slowly to align the holes on the tire with the holes on the wheel hub.

Retrieve the lug nuts from wherever you put them in the previous step. Add lug nuts and tighten them in a star pattern by adding the lug nut opposite the one you just tightened rather than the one next to it.

Tighten the lug nuts as much as you can with your hands.

8. Lower the Jack and Use the Wrench to Tighten the Lug Nuts

Slowly lower the jack by turning the handle counterclockwise, but stop just after the tire touches the ground. Use your wrench to continue tightening the lug nuts in the star pattern you used earlier. Then lower the jack the rest of the way and remove it.

Just like when raising the jack, never put any part of your body under the car while lowering the jack.

9. Check the Tire Pressure on Your Spare Tire

Since spare tires aren't used regularly and most people forget to check them, use your tire pressure gauge to check its pressure. Since the tire is smaller than a standard tire, it has a different tire pressure. Most donut tires should be inflated to 60 PSI. If you need to add air, use your portable tire inflator to add air until you reach the appropriate pressure.

10. Clean Up Your Equipment

Return the jack, wrench and other tools to your trunk with the damaged tire. Remove the wheel wedges, retrieve your hazard cones and place them back in your car. Release the parking brake once you are back in the car.

11. Drive to an Auto Repair Shop

Drive straight to the closest auto repair shop. Donut tires are not the same size as the rest of your tires, and they are only intended to go short distances. Do not drive over 50 mph until you have your standard tire back on the vehicle.

Depending on the problem with your tire, the mechanic may be able to repair or patch the tire, or you may need to buy a new one.

How To Avoid Getting a Flat Tire

No one wants a flat tire, and fortunately, you can prevent most of them with the following precautions:

  • Check that your tires are inflated to the proper tire pressure (including your spare tire!).
  • Inspect your tires regularly for damage, such as nail punctures or low tread.
  • Rotate your tires as needed to maintain even wear and tear.
  • Follow your tire replacement schedule.

While flat tires are preventable, you'll probably experience one in your lifetime. Prepare for a flat tire on the road before it happens by:

  • Knowing where your owner's manual, spare tire, jack and wrench are located in your vehicle.
  • Checking your spare tire regularly to ensure it has the appropriate tire pressure.
  • Keeping an emergency kit in your car.
  • Signing up today for a AAA membership for Roadside Assistance.

Call AAA Roadside Assistance for Help

Missing a tool? Not in a safe place? Bad weather or poor road conditions? Unsure of what to do? Can't loosen the lug nuts? Don't risk it , call Roadside Assistance to help you change your tire. A certified AAA technician will drive to you and install your spare tire. If they determine your spare tire isn't safe, they'll tow your vehicle to the closest AAA-approved repair facility.

FAQ

Still have questions about how to change a tire? We've answered a few of them here.

When Should You Change a Tire?

A tire should be changed whenever it's flat or shows signs of damage. If you notice any signs of damage, like a nail puncture, swelling or wear, change your tire or drive to an auto shop where they can help you repair or replace the tire before it goes flat.

How Do You Change a Flat Tire Without a Spare?

If you have a flat tire but don't have a spare, use a tire repair kit to patch your damaged tire. The kit should include a sealant to cover small holes and a portable air compressor to inflate the tire. Follow the instructions in your tire repair kit.

However, these kits can only fix minor problems, such as tire punctures. If you have damage to the side wall of the tire or other major tire failures, you won't be able to change the tire without a spare. In that case, contact Roadside Assistance for help.

How Long Does It Take to Change a Flat Tire?

Changing a flat tire can take anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. It depends entirely on how familiar you are with the process, your tools, vehicle make and model and other factors.

How Much Does It Cost to Change a Flat Tire?

If you do it yourself, changing a tire is free! However, you'll have to pay to repair the damaged tire or purchase a replacement.

If you are a AAA member, Roadside Assistance will change your tire or tow your vehicle to the nearest AAA-approved repair facility.

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