How to change a tyre
Whether you are stranded roadside with a flat tyre or need to put on winter tyres to face the oncoming frost, changing a tyre is an essential skill for car owners. This article lays out the equipment you’ll need and gives ten simple steps for changing a tyre and other information about when you need to change it.
The gear you’ll need
- Spare tyre. The location of the spare varies from vehicle to vehicle. You’ll find it under the carpet in the boot in most saloons or on the undercarriage of the rear of the car in most SUVs. It can also be bolted to the back door or elsewhere on the outside on some SUVs.
- Lug wrench. This cross-shaped tool with sockets on the end of it is usually stored under the carpet in the boot, under the back seats if they can be folded up or in a side compartment covered by a plastic panel in the rear of your car. If you’re not sure where to look, consult your owner’s manual.
- Jack. Your jack is generally stored in the same place as your lug wrench, so check the same spots or your owner’s manual. Jacks are often stored in a way that braces them to keep them from rattling around, so you might need to retract the piston to remove the jack from its storage bracket.
- Gloves. These will help protect your hands, keep them from getting all covered in tyre black or maintain the dexterity of your fingers if it’s freezing outside.
- Flashlight with batteries. For night-time punctures. A mobile phone with a torch works too.
How to change a tyre: 10 Steps
1. Find a flat, stable and safe surface to change the tyreYou’ll want to avoid inclines that could cause the car to shift or fall off the jack when elevated, potentially injuring you or damaging the vehicle. Make sure that you will be able to easily access the vehicle’s undercarriage to place the jack. Also, scan for other potential hazards where you are changing your tyre, especially passing cars.
2. Engage first gear and apply the handbrakeThis step is important to make sure the car doesn’t start rolling when it’s up on the jack.
3. Loosen the lug nutsMany lug wrenches have four sockets. Find the one that fits snugly over the lug nut and push it onto the nut as far as it will go. Turn the nut anti-clockwise to remove it. If it’s very tight and you can’t loosen it with your arm strength, you might need to stomp on the shaft of the wrench. It’s important to do any hard yanking before the car is raised up on the jack.
4. Raise the vehicle with the jackThe jack points vary from vehicle to vehicle, so look in your owner’s manual to find the right placement in each case. You’ll need to raise the vehicle until there are a couple of inches of air under the flat tyre, allowing you to manoeuvre it off and put on the spare, which will probably need more space since it’s inflated.
5. Completely remove the wheel nutsSince the nuts are already loose, you can probably just unthread them with your fingers. Make sure that you put them in a safe place where they won’t roll away—you’ll need them again in just a minute!
6. Remove the wheel from the axle and place it under the vehiclePull the wheel off the car by moving it straight outwards to keep it from tilting diagonally and binding up on the bolts. When it’s off, put it under your car to keep it out of the way and to provide a safety buffer should the car fall off the jack for some reason.
7. Put the new wheel on the axleYou may have to raise the car a bit more since the spare is (hopefully!) inflated and may need more space. Line up the holes that ring the wheel’s hub with the bolts, and slide the wheel onto the bolts, pushing it back until it won’t go any further. Then you’ll need to put the lug nuts back on the bolts (turning them clockwise) without tightening them all the way. You will probably feel the wheel shift a bit as it lines up flush with the wheel hub behind it.
8. Remove the wheel you took off from under the carMake sure that you put it somewhere out of the way so you don’t trip on it and it’s not a hazard for passers-by or adjacent traffic.
9. Lower the vehicleMake sure that there are no objects or people below it before you lower it down.
10. Tighten the wheel nuts crosswiseIt’s important to follow a cross or star pattern as you put the final torque on the lugs. This ensures that all of the nuts have even torque and lowers the chance of the wheel flexing or shifting after you drive off.
Don’t forget to securely stow all your equipment and your spare tyre before getting on your way!
It is important to use a calibrated torque wrench or take your vehicle to a professional tyre dealership to have wheel bolts torqued to the correct settings.
When does a tyre need to be changed?
- Flat tyre. Obviously, you’ll need to swap your tyre for a spare when you get a flat tyre. A puncture will often make your vehicle pull to one side or you might hear a thumping sound or feel vibrations in the steering wheel. Don’t try to keep driving on the flat. Not only is this dangerous, it can also damage your tyre beyond repair and even ruin your rims or parts of your suspension system. Drive only far enough to find a safe spot to change your tyre.
- Tread wear. Another reason to change your tyres is tread wear. Usually when your tyres are worn down, you’ll need to replace all four of them, even if some have more tread left that others.
Tyres with different tread depths actually have different diameters, which can put strain on drivetrain and suspension components and also negatively affect handling.
Tyres should have 2/32 ths 1.6 mm of an inch of tread as a minimum, although ideally you should replace them when they are down to 4/32 ths of 3 mm an inch.
You can measure this depth using a tread depth gauge or using the penny 20p coin test.
Tread depth is key to a tyre’s performance. It ensures traction, prevents blowouts and channels rain and snow out from under the tyre to keep you from skidding or hydroplaning. If you cut corners on it, your car may not corner at all.
- Seasonal change. Another time you’ll probably need to change your tyres is to adapt your tyre to shifts in the weather. If your area gets chilly in the winter, you’ll want to do your winter tyre change when the temperature dips below 7 degrees Celsius for a prolonged period of time. Don’t forget to do your summer tyre change soon after things thaw out: driving winter tyres in warm conditions will wear out their tread quickly.
- Holes or damage to the sidewall. If a sidewall has holes in it—or damage, tears, or blisters—it needs to be changed straight away. The sidewall is the most vulnerable part of the tyre, and a flaw in this area could easily lead to a dangerous blowout.
- Tears in the rubber. A tear in your tread may be grounds for a tyre change. Small nicks should not be a problem and can be the result of normal wear, especially if you do any driving on rough roads. However, if a tear exposes the underlying cords of the tyre, it needs to be changed.
- Tyre burst also known as a blowout. You’ll obviously need a new tyre in this case. Most blowouts can be avoided by maintaining your tyres properly and changing them before they are worn and damaged so severely that they are at risk of bursting.