Learning to fix a flat tire can seem like a daunting task, but it’s a basic skill every car owner should have. If you run into trouble with a flat tire, here are some options:
Fix-a-Flat and similar products have become fairly popular alternatives to changing a flat tire. While they’ve markedly improved since their initial release, they’re still temporary solutions and won’t always work as planned. Using a puncture sealant definitely isn’t a great option but, in most cases, it will at least fix the problem long enough to get you to a mechanic. Here’s how to use it:
Sometimes sealants don’t work, and you’ll need to break out the spare anyway. Either way, you’ll still need to get a new tire as soon as possible.
- Inflate the tire and find the leak. Listen for a hissing sound, feel for air, or use the old soap trick to find where the puncture is. Remove the object that caused the puncture if necessary.
- Read the directions on the sealant you bought. Most require you to put the value at the top of the tire, attach the nozzle, and depress a button on the canister.
- After you inject the sealant, it’s important to drive your car to rotate the tire and evenly distribute the sealant.
Changing the tire
Whether you’re swapping it out for a new tire or simply putting on the spare, here are the steps you should follow:
- Find a safe location, put your hazard lights and parking brake, and put wedges under the tires, if you have them.
- After you remove the hubcap, loosen the lug nuts with a lug wrench (tire iron) or impact wrench. It's important to loosen, or break, the lug nuts before you jack up the vehicle. This way the weight of the vehicle is still on the wheels which will prevent the wheels from spinning dangerously while you turn the lugs. You’ll also want to make sure you loosen the lug nuts in a star pattern to ensure the weight is balanced and all of the lug nuts can be easily removed.
- Once the lugs have been loosened, jack the car up so that the wheel can be removed. As mentioned above, this should be done on level ground (or as close as you can get). You should always follow the instructions for jack placement in your vehicle owner’s manual—many vehicle frames have molded plastic on the bottom with a cleared area of exposed metal specifically for the jack. You'll usually find this mold beneath the vehicle frame near the tire you're removing but your service manual may recommend other jacking points.
- When the jack is properly positioned, raise the vehicle until the flat tire is about six inches off the ground. Never put any part of your body under the vehicle during or after raising the vehicle with the jack.
- Gripping the tire by the treads, pull it slowly toward you until it’s completely removed from the hub behind it and set it safely aside so it doesn’t roll away. Lift the new tire onto the hub and line up the rim with the lug bolts, pushing them through the rim. Put the lug nuts back on the lug bolts and tighten them as much as possible by hand.
- Use the jack to lower the vehicle so that the spare tire is just resting on the ground but the full weight of the vehicle isn’t fully on the tire. Tighten the lug nuts with the wrench as much as possible, turning clockwise.
- Once the lug nuts are completely tightened, lower the vehicle all the way to the ground and carefully remove the jack. Give the lug nuts another pull with the wrench to ensure they’re as tight as possible.
- If the hubcap you took from the flat tire fits your spare, put it in place the same way you removed it initially. If it doesn’t fit, stow it away with the tire when you stow your equipment.
- Put all of your equipment in your car before driving away. You should also check the tire pressure of the spare tire to make sure that it is safe to drive on. If the tire does need pressure, drive (slowly) to the nearest service station immediately.
After you swap out the spare, you should take your tire to a technician immediately. Temporary spare tires aren’t made to drive long distances or at high speeds, so drive cautiously until you’re able to visit a professional. After a quick inspection, they should be able to determine if your tire just needs a repair or if it’s time to replace it.
Most motor clubs have significantly changed or reduced their basic roadside assistance benefits. But, if you have an inflated spare tire and a AAA (or similar) membership, they can come to assist you with swapping out the damaged tire. Membership ranges anywhere from $66-$126 per year depending on the plan and organization, plus $30-$65 per year for additional family members, and most organizations offer first- discounts. The great part is that membership isn’t attached to a single vehicle, the person carries the membership. As long as a member is in the car and carrying their card, their benefits can be used regardless of who was driving or who owns the car.
The best way to fix a flat tire is to get a new tire right away. A good set of tires is crucial to a vehicle’s overall health and performance; checking them frequently should be part of your preventative maintenance schedule. Your car’s manual will tell you how often to get your tires rotated and balanced, and your alignment checked. Treads should be visually inspected regularly and professionally checked about once a year for uneven or irregular wear, as well as cuts, punctures, and bruises along sidewalls. You should also monitor your tire pressure every few weeks. Tires should be replaced as soon as possible when worn or damaged, to avoid a costly blowout.
At V&F we offer:
If your car needs maintenance, repair, or tire replacement before this winter season, call us today at (413)314-2280 or schedule an appointment online.
This article was originally published in November 2017 and has been updated to reflect new developments in industry best practices and automotive technology.
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