Arrive Alive

Changing the Tyre Safely next to the Road

Introduction and Risks

Nobody knows when the need may suddenly arise to change a tyre at the side of the road. It can happen at any time, on any road and in any weather. Despite our safest driving behaviour we simply cannot predict when we will suddenly hear the flapping sound of a flat tyre.

We may have the option of calling for roadside assistance, but it could take an hour for the nearest recovery vehicle or mobile tyre fitting service to arrive. This may leave you sitting stranded in the cold in an area you might rather prefer getting away from.

Car manufacturers have made changing a tyre a simple process that all of us should be able to perform - it is however necessary that we are informed and prepared to do it in a manner that does not compromise our safety or that of our vehicles.

In this section we would like to familiarize ourselves with the safest procedure to follow when changing a tyre. It is always best to know beforehand how to change a tyre!  

Before the Trip/ Vehicle Maintenance / Tools needed

The first step towards changing a tyre safely is to be prepared. It's a good idea to get your car serviced before heading out on a road trip. Part of the check-up should include a look at the tyres and the spare tyre in the boot of your car! Your spare should be in perfect condition – the correct pressure, good tread and showing no signs of deterioration.

Look for any unevenly worn spots, or skimpy tread. If the tyres are iffy, rather replace them. It's better to start out on a trip with tyres in a good condition than have a blow-out in the middle of nowhere.

Rotating your tyres at manufacturer's recommended intervals can prevent a common problem when changing a flat. Sometimes the wheels will seize to the hub, resulting in great difficulty in removal of the flat tyre. If this happens, you will need a sledge hammer or piece of wood to remove a seized wheel rim. Rotating your tires will prevent this from happening when you do have to change a tyre. Go for regular wheel balancing and wheel alignment!

If you haven't changed a tyre before, consider a training run. Choose a dry day, a flat surface and when you've got plenty of time. Familiarise yourself with the points underneath the vehicle where the jack needs to be placed. Inspect your gear thoroughly – make a point to do it at each car service – and replace anything that’s worn, rusted or out-of-date.

What are the tools you may need to change a tyre?

Check your owner's manual to familiarize yourself with all the tools made available by the car manufacturer. It only takes a few minutes to make sure you have all the tools, and you'll save yourself a big headache later if you find yourself on the side of the road with a flat.

You will need the following to change a tyre safely

  • Spare tyre
  • A simple jack
  • Lug nut wrench or tyre iron (to remove and tighten the lug nuts)
  • Sharp knife, screwdriver or cutters to remove cable ties if these are used to hold wheel trims in place
  • Tyre blocks [to keep the vehicle from moving –usually does not come with the car but a good idea to purchase some]
  • Emergency warning triangle / A set of cones

You may wish to have the following available to you as well:

  • Flashlight (with extra batteries)
  • 60cm pipe to add leverage when turning the wrench (Especially for the ladies)
  • Gloves –Changing tyres can be hard on the hands and make them rather dirty
  • Tarp or mat to kneel on
  • Plastic rain poncho /High visibility reflective vest
  • Tyre gauge
  • Water, wet-wipes or a cloth for those dirty hands
  • Money if you need to pay for a call-out!

The most important however to have with you is lots of common sense and safety awareness!

The Importance of a Safe Location for a Tyre Change

The most important consideration is safety awareness with regards to your location and the threats posed by traffic around you! There are hundreds of people killed each year while changing a tyre on the side of the road. When you get a flat tyre it’s normally at the most inconvenient time and place possible. You could be in the dark, the rain, or on the side of the highway.

  • Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Find a safe place to pull over -This should be a flat, stable and safe place to change your tyre.
  • If you're on a busy road, be particularly wary of vehicles driving by that might get too close.
  • Get as far off the road as possible –The further you can move away safely the better.
  • Do not park the car where you leave yourself exposed to passing traffic while working.
  • Don't try to change a wheel on soft, loose or uneven ground.
  • You need a solid, level surface that will restrict the car from rolling or collapsing off the jack.
  • Don't attempt to change your tyre on a hill –the car may roll and visibility of other road users may be restricted.
  • Don't park in the middle of a curve, where approaching cars can't see you.
  • Shut off your engine and engage the parking brake.
  • Put the car into "Park" position -If you have a standard transmission, put your vehicle in first or reverse.
  • Turn on your emergency flashers (hazard lights).
  • Don't try to change a wheel with adult passengers still in the car.
  • Move everyone to a place of safety, well away from the vehicle and road surface. Be careful of small children running around out of sight. [They may need to be kept buckled in within the car]
  • Secure the keys to your car safely in your pocket.
  • Place the emergency warning triangle or traffic cone at a safe distance behind your vehicle to warn approaching vehicles of your presence at roadside.

Don’t step out onto the road. If it’s dark, you’re unsure if you can change it yourself, or you’re a female travelling alone it might be a good idea to call for roadside assistance anyway.

Step by Step Guide to changing Tyres

Even though vehicles may differ in many aspects, the tyre change required for nearly all passenger vehicles should include the following steps:

Loosening of lug nuts

  • Get the tyre block in place or place a heavy object (e.g., rock, concrete, spare wheel, etc.) against the front or back tyres to block possible vehicle movement forward or backwards.
  • Gather everything you need from the boot including the spare tyre and the jack.
  • Find the correct spot to lift the car with the jack from solid, stable ground. Ensure that the jack is in contact with the metal portion of your car's frame.
  • For most modern cars, there is a small notch or mark just behind the front wheel wells, or in front of the rear wheel wells where the jack is intended to be placed.
  • Don't try to use the jack anywhere other than at the specified jacking points as indicated in the manual – attaching the jack in the wrong place can cause damage to the car and/or risks it collapsing when lifted.
  • Raise the jack until it is supporting (but not lifting) the car. The jack should be firmly in place against the underside of the vehicle. Check to make sure that the jack is perpendicular to the ground.
  • Remove the hubcap/wheel cover and wheel trims, if there are any, and loosen the lug nuts.
  • To prevent theft your wheels may have locking nuts, which won't fit a standard socket. Check for a locking nut and the correct socket.
  • Use the lug nut wrench to loosen all the lug nuts (lefty-loosey / counter clockwise), but don't remove them just yet.
  • Use the wrench that came with your car or a standard cross wrench. Your wrench may have different sizes of openings on different ends. A correctly-sized wrench will slip easily over the nut, but will not rattle.
  • It can take quite a lot of force to break your lug nuts free. If all else fails, you can use your body weight or stomp on the wrench (be absolutely certain you are turning it the correct way - counter clockwise).
  • A cross wrench will give you much more torque than a standard single-handled wrench.
  • Don't take them all the way off and just break the resistance. Having the wheel on the ground means that you're turning the nuts instead of the wheel.

Lifting the Car with the Jack

  • Lift the car with the jack. Use fluid, even strokes when lifting the car.
  • You need to lift it high enough to remove the flat tyre and replace it with a spare – the spare may need a bit more clearance to fit than the flat tyre needs to be safely removed.
  • As you lift, make sure that the car is stable. If you notice any instability, lower the jack and fix the problem before fully lifting the car.
  • If you notice the jack lifting at an angle or leaning, lower and reposition it so that it can lift straight
  • Never put your body underneath a car lifted by a car jack in case the vehicle slips off.

Removing the Tyre and fitting the Spare Tyre

  • Take off the loosened lug nuts and put them to the side –Secure them safely so they will not scatter and roll away –especially in the dark.
  • Remove the flat tyre- Do so slowly using both hands, lifting the wheel (on or off) with your hands in a 'ten minutes to four' position (or 'ten minutes past eight' if left-handed)
  • Never place your hands directly under the wheel, or put your leg or any part of your body under the car while it's jacked up.
  • Place the flat tyre under the vehicle so in the event of a jack failure the vehicle will fall on the old wheel, hopefully preventing injury.
  • This will also ensure that the tyre doesn't roll away from you.
  • Glide the spare tyre onto the tyre bolts, pushing it back as far as it can go.
  • Take care to align the rim of the spare tyre with the wheel bolts, and then put on the lug nuts.
  • Tighten the nuts by hand as much as you can (righty-tightly / clockwise) until they are all snug. They should turn easily at first.
  • Put the lug nuts back on the tyre bolts in an alternating star pattern.
  • Using the wrench, tighten the nuts as much as possible using a star pattern. To ensure the tyre is balanced, don't completely tighten the nuts one at a time. Going in a star pattern around the tire, one nut across from another, give each nut a full turn until they are equally tight.
  • Avoid using so much force that you risk upsetting the jack. You will tighten the lug nuts again once the car is down and there is no risk of it falling.

Lowering the vehicle

  • Remove the flat tyre from underneath the car.
  • Slowly lower the vehicle and remove the jack.
  • With the car back on the ground, you can now tighten the lug nuts.
  • Rather than tightening them one by one in order, start with one lug nut, tighten it about 50%, move to the opposite nut (across the circle) and tighten that one about the same amount.
  • Keep tightening opposite lug nuts gradually in turn until each lug nut is as tight as it can be.
  • When loosening and tightening the nuts, arrange the cross wrench so that you are pressing down (with gravity). This will remove risk of injury to your back and also allow you to use your body weight rather than just your arm strength.
  • Press on the end of the wrench for the best leverage. You can even use your foot, but make sure to keep your balance and steady yourself against the car.

Clearing the scene

  • Once the lug nuts are tightened, put your flat tyre and tools back in your trunk.
  • Make sure you don't leave anything on the side of the road.
  • Collect your emergency triangle or traffic cones
  • Only turn the hazards off when you re-enter the traffic.

What to do after the Tyre Change

Re-enter traffic safely and drive with extra caution. Even though you may have reason for confidence in your tyre changing abilities, rather be on the safe side heading to your destination.

Many spare tyres aren't designed for long-term use or for maximum speeds. Exceeding appropriate speed can cause problems, including failure of the spare tyre. It is best to drive slower than normal and immediately head to a tyre dealership or repair shop to find a replacement tire.

As you drive keep in mind that your tyre might not be fully inflated and your wheel balancing and wheel alignment might be distorted.

Also view the following sections:

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