Changing a Tire 101

how-to change a tire

Once I’d decided to start gettin’ my hands greasy – the first thing I went for was the tire. It couldn’t be too hard to take a tire on and off, right? Right! Changing a tire is as easy as 1-2-3!

1. Gather all your tools and jack your car up.

Tools for changing a tireMost modern cars come with a spare tire, a lug wrench, and a jack of some sort. Look in all of the nooks in your trunk – they’ll probably be there. My Studebaker certainly didn’t come with these, but I’ve got them back there now (along with a pair of jumper cables!)
A note about jacks. A jack is a metal contraption that when worked correctly lifts part of your car off the ground. There are a number of varieties of jacks and they all work slightly differently. Most cars are equipped with small scissor jacks. I carry a small floor jack with me in my Stude though. You need to find out what sort of jack you’ve got and read the instructions on how its safely operated. Do this now…don’t wait for an emergency!
Before operating the jack, you need to know where to place it under your car. First of all, you’re gonna want to be on a flat surface with your car in park (with e-brake on if ya’ve got one)! It’s also a good idea to put a wood block or other such thing on the front or back of the tire that is diagonal from the tire you’ll be changing. This helps to keep it from rolling and whatnot.
When you’re ready to place your jack, you want to look for a solid part of the car, or the chassis. The chassis is like the metal skeleton of the car. You never want to put it on the bottom of the engine or gas tank or the edge of the car body. I usually place it close to the tire I’m changing. But don’t jack it up yet, first we’ve got to start removing the tire.

2. Remove tire.

Tire’s usually have 4 or 5 lug nuts holding the tire in place. (If you don’t see these lug nuts, you may need to remove a hubcap.) The lug nuts need to be loosened before jacking the wheel up. Otherwise the wheel would just spin when a turning force is put on the nut!
Gather your lug wrench. The most common lug wrench is in the shape of an X kinda – with a different size on each of its 4 ends. This is a handy set-up because it’ll give you a socket that will fit your tire’s size of bolt and it’s also designed in a way that you can get significant leverage with! You could also choose to carry a breaker bar or something like that in your trunk, but this one tool should be all you need.
Once you find the correct fit to your tire’s lug nut you can start by loosening one. And if you’re in doubt about which direction to turn it – remember the saying “Lefty Lousy, Righty Tighty.” This saying works for everything from the hose faucet to your tire lug nut. If the nut seems hard to loosen – be sure you’re using good leverage on your lug wrench. One hand should be pushing down and the other pulling up.
After all the lug nuts are loosened. You can lift your car using the positioned jack. Safety note: when you’ve got a car jacked up, remember that the placement of the car depends on that jack holding it there. Don’t put yourself in any positions where it could come falling down on you. If you want to be extra safe you can place jack-stands underneath – but that isn’t really necessary for a quick, simple tire change.
With the car lifted, you can finish taking off lug nuts (be sure to put them somewhere they won’t get lost or roll away!) At this point you can lift the tire off its bolts and place it to the side.

3. Put new tire on.

star pattern how to put on a tireWhen you’ve got the replacement tire in hand, take note of where the holes are that the bolts will go through. Kind of match that pattern with the pattern placement you see on the car. With those matched, you won’t have to hold the tire in the air as long! Lift up your tire and place it on the bolts.
When you’re putting the bolts back on, you want to put them on in a “star” pattern as seen in the picture. Replacing the lug nuts in this pattern will help the tire remain even and safe….which is really important! As you replace the lug nut onto the bolt, take note of the different sides of the lug nut. You want the angled side to be closest to the rim.SUC56658
I use my hands to put each lug nut on most of the way, and then tighten with my hands until snug (following the star pattern.) At this point you can lower your car back down to the ground and remove the jack. With the tire on the ground, use your lug wrench in a star pattern to tighten each bolt to about ¼ turn past “snug.”
If there’s a hubcap put that back on and put your tools back in the trunk. Now you’re ready to roll!
So just because you might never have changed a tire, doesn’t mean you can’t! If you’ve never changed a tire before reading this article – make a date with your car and get a little acquainted! Imagine how good you’ll feel when being stranded on the roadside isn’t on the list of things to be scared of.
A few more notes…

  • Caring for your tires should be a part of your basic car maintenance. Be sure to check your tire pressure every month. I keep a little mini-guage in my car with me. You can find what pressure they’re supposed to be at by looking at the tire just outside the rim you’ll see little lettering that will tell you somewhere in there how much “PSI” it should have. Having deflated tires means less gas-milage and more tire-wear!
  • Rotate your tires about every 8,000 miles. I put this on my once-a-year calendar, but the more fastidious might want to do it twice a year.
  • With vintage hubcaps like those on my Studebaker, I suggest having aSUC56666

    rubber mallet to ensure these are on snug – its quite hard to do with just the palm of your hand. Once I failed to do this and it resulted in my hubcap popping off as I drove over a bump – which might not be so bad, but when it hit and scratched the door of a new shiny Mercedes it wasn’t very fun to deal with!

  • I recently filmed a short TV segment, teaching a lady to do just this (change her tire!) As we were doing this using my Studebaker as our tire-strandedchanging prop, I noticed that the inner part of my front tires were extremely worn down (tire-alignment is an issue for another article!) I vowed to fix this by going to the tire shop first thing the next morning. What happened that night? That’s right, I blew a tire…on the freeway! Luckily I was already in the far right lane and was able to get on a very small shoulder out of harm’s way (just barely)! This was not a safe spot to put these skills to the test, so I exited my car via the passenger door, stood off to the side of the embankment, and called AAA. Stude was delivered to my driveway where I took the rims off, shopped for 2 new tires, and then did a full 4-tire rotation!

Here’s hoping you won’t have to deal with a blowout! Until next time,

Happy Trails!