Cars are getting more complicated and computerized every year and our lives are getting busier and more connected than ever.
However, there are still some vehicle maintenance jobs that any man can and should be able to do.
If your car breaks down somewhere, and it’s a simple fix, then you can save hundreds of dollars if you’re able to fix the problem yourself, or at least get the car in a condition to take to a service centre.
One of those things is changing a tyre. Changing tyres is one of the simplest things a man can do to their car. Don’t underestimate the effect that this has on your sense of self worth either.
- DIY costs you nothing unnecessary
- It can be a great workout
- It can make you an actual hero if you ever need to help out a damsel in distress on the side of the highway (just don’t forget to roll up your sleeves and get your flex on)
This post will teach you pretty much everything you need to know to change any tyre, anywhere.
Changing a tyre is very uncomplicated and really the only limitation is having the physical strength needed to loosen the nuts, and remove/replace the tyre, but there are a lot of tricks to help make all of this easier too.
So here it is in a nutshell:
- Make the car safe (apply brakes, chock wheels, etc.)
- Loosen the nuts
- Jack the car
- Replace the flat tyre
- Replace the wheel nuts
- Lower the vehicle
- Tighten the nuts
- Be home in time for dinner
This is really all their is to it. Some of these steps require a little more detail, mostly for the sake of safety than anything else. However there’s also a few little tips and tricks that old bush mechanics like me have learned over the years to take out some of the leg work.
So first of all, you need to make sure you have all the right tools for the job:
The absolute necessities:
- Wheel spanner/ratchet
- Spare tyre
- Elbow grease
- Some lubricant
- Wheel blocks
- Stands if you have them
- A tray, or something to take the wheel nuts so you don’t lose them
Other tools that might come in handy:
- Flat blade screw driver to take off the hubcaps
- A piece of pipe large enough to slip over your wheel spanner or ratchet, or a breaker bar
Make the car safe
Put it in gear (or park if it’s an auto), or apply the hand brake, and also put some wheel stoppers under the wheels that will remain grounded. Large rubber chocks are well worth the investment, however a large rock or tree stump or other large solid object can also work. Make sure whatever you use will work and actually stop the car moving.
Gloves are recommended. They will help keep your hands clean and safer (I’ve never used gloves).
Make sure the car is on a hard level surface. If you’re on the side of the road, do this as best as humanly possible. The fact is, you’re even more likely to get hurt on the side of the road and are in a more risky situation in general. If you’re really concerned for your safety, don’t be afraid to just call roadside assistance or get a tow truck. You can’t flex a manly bicep with a broken forearm.
Loosen the wheel nuts
If you have hubcaps then obviously you need to take these off first. These should just pop off with a screwdriver.
Once the car is in position and the brakes are on, before you do anything else, pull out your wheel spanner and loosen up the wheel nuts on the wheel you’re changing. Do this before you jack up the car because the ground is better than your brakes for preventing the wheel from spinning freely.
Make sure you’re using the correct size wheel spanner/socket for the nuts you’re using.
You’re most likely problem with nuts is when they’re super tight. Most mechanics these days will use high powered air ratchets to remove and tighten nuts.
The simplest way to fix this is to use a breaker bar. This is basically just a very long thick socket extension that will give you umpteen times more rotational force. Failing this a nice piece of solid pipe will work. Slide the pipe over your wheel spanner arm, or your regular sized ratchet to again increase your rotational force.
My advice is avoid using your foot to undo the nut, you’re more likely to injure yourself or break something, then you’ll be up the creek. Instead mount the ratchet so that you’re rotating away from the earth, keeping your back straight lift up with both feet in a comfortable position and be prepared for when you first crack the nut, because it may suddenly give way and send you flying, especially if it’s quite tight/dry/corroded or all of the above.
Remember, clockwise to tighten, anticlockwise to loosen the nut.
Once those nuts are loose, leave them up finger tight (as tight as you can get them using only your fingers).
That was a lot of information. So here’s a recap of the most important points with loosening the nuts before we move on:
- Turn anticlockwise to undo
- Always loosen the nuts before you jack the car up
- It’s common for wheel nuts to be quite tight
- If you’re struggling, use a breaker bar or a piece of pipe to extend the length of your turning circle
- Be ready for when you first crack the nut so that you don’t bang your knuckles
Jack the vehicle
Make sure your wheel chocks are firmly in place, then if you’re using your vehicles standard issue jack there will be a specific location for it to go for each wheel. For most vehicles this will be somewhere along the chassis rail nearly adjacent to the wheel itself (see my plagiarized example).
If your using a large floor jack then look for a nice, large, very solid space somewhere under the vehicle to jack it up.
Often the best place is somewhere along the front or rear axle, or under the tow bar if you have one.
Be very careful about this, there are some places you should definitely not use as a location for the jack. Some obvious examples are the sump, or anywhere under the body that would be made of plastic, thin sheet metal or aluminium.
Also make sure you don’t come into contact with any pipes or cables such as brake cables or fuel lines. It will really ruin your day if you crush a fuel or brake line (done that before too, not with a jack though).
If you’ve never done this before it might be a little unnerving, but don’t worry too much, once you get under their it should be fairly obvious where it is safe to jack and where it is not. If in doubt you can always just get someone to help.
Once you have a good spot, jack the car up only just high enough to get the tyre off the ground.
Remove all of the wheel nuts and put them somewhere you wont lose them. Then carefully remove the wheel, try to avoid scraping the bolt thread as much as possible. It’s pretty tough, but it can get damaged and it can be real pain when it happens.
To save yourself a lot of hassle next time, lubricate the threads. Rub some oil, or a quick spray of WD-40, or whatever lubricant takes your fancy straight onto the thread of each wheel bolt. As you spin the nuts it will distribute the lube over the whole thread. This will also help protect it from corrosion and moisture.
Replace the old wheel with the new one, then start doing all the nuts back up using your hands, being careful not to cross thread them, this can be easier to do than you think.
The main thing is to keep the nut dead straight as you first start screwing it on. Do it very gently at first and it will become quickly clear if it’s not on correctly because it will go on about half a wind then get tight and feel a bit weird. It will also sit crooked.
If that happens just take it off and keep going till you get it. If you’re only using your fingers, you won’t do any damage to the thread, so just wind them on by hand until you know their on properly and are spinning freely (this should be made easier by using lubricant on the thread).
Once the wheel nuts are back on, ensure that you’ve pushed the wheel right back into place flush against the wheel mount, and you’ve done the nuts up finger tight. The idea is you want them tight enough to hold the wheel in place once you lower it off the jack.
Lower the vehicle
After this lower the jack until the car is again resting on its wheels, take the jack away and from here you can remove all the wheel braces also, as long as you still have the in gear/park, and you have the hand brake on.
Tighten the Nuts
Now you want to do those nuts back up again.
Be careful here again, it is possible (but highly unlikely) to do those nuts up too tight and risk snapping the thread (I’ve done it). Much easier than this though is not doing them tight enough and then you risk them vibrating off while the car is running.
One more time, if you’ve never done this before, don’t panic. Don’t over think it. Unless your a powerlifter then using an ordinary wheel spanner or ratchet to do them up pretty much as tightly as you can should not be too tight.
Do not use a breaker bar to do the nuts back up tightly, because this will significantly increase the risk of over tightening, especially if you have lubricated the thread. With a breaker bar you can tighten it for days.
Once those nuts are on nice and tight, then you’re good to go. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Changing a flat tyre, even on the side of the road is a very stereotypically manly pastime. Even the caricature of girls being able to do it, is a reactive idea to the activity typically being associated with being man’s job. And hey, if all the girls are our there rolling up the sleeves, what excuse do you have not to do it?
With enough practise, changing a tyre can be done in less than twenty minutes from turning the engine off to turning the engine back on again.