It’s true, cars are getting more complicated and computerized every year. It’s also true that working on cars is time that could be spent elsewhere. 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 yourself time and money by being able to fix the problem yourself, or at least get the car in a condition to take to a service centre. In any case, the ability to make some simple and safe vehicle repairs can also be a very rewarding experience.
One of those things is changing a tyre. Changing or rotating tyres really is one of the simplest things a man can do on their car and it has some surprising benefits besides the practical outcome itself. If you’re a less physical guy then you might find these points especially applicable. Don’t underestimate the power of a classically masculine stereotype like being able to do some basic repairs on a car.
- Doing it yourself will cost you nothing unnecessary (of course you’ll have to replace the flat tyre, but that’s a given)
- It can be a great workout.
- Like any kind of problem solving activity it can have a huge influence on your self image/confidence etc.because you’re doing something really results oriented and necessary.
- Knowing how to change a tyre quickly and confidently can make you an actual hero if you ever get the chance 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)
So for today’s post I’ll be going into a fair amount of detail, to get you prepared to handle changing a flat tyre so that next time you find yourself in a bind, you wont need to call roadside assistance to come get you unstuck. It’ll save you time, money and make you feel like a total badass.
The following is a bullet point list of the main steps involved in changing a tyre. This is just to emphasise how simple the process really is. After this I will go into more detail about each step, but keep focussed on the big picture. 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 wheel nuts
- Jack the vehicle
- Remove/replace the intended tyre
- Replace the wheel nuts
- Lower the vehicle
- Securely 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 may help with removing hubcaps
- A piece of pipe large enough to slip over your wheel spanner or ratchet, or a breaker bar
Make the car safe
Depending on whether you’re doing the front or back of the car, you need either to 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. I have some large rubber chocks which were well worth the investment, however a large rock or tree stump/chunk of 4×4/other largish solid object can also work. Just be careful, make sure whatever you use will work and actually stop the car moving. Gloves are recommended. They will reduce the chance of hurting yourself and keep your hands clean (I never use gloves!). Make sure the car is on a hard level surface, preferably a shop floor or nice hard dirt/grass 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
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.
If you have hubcaps then obviously you need to take these off first. There any many, many different types, so I wont explain how to take them off, it should be a simple matter of just pulling them off in the vast majority of cases. If they’re a little tight, you should be able to use something like a flat screw driver to lever them off.
Make sure you’re using the correct size wheel spanner/socket for the nuts you’re using.
Probably the most likely complication you can really encounter with changing a tyre, is when the nuts are super tight and difficult to get off. This is quite common when 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 on the nut when you’re undoing it. Failing this, if you can get your hands on a nice piece of solid pipe, you can slide the pipe over your wheel spanner arm, or your regular sized ratchet to again increase your rotational force.
My advice is try to 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 rotation away from the earth, then 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 will 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 them.
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 or worse
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).
Generally your best bet is something really solid looking like the front or rear control arms or if you have a rear differential then you can mount under this (maybe use a rag or something to make it a little softer on it). Some guys might not recommend this, but I’ve done it and have never managed to hurt my diff before.
If you are using a large floor jack, then you’re probably in your garage, which means you should also use stands for safe measure. You’re more likely to lift the vehicle onto two wheels, slightly increasing the likelihood of the car off balancing and falling off the jack.
That might all sound a bit complicated, and 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. More than likely if you have a garage and large hydraulic floor jack, you probably know what you’re doing anyway. But if you’ve just gone all handyman and only recently picked one up with good intentions, then the above points are all important to think about.
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.
Now one trick I’ve learned after busting a poofoof valve on one too many friggin wheel nuts over the years, is that in order to save yourself a lot of hassle next time, lubricate the threads. Before you replace the wheel nuts, you want to put some lubricant oil, or a quick spray of WD-40, or CRC or whatever lubricant takes your fancy, straight onto the thread of each wheel bolt. doesn’t have to be much, just wipe it on, then as you spin the nuts it will distribute the lube over the whole thread. This should make it heaps easier to tighten up and get off next time. It 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 carful 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).
Again if you’ve never done this before don’t panic, practise makes perfect, and when it’s on right you’ll know because it will wind on nice and easily, unless the thread is a bit damaged or it’s old and rusty or otherwise not in optimal condition.
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 (or you can use the spanner to do them until your strength is enough to turn the wheel around). 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 you can 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 to do is to not do 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. The other issue is it can make them difficult to get off next time. 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.