- Car Care & Maintenance
A Flat Tire: Are You Ready for One?
When you least expect it, you'll get a flat tire. It always happens at the most inopportune time! That's Murphy's Law for you.
Anyway, this article will remind you the need to be prepared when it comes to flat tires.
Just remember to:
- Know where your spare tire is, or even if your car has one. Check if you have all tools to fix a flat and you know where they are; do you even have a fully charged flashlight?
- Be safe when dealing with a flat tire.
- Know how to remove and replace a tire.
In this article, any reference to a flat tire is a reference to the wheel with the flat tire; any reference to a spare tire refers to the complete spare wheel/tire unit provided by the car manufacturer.
Are You Ready for a Flat Tire?
Before the unthinkable happens, make sure you are ready for one.
Here's what you have to do:
- Figure out where your spare tire is. Most new cars today provide a very cheap looking spare tire. They aren't even rated for very high speeds. Don't even dare drive it faster than 60 MPH.
- Check to see if you have all the tools necessary to replace your flat tire with the spare tire. Typical setup includes: a mechanical scissor jack, a metal rod piece for cranking the jack, a lug wrench that may also serve as a tool to remove hub covers.
- Make sure you have a fully charged flashlight, necessary for nigh time flat tire action.
Flat Tire Signs
Sometimes it isn't easy to tell if you have a flat. Here are some signs you can look, listen, and feel for:
- You hear an unusual sound in the direction of one of your wheels
- Car is sluggish; can't seem to accelerate fast enough
- You smell burning rubber
- You hear metal grinding on road (your tire is gone by this time)
- The car starts to vibrate
- Steering becomes difficult
Best and Safest Way to Deal with a Flat
On the road, it is easy to get hit, especially when drivers aren't expecting you. Here are a few safety tips to keep you safe:
- Turn on your hazard light (see Figure 2). When on, both of your red tail lights will flash at a constant frequency. It should get the attention of people behind you, and help them realize you are in trouble.
- Quickly find a safe place to stop. When you have a flat, it's like playing Russian roulette. If you take too long to find a place to stop, your tire might completely come off the wheel, which will cause you to possibly lose control. Ideally, you want the flat tire to be on the side away from the traffic, but sometimes you have no choice. The situation will pick the side for you. The best place to stop in general is an open and flat area. If you happen to get a flat at a sharp incline, don't risk changing a flat tire there as it may not be stable; perhaps it might be best to call a tow truck instead.
- Call your spouse, friend, or relative. Make sure at least one human being that cares about you knows your situation. This way if something goes very wrong, someone else can call for help and knows your location.
- Place a hazard cone or triangle about 25 to 50 feet behind your car. If you happen to have a cone or a hazard triangle, put it to use by placing it several feet behind your car. It will serve as an early warning sign for incoming cars who may not be expecting a car on the side of the road. It will also help to make sure people really notice you, especially if your flat tire is on the traffic side.
- Get the spare tire and tools out. Before you even start replacing your flat, make sure you have everything you need by taking them all out so you can visually check. Worst case is you take your tools out and remove the flat tire only to find out you don't have a spare tire!
- Remove flat tire and install spare. Now you can begin the process of removing the flat tire and installing the spare tire.
How to Remove and Replace a Tire
Removing and replacing a tire sounds easy, but there are very important steps you must take for safety's sake. One mistake and you could damage your wheel, or worse, get stuck because you have no way of installing your spare tire.
Please follow these steps for removing a flat tire:
- Position the jack. Place the jack at the manufacturer recommended positions (see Figure 3) and crank it up about one inch--high enough to give support to the car, yet low enough to keep the flat tire on the ground with some weight.
- Loosen wheel lugs. Now you can start loosening the wheel lug on the wheel with the flat tire. The initial loosening step requires a lot of torque, so a strong tire to ground contact is necessary to do this. If you don't feel strong enough to turn a lug counterclockwise, use your weight. Sometimes standing up and stepping on the lug wrench's arm can get it going. Note that there is an order to lug loosening. In general you need to loosen lugs in alternating positions. For a 4 or 5 lug wheel, see Fig. 4.
- Crank the jack up. With the lugs loose, crank up the jack some more so that the flat tire is higher but still in contact with the ground--enough to provide friction as you completely remove the lugs.
- Remove all lugs and flat tire. Now remove all lugs in the order noted in Figure 4. Crank up the jack some more until the flat tire is off the ground. At this point, you can remove the flat tire.
- Install the spare tire. With the flat tire out of the way, mount the spare tire. You may have to crank up the jack a bit more if the wheel base is still too low for the spare to mount. Install the lugs in the same order as indicated in Figure 4. First hand tighten the lugs until you can't tighten them anymore. Hand tightening ensures you avoid cross-threading the lugs against the threads of the wheel mount. Cross-threading lugs can mess up the mounting integrity of your wheel; so be careful.
- Tighten the lugs. Lower the wheel until the spare tire is making good contact with the ground, enough so that it will not turn when you start tightening the lugs. Tighten the lugs in the order specified in Figure 4.
- Lower the car completely. At this point, lower the jack and the car until the jack is completely off the car frame, and the spare tire is carrying the full weight of the car for its side. Now, tighten the lugs for the final time in the same order as noted in Figure 4.
- Done! You are done. Now put everything away, including any hub cap you may have removed.
Now You Are Ready!
You now have the knowledge to:
- Know if you are ready for your next flat tire. Remember, it is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when. When it does happen, it will happen at the most inconvenient setting and time.
- Understand the best and safest way to handle a flat tire.
- Remove a flat and install a spare tire effectively.
Having the knowledge and being really ready are two different things. Now go and check your car before you get a flat.
Other Things That May Come In Handy
Below are items that may come in handy in a situation where you discover the flat before you drive off.
If you've had a flat tire recently, were you ready?
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