Flat Tire Basics

The most important thing to do is to keep your tires in good shape. Make sure you always have the proper air pressure and tread depth. Ask your mechanic what the correct pressure is and have him (or her) check the tread depth. Better still, learn how to check those items yourself.

When you do get a flat or blowout – don’t slam on the brakes! Ease off the gas, put your flasher on, and carefully pull over to the right side of the road. Try not to drive on the flat but do not stop in a dangerous spot, such as a bridge. The farther you drive on the flat, the more damage you will do to your rim (wheel).

After you have done all you can to help other drivers see you, it is time to change your tire. Place a wheel check (or anything available, such as a rock or piece of wood) under the tire diagonally opposite the flat one (left rear flat, check right front, for instance). Place the chock on the downhill side of the tire to prevent the car from rolling. Use your emergency brake and put your transmission in gear (or in park). This will keep the tire from moving when the car is raised.

Now, take out your jack, spare tire and wheel-nut wrench. Taking all tools out at one time will save trips to the trunk and make it easier to get the tire out. You don’t want to be pushing on the car when it is jacked up, so take the tire out at the same time as the tools. If you can’t lift your tire straight out of the trunk, it can be rolled out and over the edge.

Place the jack, at the proper jacking point, under the car closest to the flat. Jack the car up until it supports most of the car’s weight without lifting the wheel off the ground. The next step is to loosen the lug nuts. If you can’t loosen the nuts by hand (by hand using the wrench, that is), place the wrench horizontally, with the handle on the left side of the nut, and gently stand on it. By carefully pushing on it with all your weight it should loosen the nut up. Break all nuts loose but don’t remove them yet. Now, jack the car up so the flat is about 1 or 2 inches off the ground. Remove the nuts, leaving the top one till last and lift the flat off. If you can’t lift the spare up to place it on the studs, try using the wrench as a lever under the tire. Don’t get your head or legs under the car in case it falls. Once the spare is on, place all nuts back and hand tighten them: top one first, bottom one next, then sides. Lower car from jack and tighten nuts with wrench. Be sure nuts are tight; you don’t want the tire falling off before you get to a gas station to have that flat fixed.

Place all tools and flat back into trunk and don’t forget to remove the wheel chock. Put out the flares.

Turn off your flasher, check traffic, and pull out. You can be proud of yourself; you have just changed your own tire. Jerri Wiley

(Editor’s notes: If the car is on level or near-level ground, check the front of the front wheel (flat in rear) or the back of the back wheel (flat in front). When the rear tire is flat and the back is jacked up, the front of the front tire is the downhill side of the car.

On BMWs, the jacking points are little box-like cups just behind the front wheels and just ahead of the rear wheels. Make sure the jack is on solid ground: concrete or a flat piece of lumber. Avoid jacking on soft earth and, if you can help it, on asphalt, which is soft.

When you jack the flat tire up, make sure you jack it up enough so the inflated spare tire will clear the ground when it’s put on. You don’t want to be jacking the car up when there is no wheel and tire on the car, because if the jack slips off, you could damage the car’s suspension. If the jack slips off while the flat tire is still in place, the chance of damage is much less.

As you tighten the nuts on the spare tire, get them pretty snug before you lower the jack, but not completely tight. You want to avoid two extremes: 1. too much tightening while the car is in the air may cause the car to slip off the jack as some of the wrench’s leverage is transmitted to the car and the jack and the car sways; and 2. too little tightening, which might keep the wheels from mating properly to the car if full weight is applied before the nuts are snug.

If you’re changing the left side tire at night, make sure you have some light clothing on. If you’re a woman alone at night, especially in a lightly traveled area, you have a special incentive to get the job done quickly. It’s not a bad idea to practice sometime in your own driveway.

At night, unisex clothing and your hair tucked under a cap helps disguise your sex. So does a $15 pair of (white – more reflective) coveralls tucked in the trunk (it keeps your clothes clean, too) and a businesslike attitude getting that wheel changed. If you jack the car up and then stop and wait for help, raise the hood and wait, or tie a white banner to your door handle, you’re signalling that you’re disabled and immobile. If you have a CB radio, you might wait until a trucker or a respectable-looking motorist with CB antenna drives by and then call out specifically to that person. Remember, if you put out a general call for help, that both good samaritans and perverts monitor Channel 19 and Channel 9.

Of, course, all this is for naught if you fail to check your spare tire pressure regularly. Unused tires can and do go flat, usually in direct affirmation of the anything-that-can-go-wrong-will-and-at-the-worst-possible-time Peter Principle.)

“Help – My Tire Is Flat!”
Die Zeitung, Feb 97
Author: Jerri Wiley
with editor’s note by Bill Howard


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