In this writer's formative years, fixing flats seemed to be a way of life. I can clearly remember my dad grumbling when a tire failed (and it usually happened at the most inopportune moment—at night in the middle of nowhere, in the rain, or in a howling blizzard). The truth is, those old bias ply tires from the Fifties were a far cry from today's high tech, high mileage radials. Roads were much less civilized and cars (and tires) certainly weren't as sophisticated as they are today. Tubeless tires weren't universal either and, as a result, you sometimes got a flat because of something as simple as a pinched tube. At the time, most folks (me included) became well versed in the art of the quick tire change.
Flash forward to today. Many people can drive for tens of thousands of miles and never have to fix a flat. But when it happens, few know how it's done. We're here to change that. What follows are 10 easy steps to change a tire. For the sake of the illustrations, I used the Buick in my garage as the subject. It has aftermarket wheels installed on it, and that presents additional precautions that we'll discuss in the accompanying steps and photos. Check it out (and perhaps print off a copy and place it inside your owner's manual packet). It will also help to familiarize yourself with the process before you actually need to do it for real. You won't regret it.
Pull over to a safe location and set the parking brake. The best scenario is find a place where you have light (at night), where the car is completely off the roadway and where you have firm, flat ground or pavement or concrete to jack the car. Keep in mind that it's possible to drive the car to find such a location, but only if if you drive very slowly and the tire isn't completely shredded. Technically, the less you drive on the flat, the better. Your safety is more important than a wheel or tire, though, and finding a safe spot to change the tire is the number one priority.
Remove the spare tire, jack, handle and wrench from the trunk (often the jack handle doubles as the tire wrench). Place the spare tire under the rocker panel adjacent to flat tire as a safety measure. If the jack slips during use, the car will fall on the spare, not on you. Use one of the car's floormats or a trunk mat as a clean place to sit while performing the job.
Using the vehicle owner's manual as a guide, determine the appropriate jacking points for your car (sometimes, as is the case here, the jacking points are found right on the jack or on the jack instruction decal in the trunk). Each manufacturer has specific jacking points for each of their cars, and each of those jacking points is dependent on removing a front or rear wheel. Don't deviate from the predetermined jacking points. Place the jack at that point, but do not lift the car.
Remove the hubcap or wheel or lug nut cover if necessary and with the correct wrench, loosen the lug nuts (but do not remove them). You'll find that the nuts can be loosened to the point where you can turn them by hand. Stop right there. As mentioned, do NOT remove the lug nuts completely. If the car has production wheels (and stock lug nuts), you can use the factory lug wrench to loosen the wheels. If it has aftermarket wheels and lug nuts (as shown here), you might require a different wrench or a socket.
Using the jack, lift the car so that the wheel is completely clear of the road surface. Since the tire is flat, it will be shorter (in overall height) than a tire full of air. Because of this, you should lift the car a bit higher than necessary to remove the tire. Why? You'll likely need the clearance to install the spare, which will obviously be full of air.
Using the appropriate wrench, completely remove the lug nuts from the wheel. Remove the wheel from the hub. It's a good idea to make it a habit of placing the lug nuts inside the wheel (in the wheel center or hub cap area) once the tire's removed to keep the lug nuts from rolling away.
Install the spare on the wheel hub then tighten the lug nuts as much as possible with the car still in the air. Note, too, that the lugs used on aftermarket wheels are often different than those used on production wheels. If you have aftermarket wheels on your car, don't forget to include five (or more) stock lug nuts with the spare. The lug nuts used here have an acron style end, so they're appropriate to use. In either case, use a crisscross pattern (basically an "X") to tighten the lug nuts. If you tighten the nuts with one hand, you'll be able to hold the wheel from spinning with the other.
Lower the car completely with the jack then fully tighten the lug nuts, again using a crisscross pattern. In order to get the wheel tight, you'll have to get the lug nuts tight. It takes quite a bit of force to tighten them, so don't be afraid to lean on the lug wrench handle. By the way, if you use the extreme end of the handle, you'll get more leverage and it will be easier to get the lug nuts tight.
Replace the deflated tire along with the complete jack setup in the trunk and secure all. It's best to reinstall the jack, jack handle and deflated tire in the exact storage spot in the trunk. You really don't want these pieces rattling around in the back of the car as you're driving. One thing to keep in mind: Many cars have a provision for a mini-spare only. As a result, a full size wheel and tire (even a flat one), won't fit in the spare recess. If that's the case, you simply can't fasten it down.
You're done! Clean your hands, reinstall the floor mat and you're ready to go. Remember that many of today's temporary spare tires are just that: Temporary. As a result, have your tire repaired or, if necessary, replaced as soon as possible.