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February 22, 2013

The Tire Fairy Won’t Save You–Change It Yourself

Last week, I told you all about how to know if you need new tires.  Coupled with your new-found knowledge about tire pressure (why it’s important  and how to check it), you’re more than halfway through my list of the Top Five Things Every Woman Should Know to Save Her Own Butt (Tire Version).  Here’s the biggie, girls: how to change a tire.

Now, I know some of you are reading this and thinking, “I know how to change a tire–call AAA, call my husband/boyfriend/brother, etc.,” but I know you can do better than that.  This list is all about how to save your own butt, remember?

Picture it: A beautiful redhead is driving down a deserted stretch of 301 somewhere between Jacksonville and Tampa, FL.  She’s all dressed up for a wedding she just went to, but to be honest, it’s been a bad day.  As she’s driving along, suddenly her truck starts driving itself and she puts the brakes on and struggles to get it stopped without losing control.  What happened, you ask?  She blew a tire.  Did I mention the lonely stretch of 301 and how she’s all alone?  Yes, she has a spare, but she doesn’t have one tool to help her use it.  Oh, and at the time—no cell phone.  If I were tweeting this, I’d use the hashtag #screwed.

This redhead got lucky and was saved by, not one, but two truckloads of DuPont angels in work boots.  They had an air compressor to jack up the truck, some fancy-schmancy power tools to remove the lug nuts (and put them back on), AND a blow torch to get the rusty lock off the spare that was stored under the truck.  Note:  If you keep your spare under your truck and lock it up with a pad lock, occasionally check to make sure it hasn’t rusted on for all eternity.  These worker-bee angels even had a cooler full of Coke, which they gave the redhead when they found her bawling on the side of the highway trying to decide what would kill her first—a serial killer or the gators she was sure were lurking in the canal next to the road.

Is the message sinking in yet?  Take a lesson from the Boy Scouts and be prepared.  First tip:  Make sure you have a spare tire and it’s in good condition.  You know, take a peek at it every now and then and make sure it’s usable if you need it.  Next, get some tools together and keep them stashed in the trunk, behind your seat, wherever you can find some space.  Tools are your friend.  The basics are:  a jack, a lug wrench with a socket on one end and a pry bar on the other, and a spare tire.  Some other things you may want to have: a rain poncho, a flashlight with extra batteries, gloves or hand wipes, a smock, old shirt, etc. to save your wardrobe,  a tarp or mat to kneel on (wardrobe again, and knees), a 12X12 inch piece of plywood to stabilize the jack if the ground is soft, some road flares or reflective triangles so other drivers know you’re there and don’t run over you, and a tire pressure gauge.

So, you’re sitting on the side of the road and you’re faced with a flat.  Here’s what you do.

Step 1

Take a deep breath. You can totally do this.

Step 2

Turn on your blinkers, put up some road cones—let the world know you’re there!

Step 3

Cover up your nice clothes with the smock, t-shirt, etc. and lay the spare tire flat on the ground.  If you have it, lay something down on the ground to kneel on—towel, tarp, whatever—your knees and your cute outfit will thank me.  Get your spare tire out and put it beside the car but make sure the tire’s not on the road, just safely off to the side.  Don’t lean the tire up against your car, just in case.  It could get wedged under the car when you jack it up, and at this point, you don’t need any more trouble.

Step 4

Check your owner’s manual to find out where to place the jack.  You don’t want to damage your vehicle by putting the jack under a weak spot.  Jack the car up just a bit by either turning the crank or pushing the lever up and down.  If you’re a small fry, think about purchasing a hydraulic jack.

Step 5

Once you’ve got the car lifted a little (but not so much that the wheel spins freely), use a screwdriver or pry bar to get the wheel cover off.  Your nails aren’t going to do it.  Then use your lug wrench to remove the lug nuts (remember: righty tighty, lefty loosey) and put them somewhere safe, like your pocket, the front seat, a cup holder, or anywhere they won’t roll away and get lost.

Step 6

Pull the tire straight off the wheel, and be aware that it’s going to be heavy.  If you have to drop it, try your best to move your toes and drop it straight down so that it lands rubber to road, the same way it would if you were driving it.  Roll that baby to the back of your car and lie it flat on the ground, out of the way.  Don’t worry about hefting it back into the trunk just yet.

Step 7

Take the spare and match the holes up so that they fit onto the lug bolts on the wheel and slide the tire on.  Again, it’s going to be heavy.  Use your knee to help you if you have to. Manuevering things that are too heavy for you isn’t new, girls.  You know how to do it.


Step 8

Screw the lug nuts back on by hand first, then use the lug wrench to give them an extra squeeze, but don’t tighten them all the way just yet.  Using the jack, lower the car back down so that the tire can’t spin freely but not quite all the way, and then tighten the lug nuts, making sure they’re evenly tightened by tightening one and then moving to the one directly across from it (also known as the Star Method).  Do the same with the other nuts. Don’t forget to remove the jack.

Step 9

Position your wheel cover correctly and give it a good smack on each edge to get it on. If you’re having trouble, use the towel, t-shirt, or whatever is else is handy to protect your hand and do it again.  I know you’ll want to kick it, but save that as a last resort.  Stick to the opposite side method, and you should be good to go.

Step 10

Pack it up and go home!  Make sure you’ve got all of your tools, the original tire, the jack, etc., and use those baby wipes to clean up.  You’re done!  Success!


If you’re small, consider carrying a cordless impact wrench for lug nuts that have been tightened mechanically.  It’s not always easy for women (or men) to get those lug nuts off, and the cordless might come in very handy.  Just as you shouldn’t go hiking with nothing but a GPS to guide you, you shouldn’t take your lug wrench out of your tool kit just because you have some power.  Technology fails and you need a back-up that doesn’t require batteries.

So there you go!  Make your kit and be prepared.  I know you can do this.  If you need a new tire, you know where to go.  Come see me at RNR and I (or one of my associates) will take care of you.  It’s never a fun thing to get stranded somewhere all alone with a flat tire, and honestly, sometimes it can be downright scary.  Take these instructions and practice changing a tire, so if you ever have to, you know you can.  Put a copy of this blog in your glove compartment or tool kit, and if that flat ever comes, you can take a breath and take care of yourself.

Still feeling unsure?  Then let’s talk about roadside assistance. When you use RNR’s Rent N Roll plan you get 12 months of Road Warrior Roadside Assistance for free (at participating dealers).  Do you need it?  You just might.  We’ll talk about that next time!


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