Have you ever gotten a flat tire? What did you do? Did you call your husband or your dad? Did you wait 2 hours for AAA? Did you pull your skirt up above your knee and hope that a knight in shining armor would happen by to rescue you? Don’t be a damsel in distress. You can do it yourself. And you don’t even need a pink tool kit.
I want to preface this by saying that I know jack about cars. I’d gotten a couple flat tires and had a big, strong man take care of it for me. When I got my third flat tire, I just so happened to have left my phone at work.
I walked a mile to my house and called the only number I could remember, and he wasn’t home. Then, I thought back to the other times I’d had a flat. While being super helpful and holding the lug nuts for the big strong man, I’d watched. And you know what? It didn’t seem that hard. So I walked back to my car, and I changed the damn tire myself.
First of all, did you know that your car came with a spare tire? I’m sorry if that sounds patronizing, but I actually told someone about that once, and she was totally flabbergasted. So, if you didn’t know, your trunk has a secret basement. Pull up the carpet in your trunk and you will see a tire, a tire iron, and a jack, nicely stowed, just waiting for you to get your DIY on. Got em? Good.
Here are a couple of tips: Technically, you have what you need to change your tire right now, if you don’t mind getting all dirty and gross. But who wants to get dirty and gross? Not me. So keep a couple pairs of latex gloves in your glove compartment. You never know when you’ll need them. And when it comes time to kneel on the cold, filthy ground, remember that your car also probably came with four floor mats which are much nicer to kneel on than asphalt. Tada!
So, you’ve got your floor mat laid out, you’re wearing your gloves, and you have your jack and tire. Now what? Before you jack up the car, you’ll want to start loosening the lug nuts. Once the tire is in the air, it will move a little. Leaving it on the ground gives you the resistance you need to start the unscrewing process. You may even need to put the tire iron on the lug nut and then stomp on it to get it going. Loosen all four (or five, depending on your car), but don’t remove them completely. This probably goes without saying, but if you don’t see lug nuts, that’s because you have a hubcap. It pops right off.
A word about that whole “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey” thing- that’s crap. It makes no sense. You’re going in a circle. If you look at a clock, and start at 9, you could conceivably call both 8 and 10 “right.” It’s just a matter of down and to the right, or up and to the right. Tightening goes clockwise, and loosening goes counter-clockwise. You’ve unscrewed bottles and jars your whole life; you probably don't really need a silly mnemonic to remember that. But if you do, think of winding a clock up tight. Or just get a tattoo on your hand.
Now, it’s time to jack up the car. Look under your car if you can, or feel around if you can’t. You’re looking for a stable spot to place the jack, as close to the flat tire as possible. It also needs to be wide enough to cover the whole top of the jack. You don’t want the car to have to do a crazy balancing act. The wheel well is not a good spot. The door is not a good spot. What you’re looking for is the actual frame of the car. Next time you get your oil changed, go take a peek at your car’s belly and scout out where you’ll need to put it (hopefully you’ll get an oil change before you get a flat tire). Your manual may also tell you where to position the jack. Jacking it up is the easiest part. Just turn the handle until the tire is completely clear of the ground. It's not heavy, because science.
Once the tire is off the ground, you can remove the lug nuts completely. If you have a hubcap, put it upside-down on the ground and use it like a bowl to contain the lug nuts. If you have a son named Raphie, do not, under any circumstances, have him hold the hubcap. He will spill the nuts and then say, “Ohhhh, fuuuuuudge.” Only he won’t say fudge.
Pull off the old tire and put on the spare. You can get the lug nuts started with your hands. Lower the car and then tighten the nuts using the tire iron- same reasoning as before. When you are tightening them, do not just go around in a circle tightening each one. You may end up with a wobbly tire if you do that. Tighten one, then the opposite one, and so on. Get it? Like Nut 1, then Nut 3, then Nut 2, then Nut 4. If you have five, you can tighten 1, 3, 5, 2 and then 4. Or something similar.
That’s it! You’re done! Now, throw everything in your trunk (including those dirty gloves- don’t litter!) and get a new tire ASAP. Spare tires are not meant to be used at high speeds, or for long distances. Seriously, don’t push it.
Now don’t you feel independent? If you even have occasion to use this advice, I'd love to see pictures, you little grease monkey, you.