Knowing how to change a wheel can mean the difference between you being stranded and helpless, and you being able to sort out a flat tyre and carrying on your journey. It's not hard, but you do need to know what you're doing, and we'll tell you how…
Important advice before you start
Never attempt to change a tyre at the side of the motorway. The hard shoulder is not a safe place to be and even if you know what you're doing you should leave the car, along with any occupants and stand on the far side of the barrier while you call for assistance.
We'd strongly advise practicing changing a wheel before attempting it 'for real', because the chances are you'll get a flat tyre in the dark on a rainy night when you're late for an appointment and the last thing you want to be doing is fumbling around in the dark working out what goes where.
You also want to make sure you have the full complement of items needed to change a wheel! You also need to know if you've got a locking wheel nut key (if you have locking wheel nuts).
This will look like a normal socket, but will only fit on your locking wheel nuts. Without this your wheel will not come off!
- In the event of a flat tyre the first thing you need to do is to get the car somewhere safe. Pull over as soon as it is safe to do so. And if you have to drive anywhere do so slowly with your hazard lights on. Only drive a very short distance as the more you drive the more you will risk damaging the actual wheel and the car could become dangerous to drive.
- If you have a warning triangle place that on the road to warn other road users.
- When you're safe and parked on firm, level ground remove the spare wheel, jack, and wheel brace. These are commonly under the boot floor and spare wheels are either held in place with a strap, or a threaded collar. Don’t worry if the wheel looks way too thin - many modern cars are fitted with 'space saver' wheels' which are perfectly safe for emergency use.
- With the handbrake firmly on, and the car in gear get the wheel brace and loosen the wheel nuts - DON'T undo them any more than a quarter of a turn - You're not taking them out just yet but you need to 'crack' them before jacking the car up. If you don’t loosen them now and wait until the wheel is in the air the wheel will just spin, or if the car's in gear it could pull the car off the jack.
- Locate where the jack sits under the sill. Here's a handy guide we made on how to use the different types of car jacks. Use the jacking point nearest to the wheel you want to remove. Check in your handbook where the jacking points are. Failure to use the correct jacking point could cause damage to the car, or the jack to slip so be careful!
- Jack the car up (usually by turning a handle clockwise) until the wheel is clear of the ground by around an inch - there's no need to go any higher.
- Now undo the nuts (or bolts depending on what's fitted to your car) one at a time. Be prepared that the wheel is likely to fall off, and will be quite heavy.
- In some instances the wheel may not come off straight away. If this occurs try giving the tyre a good kick! Just be careful not to dislodge the jack! If it's really stubborn sit on the floor facing the flat tyre and kick it with the base of your feet on either side of the tyre. If it still doesn't come off you'll need to call a breakdown service, the standard jacks that cars come with are for emergency use, and aren't particularly stable. You could risk the car toppling off the jack if you get carried away and apply too much force.
- If the wheel comes off ok (which it probably will) place it to one side. Offer the spare wheel up to the hub - if you're lucky your car will have wheel studs, and you will be able to locate the wheel on the studs, and you should be able to hold it there with one hand as you screw on one of the nuts. If you have wheel bolts you may need someone to give you a hand to get the wheel on.
- Now tighten the nuts until they 'bite'. Start at the top, then the nut opposite, and work around the wheel so you tighten the wheel evenly. You don’t need to tighten them up fully at this stage.
- Now lower the jack and remove it. Tighten the nuts up firmly with the wheel brace.
- Tidy away the wheel with the flat tyre and the jack, but keep the wheel brace handy.
- Give the nuts a final safety check, then after you've driven for a few miles pull over somewhere safe and check the wheel nuts are all still secure.
- If you've fitted a space saver don't drive over the limit for the tyre (usually 50mph) and get the flat tyre replaced as soon as is practical.
Chuck a couple of pairs of latex gloves and an old mat where the spare tyre is. Changing tyres can be a messy business and you'll be thankful you've got them in the car if you ever get a flat tyre.
About the author
Dan is an experienced motoring journalist who has more than 20 years of experience. He has been the editor of titles such as Fast Ford and Redline, and his latest project was converting an old Renault Trafic into a family campervan.