Flat tires are no fun. And with advancements in tire technology, they happen less frequently than they once did. In fact, some tires don’t even need to be changed if they blow out — they can “run flat” for a short period of time.
Still, flats and blowouts do occur, and most motorists dread the next step: changing the tire. A lot of people will actually sit in their car with the flat unattended, call a roadside-assistance service, and wait for a pro to do the dirty work.
That’s fine, but there are several things you can do to make changing a tire much easier and less intimidating. Obviously, you need to be acquainted with the process of jacking up the car, loosening the lug nuts, and removing the tire and wheel. But if you know how to do that and are still reluctant to make the change, here are some tips.
On most cars, the jack has to be assembled before it can be used to raise the car enough to remove the flat tire and replace it with the 'doughnut,' or temporary spare -- a small tire that is designed to get you to a service station for a proper tire repair or replacement.
You don't want to wait until you have a flat to figure out the jack. It only takes about five minutes to put one together, so spend some prep time on it one afternoon. You'll be glad you did if you have a blowout on a dark, rainy night.
The doughnut needs to be checked every so often. You don't want it to also be flat -- kind of defeats the purpose of having a backup.
The best way to do this is to make it a routine when you check your tire pressure. On modern cars, you'll know you have tire pressure issues because the car will alert you via a warning light. So when you investigate that problem, take a few extra minutes to check out your temporary spare.
You don't even have to do it yourself -- you can have it done at almost any gas station and even some car washes.
The same applies if you have a full-size spare tire.
Speaking of checking your tire pressure, if you do it once a month or so, you'll always know if your tires are in decent shape and not under- or overinflated.
It's also a good practice to monitor wear and tear on your tires. Have a look at the condition of the tread. If it looks bad or uneven, you might need to replace one or more tires. But you also might need to rotate or realign your tires to even out the wear.
And be aware of how old your tires are. No tire lasts forever, and once it's at the end of its life it's far more likely to fail.
America is infamous for its crumbling infrastructure. A gaping pothole is just around every corner, lying in wait to kill your tire.
Driving too casually over a road without assessing what kind of shape it's in is asking for trouble.
Tweak your driving to be less aggressive on bad roads -- and by all means, avoid large bumps, potholes, and so on when navigating a thoroughfare.
You can do everything right and still blow a tire. I did -- in a hilly LA neighbourhood, in the dark -- when I backed my car into a pointy chunk of fractured concrete. Boom! Dead tire.
Luckily, I had everything I needed in the car to make changing the tire easier.
I had a flashlight, one whose batteries I often checked. And I had extra batteries, just in case.
I also have a good pair of work gloves to protect my hands.
I also had a rain jacket -- although it wasn't raining, so I didn't need to use it.
And it doesn't hurt to have an old jacket or shirt to prevent yourself from getting grimy. A rag or two is an equally good idea.
This last piece is important: You should have in your car what you would need to change a tire in the worst possible condition for where you live. That means a warm coat, hat, and gloves if your neck of the woods is subject to winter weather.
It's also helpful to have warning flares on hand, should the flat or blowout occur on a highway.
A lot of times, the flat is caused by something on the tire that can be fixed.
So I got in the habit about 10 years ago of buying the usually rather inexpensive guarantee whenever I got new tires for my cars.
For one of my cars, three flat tires were repaired by the retailer I bought them from at no charge. It's a good investment!
There are times when it's kind of hazardous to change a tire on your own -- for example, in the middle of the night on a rainy, busy highway.
It's time like these that you should sit tight in you car, once you get it to a relatively safe spot on the shoulder, and call in the cavalry.
If you have a roadside-assistance plan through your insurer or a motor club like AAA, you should have a toll-free number to call that will dispatch a tow truck to your location.
Once there, the driver can assess whether a change is in order, or whether you should be towed to a service station or other location.
A lot of new cars don't have a spare, not even a temporary one. Rather, they have a sort of advanced patch kit, consisting of sealant and an inflator.
The idea is that you don't need to change your tire if help is just a smartphone call away.
Additionally, automakers are going to be subject to higher fuel-economy standards in the next few years, so ditching the spare tire also means reducing weight, which raises mpg.
It's a good idea to know whether your car even has a spare. Don't make an assumption! Check!
Changing a tire is actually rather physically demanding. You have to put some muscle in getting the lug nuts off and cranking the jack, and then you have to bend down and lift the tire.
Often, folks will try to do all of this is a hurry to get on their way, but that's a mistake. You could injure yourself, so play it cool and take your time.
If your mechanic is performing maintenance or fixing a problem with your car, they're apt to notice problems with tires that you might not be able to spot on your own unless you have a hydraulic lift in your garage.
So should your mechanic inform you that a tire is in need of replacement, take the pro's advice.
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