Putting on the spare requires no talent, mechanical aptitude, or special magic.
Replacing a flat tire is one of the few automotive chores that hasn't changed much in decades. But improvements in tires mean that many of us have had little or no experience doing it. If one of your car's tires goes flat while you're driving, stay calm. The car may seem unsteady or pull to one side, but don't jam on the brakes. Use the turn signal and steer out of traffic. Use steady, easy pressure on the brakes. If you stop at the side of the road, use the emergency flashers. The car should be on a solid, level surface. You can drive a short distance, very slowly, if necessary to reach a safe spot. Put the transmission in park (or, with a manual transmission, reverse). Set the parking brake. Locate the spare tire and jack. Your vehicle's owner's manual includes instructions for using the jack, and many cars duplicate the instructions on a decal near the spare.
Changing a Tire
Take out the spare tire and jack. Put the spare by the flat tire.
Most jacks must be placed at specific locations beneath the car—be sure to consult the instructions that came with your car. Operate the jack so that it puts a little upward pressure on the car, but don't raise the vehicle yet.
Use wheel chocks, if you have them, to block the wheel diagonally opposite the tire you're changing. Use bricks, rocks, or other likely chock substitutes if you need to.
Take off the wheel cover so you can get at the wheel nuts.
Loosen the wheel nuts one turn each while the wheel is on the ground. Don't remove them yet.
Jack the car up so that the flat tire clears the ground.
Unscrew the wheel nuts (put them in the wheel cover or they'll disappear); take the wheel and tire off. Put the flat tire and wheel under the side of the car—if the jack fails, the car won't fall far.
Put the spare on.
Put the nuts back on and tighten them as much as reasonable with the tire still off the ground. You'll notice that the nuts have a tapered end and a flat end. The tapered end should be facing the wheel; this helps center the wheel around the mounting stud.
Take the flat from beneath the car, and lower the car until the spare just touches the ground.
Tighten the wheel nuts securely using a crisscross pattern; that is, tighten nuts opposite one another rather than going from one nut to the one beside it.
Lower the car completely; put the wheel cover back on.
Remove the chock; put the flat and the jack in the trunk.
Many cars come equipped with a spare that's smaller than the regular tires. These go by such names as "space saver," "temporary," or some similar word and come with their own warning labels. You should drive on one of these small tires as little as possible and avoid sustained speeds above 50 miles per hour. These so-called space-saver tires are meant only to get you to a place where you can buy another full-size tire or have the flat repaired.
These tire-changing steps are valid for the great majority of cars and light trucks. However, some vehicles may require special procedures. Read the owner's manual and familiarize yourself with all the equipment and procedures before a tire goes flat.
The air wrenches used by mechanics can over-tighten wheel nuts. When your car is in a shop and the work includes removing wheels, ask that the nuts be tightened to factory specifications for your vehicle. It isn't arcane information—any shop either will know or be able to find out.
The lug wrenches usually supplied with jacks can be difficult to use except for removing wheel covers. Buy a good star wrench.
Count on AAA to have your back in any roadside emergency, no matter the time of day or night.
This article was first published in January 2001 and last updated in December 2019.