Changing a tire is stressful. Let's be honest, it is usually happening because of a bad situation or in a frustrating arena, and we're probably crying inside and possibly outside. Is there really ever a good time to have to change a tire? Having the tools and the knowledge of what to do helps bring the stress level down, and gives you the power to be successful. I'll add, having the opportunity to practice on your own time helps even more.
The topic of Changing a Tire gets a little crazy in our offroad world because there are many different ways to handle a situation when in a obscure predicament or with larger tires. For the purpose of this article, we will assume that you are on a hard, level surface. We will talk about flat tires during a rock obstacle in another article.
Tire Changing Tools
Jack: Depending on the situation, there are multiple types of jacks that you can utilize. For the most part, you will lean towards your factory jack that is stored in the vehicle. If you have a UTV, or something with a lower wheelbase, look for a small scissor jack or bottle jack to put in your storage area. If you have large aftermarket tires and/or a suspension lift, you need to consider if your factory jack will be able to go high enough, or if you will need to purchase a bottle jack or small floor jack to be able to get the tire off the ground.
Lug Wrench: If you still have the factory wheels, you can use the factory lug wrench that comes with the vehicle. For UTVs and ATVs you will want to make sure that you have the correct deep set socket for your lugs in your tool bag. If you have aftermarket wheels it is important to make sure that you have the right size tool. Some lug nuts that come with aftermarket wheels are larger than stock. In this case, you may want to invest in a star wrench or a lug wrench. It is rare that you would carry a Impact Wrench with you on a day-to-day basis, but if you are going out on a trail, that may be something that you add into your tool bag. It is also rare to carry a Torque Wrench, but if you have a high probability of changing a tire, it would be a good tool to have in your tool bag. Note, look at your lugs to see if you have a locking lug, you will need to make sure you have your log key with you at all times.
Wheel Chock: Wheel chocks can be just about anything. If you are offroad, it is easy to find a rock or piece of wood that would work. Look in your vehicle for something that would be considered a wheel chock. If you don't feel comfortable that you don't have something you can purchase a wheel chock, or add a block of wood, which can double for other situations too.
Safety: Next time you are at the store, grab a reflective triangle to put out in case of emergency. I also have a flat piece of square wood that I carry to be able to set a jack on in uneven situations.
Safety is a priority in changing a tire! Start with understanding your environment. Take a minute and breath. If you have a flat tire, you probably just experienced a challenging situation. Get the vehicle to a safe space, then pull yourself and your thoughts together before getting out of the vehicle. Start forming a action plan. If you are on a road or a high traffic offroad area, be sure to put out reflective triangles and use your hazard lights first.
Look at the surrounding environment for challenges. Are you on a hill? Is all the weight of the vehicle on the side of the flat tire? Are you able to move up or down the road a little to create a safer opportunity to use the jack and tools?
Once you feel that you are in the best location that the environment can afford, put the vehicle in park and block the tires. Think about opposites attract when trying to remember which tire to block. Look at the situation and know if you should block forward, backward or in some cases, both ways.
Get Your Spare Ready
Before you start jacking anything up, we need to get the spare off. We may have jumped the gun a little when we blocked up the vehicle. Where is your spare? Can you get it off by yourself? Is there something nearby that you can back up to that will give you better leverage on the spare tire?
Each situation is different depending on the vehicle, but the majority of the time the spare tire will be mounted with the same size lug nuts. Undo anything blocking the tire, you may need additional tools to get a spare carrier rack or license plate out of the way, for example. Then use the lug wrench to unmount the spare tire and safely remove it from the vehicle.
Remove Flat Tire
Before you start to jack up the vehicle you need to "break the lugs". This is a reference to putting the lug wrench on each of the lug nuts and using your strength to loosen them by a turn, you are not taking them all the way off. This can be a challenge! You may need to use all your weight on the wrench depending on how strong you are. There are different techniques that can be used including using a breaker bar to add leverage.
Once the lugs have been slightly loosened, you can jack up the vehicle to where the tire is just off the ground. You don't need a lot of ground clearance, you need just enough. The jack placement depends on if it is a front or rear tire that you are removing. Generally speaking, you will put the jack on the axle closest to the flat tire.
Once your tire is just off the ground, you will now continue to thread off the lug nuts. Anytime you are working with lug nuts you want to think about opposites. You take one off on top and then do the lug opposite on the bottom, go to the next one on top and then the one directly across from it. This helps the wheel balance on the studs and keeps the tire steady on the vehicle. It is my habit to leave the top lug until last. I have confidence that the tire won't fall off on me and if I need to use some pressure to keep the tire level, I can push in the bottom with my knee easier that I can push the top with an arm.
Mount Spare Tire
Once the lug nuts have been removed, carefully dismount the flat tire. With the spare tire ready, carefully lift the tire onto the lugs. Look at the lug pattern before lifting and have your eye on one to immediately match. Use your body weight to keep the tire even while you put the first lug nut on with your fingers. In the same pattern as you took off the lug nuts, start putting them back on to a finger tight motion. Use the wrench to make sure they are tight, but not snug yet. With the wheel firmly pushed agains the hub with tight lugs, gently drop the vehicle off the jack. Now you will tighten the lugs as much as you can - going in the cross pattern. Remember how hard it was to get the lugs off, now you need to put as much weight into getting them tight!!
If you have a torque wrench, you will set the torque to the proper pound and use it. If not, head to the closest gas station, tire or auto repair shop to have them tighten and torque the lug nuts for you. I would also note that this is a good time to check the air pressure in your spare tire, don't assume that it is at the proper pressure.
I'll tell you I have changed my tire on the side of the road and gone to the next exit to a gas station looking for the strongest guy there to finishing tightening the lugs for me. I'd much rather ask for help than have them come off as I continue my journey home or to a tire repair place. My personal choice is Discount Tire / Americas Tire because they have excellent customer service and are nationwide, making it easy for me to get help on my cross-country adventures.
This is a good video built by Mopar that shows the steps above:
At the beginning of the article I referenced that there are many different ways to handle a tire change when offroad. For example you can use a Hi-Lift Jack and their accessories to lift the vehicle. You can use a ARB Inflatable Jack that uses the exhaust pipe to lift the vehicle. There are more advanced techniques that we will talk about in upcoming articles.
Take time out of a weekend when you are at home to change your tire. When there is no chaos or drama. Preferably with someone there to help you, or heck, do it by yourself. Find the tools and make sure they are in your vehicle where you can get to them. Go through the full routine, and then do it a second time to put the regular tire back on and put the spare away. You CAN do it and then the day something does happen, you will have the mindset to be able to accomplish your task in a stressful situation with poise.
Author: Charlene Bower P1/26/17
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