Where is your spare?

  • Published
  • By Jim Hammonds
  • 30th Space Wing Ground Safety
Where is your spare tire? Do you know how to get to it and how to remove it from its storage space? Does your spouse know where it is and how to get to it? How about other drivers in your family? Do you have a daughter/son with a driver's license? Would they (or you) be able to locate, access, remove and change the tire on the side of the road, on a moonless night, 15 miles from the nearest town/service station? Even if they have a cell phone and a driver's club emergency phone number, have you ever tried to get cell phone service in a valley half way down Highway 1 on the way to Gaviota?

Unless you can emphatically and positively answer all of the above questions, maybe it's time for you to start making a plan and possibly do some training. All of those questions, as simple as they may sound on paper, can create a lot of anxiety if you (or your family member) is in the situation on that lonely road, without cell coverage or an auto service club, on a moonless road on a very dark highway or rural road. If all of those questions aren't satisfactorily answered now, when and where would you like them answered? Will it be in a well-lit driveway at your home, with an owner's manual in your hand, and everything immediately at hand to accomplish that very basic driver task of changing a flat tire? Or will it be in the dark situation described above?

First of all, make sure that your vehicle(s) has all of the necessary items to safely accomplish the task. Make sure that your vehicle(s) has an operable flashlight in a known location (known to every driver). (Check the batteries frequently - at least every six months. Try checking/changing the batteries in your flashlights at the same time you check your home smoke detectors in the spring and fall.) Gather all of the drivers in your family in the driveway or garage and explain each step. Better yet, take turns actually doing the steps so it will be familiar to them in the future.

The items you will need include: flashlight (check the batteries); owner's manual for car (with the pages describing tire changing tabbed); spare tire; jack and jack tools; tire chock(s) for blocking other wheel(s); tire gauge. Tire gauge? Check your spare tire's pressure now and at least every six months. If you have a flat tire while driving, how will it help to change tires if your spare is flat?

Where is your tire, tire jack and jack tools located? That depends on the type and model of vehicle(s) you have. Is the spare tire inside the vehicle, under a carpet in the trunk? Behind a trim panel in the cargo location? Underneath the vehicle on the exterior? Are the spare tire and jack/jack tools collocated with the spare tire or in a different location? How do you remove the tire (and jack/jack tools) to prepare to change it? Check the spare tire's pressure using the tire pressure gauge. If you look on the tire's side, near the rim, you will find the recommend tire pressure. (While you're at it, this would be a good time to check the pressure on the other four tires. Let each driver take a turn so they all understand how to read the gauge and how to properly use it.)

How do you assemble the jack to prepare for its use? You can usually find directions in the vehicle's owner's manual and or on a placard located on/in the jack storage location. Make sure everyone understands the importance of positioning the vehicle on the flattest, firmest area available before attempting to place the jack. Each vehicle may have different, specific jacking points - the specific place on the car where it is properly reinforced to bear the weight of the vehicle when it is being jacked. Check the owner's manual or jacking placard for the exact places on that specific vehicle/model. Make sure that at least two of the other tires (the tires not being changed) have tire chocks or other substantial blocks to prevent the vehicle from rolling while the tire is being changed. Make sure that the parking brake is firmly set before you commence the jacking. No passengers should be allowed to remain inside the vehicle when it is being jacked. Ensure they stay safely off of the roadway and away from the jacked vehicle.

Once the jack is properly positioned, jack it up just enough to stay securely in position. Then use the lug wrench to "break" the lug nuts' hold on the rim. One half to three quarters of a turn should be enough. (Since excessive force may be needed to break the hold, this needs to be done before the vehicle is suspended by the jack.) Once that's accomplished, jack the vehicle high enough for the tire to clear the ground. (Remember - the tire you will be taking off out on the road will be flat. Ensure you jack up the vehicle enough so the fully inflated spare will be able to clear the ground.) You want the vehicle to be jacked up enough to swap the tires, but no further.

Now you can continue to remove the lug nuts from the wheel. It's a good idea to leave the lug nut closest to the "12 O'Clock" (uppermost) position until last. That gives you the most control over the weight of the tire. Depending on the type of vehicle, the tire/wheel may weigh between 15 - 50 pounds. Have each of the drivers pick up a tire to see how much it weighs. It is extremely important to caution all drivers that after the lug nuts are removed, no part of their bodies should ever be placed underneath the vehicle in the event that the jack fails. Remove the flat tire by carefully sliding it off, while being cautious about the tire's weight.

Position the spare in front of the axle. Pay attention to where the holes in the rim need to line up with the holes in the axle. Carefully lift up the tire, align it with the holes and push it onto the axle. You may have to keep one foot and one hand on the tire while you retrieve the lug nuts. Install the lug nut closest to the "12 O'Clock" position first and "finger-tighten" it to help keep the tire in place. Then install the other lug nuts finger-tight. Using the lug wrench, tighten each lug nut firmly, but don't apply so much pressure that you cause the vehicle to move on the jack. (Note: Most people advise that you tighten the lug nuts in a "star" pattern. Tighten one lug nut, then the next lug nut should be the one that is farthest from the one just tightened. Continue until all lug nuts are snug. Also, once you have tightened all of the lug nuts, go back to the first one and tighten it again - it will most likely be loose due to the other lug nuts tightening the wheel onto the axle. Repeat until all lug nuts are snug.

Following the directions on the owner's manual or jacking placard, lower the jack until the vehicle's weight is on the tires and the jack can be easily removed. Remove the jack. Now is the time to fully tighten the lug nuts. Again, tighten them in a "star" manner, then check each lug nut to ensure they are fully set.

You have now successfully changed a vehicle's tire! Congratulations! Make sure each of the drivers fully understands all of the procedure and all of the safety considerations. Stow the flat tire and all of the gear back into the vehicle. Caution all drivers that they should drive conservatively as they take the car to a garage or home. (This is especially important if you installed a "Space saver" tire - sometimes called a "donut" tire. A speed rating, usually 50 MPH or less will be imprinted on its sidewall.)

(If you have more than one vehicle, have everyone move on to the next vehicle. Identify the location(s) of all of the items. If there are differences [i.e., different type of jack, different locations where items are stored, different jacking points, etc.] make sure to identify each of those differences and ensure everyone understands the differences.)

There is one way to minimize your chances for having to do a roadside tire change. Frequently check all of your tires for proper inflation pressure, tread wear and any physical damages. If you do that reliably and still face having to do a roadside tire change because of damages incurred on your drive, you (and the other drivers in your family) are fully prepared to safely accomplish the task.