A little know-how means you won't be stranded for long.
Your tires are sure to meet and make friends with a road hazard during your driving career. So you've just discovered your car's had a blowout with the road and now you've got a flat tire that needs changing. If help isn't readily available, what should you do?
Pull over — pronto.
If you've noticed your car is bouncing to the beat on the radio, it's too late to try to nurse it home. Pull over ASAP — preferably into a parking lot or onto a spacious shoulder — before your rims start shooting sparks. If possible, call someone to give the heads-up about your situation. If you've got Roadside Assistance (aka Towing and Labor), you can call your insurance company for help. Or you can take matters into your own hands.
Size up your damages.
Look at your tire to assess the damage. If there's enough separated tire tread to resole your old boots, chances are you'll need to retire the tire because it's not salvageable. But, if the damage isn't obvious, a service station may be able to save the tire by patching it.
Strap on a tool belt and start playing mechanic.
Once you put your car in park and set the parking brake, run a quick inventory and ensure you've got a jack, a wrench and a good-to-go inflated spare tire. A good tip: Have the spare tire pressure checked each time you change your oil or rotate the tires. You don't want to swap a flat with another flat.
Loosen the nuts.
Before you raise the car, loosen the lug nuts (the bolts that strap the wheel to the rest of the car — kind of like buttons on a pair of jeans). Remembering this step will keep you from lots of backtracking and rework. Trust us on this one.
Jack it up.
Now, the fun part. Place the jack in the correct place (look in your car manual or on the jack itself to locate the magic spot) and begin liftoff. Raise the car until the jack stops or until the entire tire is suspended a few inches from the ground.
Make the change.
If your hands aren't poster children for a heavy-duty soap commercial by now, they're about to be. Remove the lug nuts and slide the wheel off the car. Don't forget where you stored the nuts because you'll need them for the spare tire. Slide the spare onto your car and tighten the nuts until the wrench first stops moving. Lower the jack and once the spare is resting on the ground, give the nuts a few hard twists until you can't turn the wrench anymore. Turning the wrench doubles as a good frustration-venting activity, so grunt, growl, yell or cry if you feel the urge to do so.
Enter the home stretch.
You've done it! You're now ready to get going again. However, if you just put a doughnut tire onto your vehicle, you'll need to drive like there's an actual jelly doughnut attached to your car — a slower speed (usually no more than 50 mph) compensates for the smaller tire size.
Fix it or ditch it.
If the tire seems fixable, drive it to a service station so the professionals can run a quick test to find the leak and verify if you can fix it or ditch it. It's worth the effort because the patching charge is minimal — around $20 — and you'll double your benefits by saving some money and giving your tire its second life.