Are You Truly Ready To Change a Tire by the Side of the Road?

The AAA operator apologized, “I’ve called every driver in your area, and none of them are interested in coming out in the middle of the night. You’ll just have to try again in a couple of hours.” So there I was, stuck on a rural road with no help coming until morning. Sure, I had a factory jack, wrench, and spare tire in the trunk. But I’d been neglecting an important aspect of maintenance: I hadn’t looked at my tire change tools–let alone tested them–in years.

Are your lug nuts too tight?

Two women pose while changing a Rolls-Royce tire in the 1930s.
Changing a tire | H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock via Getty Images

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You can’t change your tire if you can’t remove the flat from your car. Many auto mechanics use air-powered “impact wrenches” to remove and reinstall your lug nuts. These powerful tools can tighten lug nuts too much to ever be removed by hand.

To be prepared to change a tire by the side of the road, it’s important you double-check that you can remove your lug nuts with the wrench you carry in your car or truck. If you can, great! Tighten them back up and know that you’re ready to remove them if necessary.

What do you do if you double-check lug nuts and they are too tight? You can always take your car back to your mechanic and tell them to loosen your lug nuts and retorque them by hand. Your mechanic will likely apologize and be more careful next time.

Alternatively, you can loosen your lug nuts with a longer wrench. Or you can extend your factory-provided wrench by sliding a length of pipe over its handle. Make sure to tighten your lug nuts using whatever wrench you carry in your car.

Is your spare tire inflated?

Black and white photo of a pioneering young female mechanic changing a tire in 1937.
Changing a tire | Bettmann via Getty Images

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Nothing is more disappointing than going through all the work of swapping a flat tire, only to find that your spare is flat too. A tire stored in your trunk for years may lose pressure over time. It’s best to get in the habit of checking your spare’s pressure whenever you check your regular tire pressure.

If you have a full-size spare tire, you can actually have your mechanic swap it onto your car every time they do a tire rotation. If you rotate the tire you keep in your trunk, you ensure all five of your tires are wearing at the same rate. This not only extends the life of your tires, but it is also good for your car. Swapping on a spare that is a very different diameter than your other tires can be bad for the differential in an AWD car.

Does your jack still work?

Two women smile while competing in a tire changing contest in 1950.
Changing a tire | Archive Photos via Getty Images

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Most factory jacks, included with new cars, are stored well-greased and won’t rust shut. It’s good to double-check that the jack included with your car still works, at least once a year. Finding yourself with a flat and no jack would put you in a real bind.

In addition, if you have a “chain fall” storing a spare tire under the bed of your truck or underneath your SUV, this device can rust shut. Double-check that you can lower and retrieve your spare tire once a year too.

Just a few minutes of prep today can leave you truly prepared to change a spare tire by the side of the road tomorrow. Review the safest way to jack up a car and change a tire in the video below:

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