What to Do if You Have a Flat Tire in Your Driveway

So you walk out to your car in the morning, keys in hand, ready to head off to work, and you notice one of your tires looks kind of low. Upon closer inspection, you realize it’s completely flat! Now you’re wondering what your options are for dealing with this flat tire sitting in your driveway. Not to worry, this article will walk you through step-by-step what to do next.

Here’s a quick answer:

If you have a flat tire in your driveway, first assess if it’s safe to change it yourself or if you need to call roadside assistance. If changing it, retrieve the spare tire, jack, lug wrench, and chocks. Safely jack up the vehicle, swap the flat for the spare, lower it down, and tighten the lug nuts. Drive cautiously to a tire shop to get the flat repaired right away.

Assess the Situation

The first thing you need to do is try to understand why the tire went flat in the first place. There are a few possible causes:

  • A puncture – If you recently drove over a nail, screw, or other sharp object, it could have punctured the tire and caused it to slowly leak air overnight. Check the tread and sidewalls for any holes, slices, bubbles, or protruding objects.
  • A valve stem leak – The valve stem is where you put air into the tire. If the valve is cracked or broken, it could leak air. Spray the stem with soapy water to check for bubbles indicating a leak.
  • A rim leak – If the bead where the tire seals against the wheel rim has weakened or separated, it could leak air. Spray the bead with soapy water to check for leaks.

Once you’ve identified the source of the leak (if possible), you can better decide how to move forward with fixing it.

Locate Your Spare Tire and Tools

Most vehicles come equipped with spare tires and basic equipment needed to change a flat tire. Here’s what you need to retrieve before proceeding:

  • Spare tire – This is usually located in the trunk or underside of the vehicle. The owner’s manual will show its location. Double check that the spare is properly inflated.
  • Jack – The jack is used to raise the vehicle so the flat tire can be swapped out. There may be a screw-type jack or hydraulic floor jack.
  • Lug wrench – This tool removes the lug nuts holding the wheel onto the vehicle. Confirm you have the properly sized wrench.
  • Wheel chocks – Chocks block the wheels diagonally opposite from the flat tire so the car doesn’t roll while lifted up.

If any of these items are missing or broken, you’ll need to get replacements or call for professional roadside assistance before proceeding with the tire change.

Safety Checklist Before Lifting the Vehicle

Before jacking up your vehicle and removing the flat tire, do a quick safety check:

  • Park on a flat, level, and stable surface – jack stands can sink into soft ground. Concrete driveways are ideal.
  • Set parking brake and put gear shift in park (automatic) or reverse (manual).
  • Check area under vehicle before lifting – no people or objects underneath.
  • Chock diagonally opposite wheel from flat tire.

This helps prevent injuries or damage as you lift the vehicle to change the tire.

Remove the Flat Tire

Now comes the dirty work! Here are the basic steps to safely remove your flat tire:

  1. Position jack underneath manufacturer recommended lifting spots on the chassis. Double check the jack is secure and positioned vertically without any tilting.
  2. Jack the vehicle high enough so that the full-size spare tire can fit under the wheel well. Generally 2-3 inches of ground clearance is needed.
  3. Loosen – but don’t remove – the lug nuts on the wheel, turning them counterclockwise (to the left from your perspective).
  4. Once lug nuts are loosened, finish jacking up the vehicle so the flat tire is just off the ground.
  5. Fully unscrew and remove lug nuts and set aside in a secure spot.
  6. Pull the wheel with the flat tire straight off the wheel hub and set it flat on the ground out of the way.

Mount the Full-Size Spare

Now to put the spare tire onto your car:

  1. Before mounting the spare, inspect the wheel hub, rotor, wheel mounting surface, and brake components for damage. Wipe any road debris or dirt.
  2. Lif the full-size spare and line it up evenly with the wheel hub bolt holes.
  3. Hand thread just a couple lug nuts diagonally across from each other onto the spare tire to hold it in position against the hub. Don’t use power tools here.
  4. Once centered on the hub, add the remaining lug nuts and hand tighten them in a crisscross diagonal pattern.
  5. Use the lug wrench to snug down the nuts, tightening them to the correct torque specification (check door jamb sticker). Tighten in stages using the diagonal pattern.
  6. Spin the wheel by hand – it shouldn’t wiggle and needs to rotate evenly without rubbing.

You’ve now successfully swapped out the flat for your spare! Time to wrap things up.

Clean Up and Lower the Vehicle

As a final step, tidy up then safely lower your car:

  1. Remove wheel chocks from diagonally opposite wheel.
  2. Clear any tools or debris from under the vehicle and slowly lower it by lowering the jack.
  3. With the full weight on the new spare tire, do a final pass of tightening the lug nuts to proper torque.
  4. Stow away the jack, chocks, flat tire, and lug wrench securely in their storage locations. The owner’s manual will show accepted storage locations.
  5. Drive cautiously to the nearest tire shop or dealer to have your flat tire inspected and repaired. Most spare tires have limited mileage ratings.

And that’s it – you’ve changed out your flat tire with a full-size spare all on your own driveway! While it can seem daunting, having the right gear and taking necessary safety steps makes the job straightforward. And you’ll have the confidence to tackle this roadside chore again down the line when needed.

When to Call for Help

If certain obstacles come up, it’s best to call for professional assistance rather than try to lift your vehicle in unsafe conditions. Here are some scenarios where roadside assistance or a tow truck may be necessary:

Reason to Call for HelpPotential Hazards and Risks
Vehicle lacks a spare tire or necessary equipmentUnable to change flat tire safely
Jack stand locations corroded or damagedRisk of collapse while lifting
Lug nuts stuck, rounded off or overtorquedLug wrench won’t properly loosen nuts
Flat tire located on rear dual wheel (dually) truckSpecial tools needed for removal
Vehicle needs to be jacked up more than a few inchesHigher risk of collapse or slippage
No access to cell service or roadside assistance coverageSafety precautions limited

Don’t take chances with makeshift jack stand placements or try letting the air out of the tired to lift it off the rim. This can damage the tire or wheel and still may not allow it to clear the brake components. Call for assistance instead.

Having roadside service coverage through your insurer or auto club membership can give access to tire changing assistance if needed. They have the right equipment for tricky tire access locations and high-lift vehicles.

Gain Confidence to Handle Common Roadside Issues

While ending up with a flat tire in your driveway is inconvenient, use this opportunity to gain confidence handling basic tire changes. Even if you needed to call for backup support this time, learning the standard tools, components and procedures makes you better equipped to tackle similar issues in the future.

With the right gear, safety precautions, mechanical know-how and roadside assistance contact, you can get back on the road quickly when flats or minor breakdowns occur. Keep your vehicle road-ready with routine maintenance checks so you don’t get caught off guard at the worst moments.

FAQ

What if I don’t have a spare tire?

If your vehicle does not have a spare tire, you will need to call for professional roadside assistance or a tow truck to come replace the flat tire. Most service providers can install a new tire for you on the spot.

Can I drive any distance on a compact spare tire?

Compact spares are meant only for short-term emergency use to get you to a tire shop. They typically have maximum speed ratings of 50-70mph and travel range limits of 50-100 miles. Exceeding these limits can damage the spare or lead to loss of control.

Is it safe to change a tire on a sloped driveway?

No, only change tires on a flat, level, stable surface. Tilting the jack on sloped driveways can lead it to slip out from underneath the vehicle and collapse. This causes injuries and damage. Go to a flat portion of your driveway or call for assistance.

What if lug nuts are stuck or rounded off?

Forcibly trying to loosen overtightened lug nuts risks rounding them off completely. Call for tire service; they have specialty tools to remove stuck lug nuts without further damage. Applying lubricants or hammering on sockets are not safe attempts.

How soon should I get the flat tire repaired?

While full-size spares provide extended mileage for safely driving with a flat, you should get it inspected and repaired within the same day or next business day. The tire may not be suitable for long-term use if it has sidewall, belt, or bead damage beyond just a puncture.

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