Changing a wheel at the side of the road isn't hard – if you know how
Getting a puncture is one of those motoring problems that can strike without warning, any time of the day or night. Even if you’re confident enough to fit the spare wheel yourself, it can set your journey back and cause you quite a bit of extra hassle.
But if you can’t fit your spare, it can be even more irritating, as you’ll have to wait for a mechanic to come out to your car and do it for you. And if you're not a member of a breakdown service, you're looking at a big bill before you’ve even thought about how much the new tyre you’ll need is going to cost.
So learning to change a wheel can save you time, and it can save you money. But before we tell you how to do it, here are a few precautions you should take.
Keep your spare wheel ready to use. If you get a puncture, it’s deeply demoralising to find that your spare wheel is flat, or worse still, that its rubber is old and perished. So check your spare wheel’s pressure every time you check your other tyre pressures – you should do this every couple of months, at least. Also make sure you inspect your spare wheel each time, being sure to check that the rubber is looking in good condition (i.e. no cracking or crazing around the sidewall).
Never change a wheel on the motorway. It only takes a split second for a dozing driver to wipe you out, so always use an emergency phone or your mobile to call for a recovery service that can move you to a safe place before you attempt any sort of work on your car. This is just one of our motorway breakdown tips .
Use a puncture repair kit if you have one. Some cars don’t come with a spare wheel, but instead they have a puncture repair kit and a compressor to help you pump the tyre up again. Usually, these are supplied with instructions, which you should follow if your vehicle is so-equipped.
Be careful. Changing a tyre involves raising your car quite precariously onto a jack. It’s safe if you're careful and sensible, referring to your car’s manual or to professional help wherever you need to. But if not, and if the jack falls over while the car is on it, it can result in damage to the car and injury to yourself.
Still want to learn how to change a wheel? Here's how:
1. Make sure the car is on flat, hard, level ground
As you’re going to be jacking the car up, you’ll want to first make sure that it’s safe to do so without the car falling off the jack. Check to see that the car is on a patch of ground that’s relatively level, without any lumps or bumps that might upset the car when two of its wheels are lifted off the ground. You’ll also need to check that the ground is firm and will support the weight of the car when it’s lifted – if it’s on soft ground, for example mud or sand, the weight of the car could push the jack into the ground when you try to jack it up, causing the jack to get stuck underneath the car.
2. Check you have the key for your locking wheel nuts
If your car is fitted with locking wheel nuts, you’ll need to find your locking wheel nut key first. This will usually be located in the glove compartment, in one of the side pockets, or near to the spare wheel. It will look a little like a socket from a socket set, but on the end that slots over the nut or bolt, you’ll notice an unusual pattern that fits into your wheel nut.
3. Check the manual
If you have your car’s user manual with you, this will be a great help. It will tell you where you can find your car’s jack and wheel brace, how to use them properly, and where to position the jack in order to lift the car without damaging it. It will also tell you where your spare wheel is located and how to remove it from that location.
4. Make sure the car won't move
The last thing you want is for your car to roll away while you’re trying to change a wheel, and there are two ways to make sure that doesn't happen, in addition to putting the handbrake on.
First, select first or reverse gear, with the engine turned off. Or, if your car is an automatic, put it in ‘Park’ or ‘P’. This is because the handbrake only operates on two wheels – usually the rears – and if you put the car in gear with the engine off, it has the effect of locking the driven wheels – usually the fronts.
Second, consider physically blocking your car to make sure it stays where it is. Note which wheel is diametrically opposite to the one you're replacing - so for example, if you’re replacing the front left wheel, you’re after the rear right. Then, find two rocks or bricks nearby, and place them in front of and behind that wheel, wedging them up against the tyre tread so that the wheel can’t move in either direction.
If you can’t find any rocks or bricks to chock the wheels with, try to park the car near to a kerb, and turn the steering wheel so that the front wheels are pointing in to the kerb to stop the car rolling off should things go wrong.
5. Loosen your wheel nuts
It’s important to loosen the nuts or bolts that hold the wheel you want to change in place before you jack the car up. This is because they will be extremely tight, and once the wheel is in the air, it will probably just spin freely when you try to loosen them.
Find your car’s wheel brace, connect it to one of the nuts/bolts, and turn. It’s likely that you will need to position the wheel brace in such a way that you can push its handle with your foot, or even stand on it, using your body weight to turn it. Once the nut/bolt starts to move, you should then be able to turn the wheel brace by hand to loosen it further.
However, make sure you don’t remove the nuts completely just yet – you will need the wheel to stay loosely attached to the car until you’ve jacked it up.
6. Find your car’s jack
The jack for your car will usually be located in the boot, either in or mounted to one of the side panels, or beneath the boot floor. On some cars, you might find it under the bonnet. Once you’ve found it, remove it from the car.
7. Find your car’s spare wheel
Now is a good time to get your spare wheel out and place it on the ground next to the car, so that you don’t have to disturb the car when it’s up in the air. Most spare wheels these days are kept in a compartment below the boot floor. That being the case, if you pull at the edge of the carpet, or look for a handle, it should lift up. On some older cars you may have to turn a bolt in the boot floor, again located below the carpet which will release a spare wheel holder from beneath the car. Refer to your owner’s manual if you’re in any doubt.
8. Position the jack beneath the car
You’ll need to check your car’s manual for this part. It will tell you where you need to position the jack. Usually, this will be beneath the front or rear window, either just behind the front wheel arch, or just in front of the rear one, depending on whether it’s a front or rear wheel that needs to be changed.
9. Jack the car up
Following the instructions in the user manual, wind the jack up. You may need to connect the wheel brace to a nut on the jack itself, or the jack may have a built-in handle which you can use. Keep winding until the wheel you want to change is clear of the ground – you don’t need to use the full extent of the jack’s travel. If the car feels like it’s going to slip at any point, or the jack starts to lean over, stop jacking and wind the jack back in the other direction.
10. Remove the wheel with the punctured tyre
The time has now come to take the wheel off the hub it’s attached to. Using the wheel brace, unwind the wheel nuts/bolts until they come off completely. Then slide the wheel off the hub. Be careful with this, as it’ll be heavier than you think – it’s worth bracing yourself first so that you don’t hurt your back.
11. Locate the spare wheel onto the hub
If your car’s wheel is fastened on with nuts, this is a relatively easy, if awkward process. Slide the four or five holes in the wheel over the four or five threaded studs that the original wheel was mounted to.
However, if your car’s wheel is fastened on with bolts, the process is even more awkward. You’ll need to ‘hang’ the wheel onto the hub without the aid of the threads, and keep it there with your hand – there should be a lip which will help you do this. But you’ll also need to make sure you line up the holes with the bolt holes in the hub while you’re doing it. Because of this, if you have a friend or passenger with you, it’s useful to get them to help you by supporting the weight of the wheel while you line it up.
12. Secure the wheel
Now you can screw your nuts/bolts back on. Don’t use the wheel brace just yet – just make sure the nuts/bolts are finger-tight.
13. Jack the car down
Reversing the procedure you used to raise the car in the air, wind the jack down until the car is once again resting on all four wheels.
14. Tighten the wheel
It’s important to use the wheel brace now to tighten up the wheel nuts/bolts. Do them up as tight as you can by hand, then use your foot to push the wheel brace even further round.
15. Clear up and hit the road
Put your old wheel back in the car, and stow your wheel brace and jack. Don’t forget to remove the bricks or rocks from the wheel under which you placed them before you try to pull away. You should now be ready to get on the road again.
Remember, though, that if your spare wheel is a space saver – you can usually tell if it is because it’ll be smaller and narrower than your other wheels – you won’t be able to go as fast as normal. Most space savers are limited to 50mph, but check the warning labels printed on the wheel to find out how fast you can go. If you’re still not sure, refer to your car’s user manual to make certain.
If you hear any sort of repetitive thumping or knocking once you’re on the move again, pull over and use the wheel brace to check that the nuts or bolts on the wheel you’ve just changed are as tight as they can be.
Please note that Telegraph Cars accepts no responsibility for any loss, damage or injury that may arise from following the instructions in this guide. If you have any doubts, check with a trained mechanic before attempting to change a wheel.
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