I think it’s been something like 10 years since I’ve blown a tire while driving and had to replace it with a spare on the side of the road. What’s weird about that is I remember having to change flat tires fairly often in previous years — like once every 20 months or something.
The most I have ever paid for a motor vehicle is $4,000. My current car cost $3,500. The seven others I’ve gone through over the years each cost about $1,500 or less. Every one of them was a bargain, but involved a bit more maintenance than newer cars. The well-worn tires on some of those clunkers used to give me my share of roadside adventures. I’m not sure why that has stopped in the past decade, but I’m certainly not complaining.
About 15 years ago, as a public service and also as a reminder to my future self, I compiled a list of advice about changing flat tires. I’m assuming all of it still applies to today’s vehicles and might be useful to the general public at some point in the future or me tomorrow. It’s not really technical advice, it’s more for emotional preparation.
Always have a four-way steel lug wrench or tire iron in your car. That flimsy wrench-like object that comes with the car is about as reliable as a drummer in a funk band.
Well, let me tell you a story before offering up rule #2. About 20 years ago I was a passenger on a drive along Highway 61 to Gooseberry Falls. Not far outside Duluth, a tire went flat. It was an old car, but recently purchased by my friend, who immediately told me there was no spare tire and no jack. So she called a friend of hers to pick us up, and we went to a shop and bought a replacement tire, then a few hours later I drove us to her abandoned car to switch her tires. After we opened her trunk to toss in the flat tire, I lifted the panel to open the spare tire storage compartment and saw there had been a spare tire and a jack in there all along. My friend just didn’t know either item were in there.
So, rule #2 is: Open the damn trunk and see what you have to work with.
Always consult the manual to find where the jack slot is. Auto manufacturers never make the slot easy to find, and it always is in a different spot than it was with the previous car you had. If you are in a hurry and try jacking up from any random surface under the car, the jack will always slip and you will have to start over after getting up and referring to the manual anyway.
Understand from the very beginning that there is no chance you will change your flat tire without lying down on the filthy street at some point. If you try to avoid lying down because you are dressed in pretty clothes, you are just wasting time. Either resign to getting your clothes dirty right away, or leave your car where it is and call for professional help.
If you keep a lot of random stuff in your trunk, be prepared to hate yourself when you get a flat. Whatever you will not be taking out to help change the flat will become a major annoyance as you wrestle to keep it out of the way while you wiggle your spare out of its tight compartment.
The most important thing you should know is that every fifth time you get a flat, one of the lug nuts on the wheel will be stripped. When that happens, you are totally helpless and should immediately give up. Stick a rag in the fuel tank, ignite and walk away.
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