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How to change a wheel on a car

Carlton Boyce / 01 September 2016 ( 01 April 2019 )

While changing a wheel on a car does need to be done properly, it’s not as hard as you might think…

A car waits at the side of the road to have a tyre changed

While changing a wheel on a car does need to be done properly, it isn’t hard if you know the basics of tyre changing:

How to change a wheel on a car

• Find level, flat ground: you should only ever try and change a wheel when the ground is flat and level.

• Put the car into either first or reverse gear and apply the handbrake firmly. Choke the wheel that is diametrically opposite.

• Loosen the wheel nuts by one full turn – but don’t fully remove them yet!

• Fit the jack under the designated jacking point on your car and slowly wind the jack up until the tyre you want to change is 3-4 inches off the floor.

• Remove the wheel nuts and the wheel.

• Fit the new wheel and do the wheel nuts up until they are finger tight.

• Lower the jack until the weight of the car is fully resting on the tyre.

• Tighten the wheel nuts up using the wheel wrench.

Of course, that's just the very basics, and there's a little bit more to successfully changing a car wheel - but not too much to cope with, as I hope I can show in this easy guide.

Is changing a car tyre becoming a lost art?

The average motorist will suffer a puncture once every 44,000 miles, or about one flat tyre every four years.

That modern tyre technology makes it such a rarity means changing a car tyre is becoming something of a lost art these days.

A lot of drivers are also scared of the whole process, worrying that the car will collapse on top of them, or the newly fitted wheel will careen down the road as they drive away.

If you enjoy Carlton's inimitable style of writing, you'll love his book How to Become a Motoring Journalist - available on the Saga Bookshop.

What you’ll need to change a tyre

• Jack

• Wheel wrench

• Locking nut key

• Chocks, if possible, although onsite bricks and rocks can be used

• Spare wheel

• Handbook

• Reflective jacket or vest (a few pounds from eBay)

• Gloves and wet wipes

Building a basic car toolkit

Changing a car tyre: In detail

Pre-puncture checks

Before you start your journey, you need to check that the spare tyre in your boot is inflated, and that you have a jack, and wheel wrench. If you have locking wheel nuts on your car (usually one per wheel) then you’ll also need the locking nut key that enables you to remove them.

While you are there, it makes a lot of sense to throw in an old coat in case you need to change a wheel in the rain, a reflective jacket or vest, a torch, and a few latex or rubber gloves and a small pack of baby wipes to keep your hands clean.

Once you’ve checked that all is present and correct it’s worth re-checking the pressure in the spare wheel every month or so, just in case you develop a slow leak from the tyre valve, something that isn’t uncommon.

10 motoring laws people forget or ignore

Consider a dry run

You could consider doing a dry run wheel change on your driveway. Yes, it’s a bit of a faff but it’s much better to discover a problem now – and to develop the right technique – than to be forced to do so in the rain and dark.

Even if you don’t do a practice run, now is the time to dig out the handbook for your car and identify the jacking points. 

Again, it’s much easier to do it now when you aren’t in a hurry than when you have to do it for real.

Level, flat ground

You should only ever try and change a car's wheel when the ground is flat and level, even if it means driving slowly forward a few metres on a flat tyre. It’s far better to ruin a tyre than have a car fall on you because it isn’t stable.

Once you’ve stopped, apply your car’s hazard warning lights to warn other motorists and stand your warning triangle on the road at least 45 metres from your car if you consider that another warning is necessary.

Even though the hard shoulder of a motorway is level and flat you should never try and change a wheel there, as it is just too dangerous. You need to get out of the car as quickly as possible using the passenger’s side, walk carefully up the embankment and call for help on your mobile phone.

Loosen your wheels

Put the car into either first or reverse gear (or ‘Park’ if it is an automatic) and apply the handbrake firmly. 

You might like to consider using any nearby bricks, rocks, or pieces of wood to choke the wheel that is diametrically opposite to give you an extra margin of safety. Place one brick in front of the wheel and one behind, kicking them firmly under the tyre to secure the wheel and prevent it from moving.

Get your spare wheel out of the boot along with the jack, wheel wrench and locking wheel nut key. 

Lay them on the ground nearby so they are close at hand but not so close that they get in the way! If the ground is dirty, consider using a floor mat from your car to kneel on. 

Then use your wheel wrench and/or your locking wheel nut key to loosen off the wheel nuts on the affected wheel by one full turn. 

Don’t fully remove them yet!

The wheel nuts will be very tight so you might have to use your bodyweight to help you shift them and the easiest way to do this is to angle the wrench so that you can apply steady downwards pressure with your foot. 

Be careful, because if your foot or wrench slips, it’ll hurt. Also, please make sure that you keep your back straight and your weight evenly balanced to avoid hurting yourself.

Or, you can do what I’ve done and invest in a telescopic wheel wrench from somewhere like Halfords. A tenner will save all sorts of swearing and cursing, which could prove to be a wise investment if you’ve got the grandchildren with you...

NB. You need to loosen the wheel nuts with the car on the ground because if you try and do it with the car in the air, you will, in all probability, pull the car off the jack.

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Fit the jack

You can now fit the jack under the designated jacking point on your car. Now slowly wind the jack up, checking that it is firmly in position and can’t slip off. You can stop when the punctured wheel is 3-4 inches off the floor; you don’t need to wind it all the way up.

Make sure that you do not place any part of your body under the car at any time. A jack is only a lifting device and cannot be trusted to hold your car securely.

Remove the wheel nuts and the wheel

You can now take the wheel nuts completely off. If your car has bolts rather than nuts, be careful, as removing the final bolt will leave the wheel unsupported and it can come crashing down. If in doubt, ask someone else to help you as the wheel will invariably be heavier than you think.

Fit the new wheel

Carefully lift the spare wheel into place. If it’s a space saver, or one of the smaller versions you’ll have seen on other cars, it will be a bit lighter than the wheel you’ve just removed but it will still be quite weighty.

If your car uses nuts, then you’ll have the studs to hang the wheel on to, but if your car has bolts you’ll need to locate the wheel centrally on the hub and hold it in place while you get a bolt in. The job gets easier once one bolt is in place as it will help hold it up while you fit the rest.

Do the wheel nuts up until they are finger tight. Wiggle the wheel very gently to settle it on the hub and try to tighten the nuts up a bit more, but don’t tighten them fully just yet.

Which is better: Spare tyre or tyre foam?

Lower the jack

Now carefully wind the jack down until the weight of the car is fully resting on the tyre. When it is, you can remove the jack.

Tighten the wheel nuts

Tighten the wheel nuts up using the wheel wrench. Tighten them in as close to a diagonal pattern as you can, so the car wheel pulls up nice and straight and even.

You should tighten them as much as you can, even using a little foot pressure if necessary. 

Don’t be tempted to use your extending wrench in the fully open position as it will apply too much torque and could damage the car or strip the threads on the wheel.

Put everything back in the boot

You can now put everything back in the boot and give your hands a wipe. Double-check the area for anything you might have left behind – the locking wheel nut key is a favourite as it’s so small – and drive carefully away, listening for anything unusual.

I always stop after 15-20 miles and double-check that the wheel nuts are tight using the wheel wrench. If you are using a space saver spare wheel then respect the speed limit of 50mph. 

That skinny spare wheel might save space in the boot but it gives far less grip than the other three tyres and your car could become dangerously unbalanced if you drive it as quickly as you normally do, especially around corners and in the wet.

If you are at all dubious of your ability in changing a car tyre properly, or feel your health might be impacted if you attempt it, then remember there is no shame in utilising your breakdown cover – safe is always better than sorry. 

Informative, in-depth and in the know: get the latest news, interviews and reviews with Saga Magazine.

How to change a tyre: Saga readers say...

'I have read with interest about changing a wheel. As an ex-motor mechanic, I have changed a lot of car tyres. Since I am now a senior and not as strong, I have bought two bolts of the same thread as the wheel bolts without the heads. Remove one or two of the bolts, and replace with the cut-off ones. This way you can easily remove and replace the wheel without having to juggle the wheel to line up the holes.' - W.R, via email

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.