Tire 101: How to Change Your Tire and Get a Repair

As the sole point of contact with the road, tires transmit acceleration, braking, and turning forces. Maintaining proper tire pressure and tread depth reduces the likelihood of failure while catching damage early allows for repairs before catastrophic blowouts occur. This article outlines when and how to change flat, temporary fix options, assess repairability, and signs that new tires are needed.

What are the Steps to Changing a Flat Tire?

Flats or blowouts remain an inevitable nuisance for motorists. Armed with a spare, jack, and tire iron, you can replace the flat and resume driving promptly. Follow these key steps:

Secure the Vehicle

Activating hazard lights and positioning warning triangles or flares alerts other drivers and prevents accidents while changing the tire roadside. For maximum stability, ensure the vehicle is on level, firm ground.

Fetch the Spare and Tools

The spare tire, jack, and iron are usually together in the trunk or cargo area. If not immediately evident, check your owner’s manual for their precise location. Inspect tools for damage prior to use.

Loosen Lug Nuts

With the vehicle still on the ground, use the iron to loosen the lug nuts securing the flat tire by turning them counterclockwise. Loosen each by several rotations, but do not fully remove yet.

Position the Jack

Consult the manual for designated jack points on your car’s chassis. Adjust the jack height, so the saddle contacts the chassis at this optimal point.

Raise the Vehicle

Pump the jack to lift the vehicle until the flat clears the ground by several inches. The opposite wheels should maintain contact for stability.

Remove Lug Nuts and Flat Tire

Finish unscrewing the lug nuts by hand then pull the flat tire off the wheel bolts. Set aside out of the way.

Mount Spare Tire

Line up the spare over the wheel bolts, then hand tighten the lug nuts clockwise in an alternating crisscross pattern until snug. Avoid using power tools to prevent overtightening.

Lower Vehicle

Carefully crank the jack handle to slowly descend the chassis onto the new spare tire. Ensure vehicle weight fully transfers before removing the jack.

Secure Tire and Stow Equipment

Finish tightening the lug nuts using the iron with the maximum force you can exert by hand. Replace tools and secure the flat in the spare’s cavity. Proceed cautiously, as spare tires are meant only for temporary use.

Follow these steps, and you will have your vehicle rolling on its spare in under 30 minutes in most cases. Of course, pull over immediately if you have a flat. Changing it roadside is safer than struggling to control a vehicle with a deflating tire.

Temporary Fixes for Tire Damage

While spare tires allow continued driving after flats, other options can temporarily mend tread punctures and sidewall damage until a full repair or replacement is possible:

Tire Plugs

Rubber plugs filled with adhesive seal tread punctures caused by nails or debris. Plug kits are inexpensive and widely available for DIY repairs, holding air pressure for considerable distances. This allows driving to a tire shop for a more permanent fix.


Similar to plugs, patches are applied to punctures or vulcanized rubber patches chemically bonded with sealant and adhesive. Performing the internal patch requires demounting the tire from the wheel but provides a more durable fix than plugs alone.

Tire Sealants

Liquid sealants injected directly into the tire are meant as an emergency fix for tread punctures up to 1⁄4 inch. They can be messy and potentially damage tire pressure sensors but work in a pinch.

Sidewall Sealant

Special aerosol sealants target sidewall damage by chemically bonding with rubber through spray application. This stabilizes larger holes temporarily. As sidewalls lack tread depth, sealant use should be limited to reaching a repair shop or replacement.

In summary, carries plug kits, aerosol sealants, a portable air compressor, and an emergency triangle or flares. This loadout can get you rolling after most common tire failures until permanent service is possible.

Assessing Tire Repairability

Before attempting repairs, qualified tire technicians will assess the tire casing for safe repairability or if replacement is the wise option. They check the:

Tread Depth

Tires under 2/32 inch tread depth risk further damage when repairing punctures and generally reach replacement stage regardless.

Puncture Size and Location

Holes over 1⁄4 inch or those too close to the sidewall often cannot be safely repaired. Severe damage causing structural failure requires replacement.

Repairs Previously Done

While tires can be patched more than once, excessive repairs undermine integrity and indicate aging casing ready for replacement.

Tire Age and Condition

Technicians inspect the rubber’s condition given its age, looking for cracking, weathering, or deformation that shortens intended lifespan.

If deemed safely repairable, the technician will demount the tire then either plug and patch holes from inside or apply bonded external patches with sealant adhesive. Plugs work on most tread punctures under 1⁄4 inch that have not damaged internal belts. Patches are more involved yet yield superior, long-term results.

When to Replace Tires

Routine inspections reveal when tread deterioration, damage extent, or age necessitate new tires:

Inadequate Tread Depth

Replace when tread under 2/32 inch, indicated by channels in the primary grooves. Minimum legal depth is 1/32 inch, but grip greatly suffers by this point.

Irreparable Damage

Single-vehicle accidents and severe impacts like potholes often cause irreparable casing damage. Bulges, cracks, and heat damage signify replacement.

Old Tires

The average lifespan is 6 years, shorter in warm climates. At 10+ years, rubber compound decline prompts replacement regardless of tread left.

Check tires at every fuel stop for pressure, tread wear, and signs of damage. Address issues promptly for maximum tire life and performance. Rotate them with oil changes to even wear as well.

Overall, knowledge and preventative care enable you to handle common tire failures at the roadside or have an informed conversation at the repair shop. Maintaining tires remains is vital for vehicle safety.

What Flat Tire Cannot Be Repaired?

A flat tire cannot be repaired if it has:

  • Large Punctures – Over 1/4 inch in diameter.
  • Sidewall Damage – Punctures, cuts, or bulges in the sidewall.
  • Excessive Tread Wear – Below 2/32 inch tread depth.
  • Multiple Close Punctures – Less than 16 inches apart.
  • Poor Previous Repairs – Improperly repaired before.
  • Aging or Degradation – Signs of dry rot or cracking.
  • Bead Damage – Wear or tear on the tire’s edge.
  • Internal Damage – Caused by driving on the flat tire.

Proper Tire Care and Maintenance

Extending tire life requires proactive care between replacements. Follow these best practices:

  • Check pressure monthly – Underinflation accelerates center tread wear and damage from overflexing. Overinflation reduces grip. Refer to door placard or manual for proper PSI.
  • Rotate every 5,000–7,500 miles – Front tires wear faster from steering forces. Rotation evens wear rates across the set.
  • Inspect tread monthly – Penetrate grooves looking for punctures, bubbles, cuts, or exposed belt. Measure depth as well.
  • Align annually – Alignment compensates for suspension wear over time. This prevents irregular tire wear patterns.
  • Balance every rotation – Balance compensates for inherent weight differences between tires to minimize vibration.
  • Wash regularly – Clean tires remove debris and maximize traction. Use pH neutral cleaners. Avoid abrasive brushes.

Adhering to this schedule optimizes tread longevity and fuel economy while reducing the chances of failure. Tires are complex composites that benefit from proper care throughout their service.

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Stephen Moen is a renowned expert and a guiding beacon in the tire industry, with an illustrious career spanning over two decades. As the founder of AutoTireUp, Stephen combines hands-on experience with profound industry knowledge to provide genuine, in-depth tire reviews and insights.