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How to change a wheel at the roadside

Fuzz Townshend Tyre Teacher

You needn’t find yourself stranded when your car’s tyre has a puncture. Fuzz helps you to help yourself.

Travelling in a car which suffers a sudden puncture can be an unnerving experience. Waking on a weekday morning to a car with a ‘flat’ tyre can be a major family logistics setback.

Knowing how to fit a spare wheel, or use temporary foam tyre fillers if your car doesn’t carry a spare, can help you to complete your journey, or get your car to your nearest tyre shop. 

If you’re not mechanically minded and the thought of actually changing a wheel fills you with dread, that’s understandable. But having the knowledge and skill to do so can be an empowering thing and allow you to continue with your day as planned.

Read on for my advice on how to change a wheel in an emergency.


Whatever type of event has occurred, the safety of the occupants of the car and those around it are paramount. If the event has occurred while on the move but the car has been brought to a standstill out of the direct flow of traffic, assess the situation and if it is safe to do so, evacuate the occupants of the car to a place of refuge. If the occupants include children, look after them, keep them away from the traffic and call the recovery rescue services. If you are safe, but your car is not, don’t be tempted to return to it. Only ever attempt to change a wheel, or temporarily reinflate a tyre if it is absolutely safe to do so.

Always keep your car’s spare tyre inflated to the correct pressure. Check it weekly at the same time as your other tyres.


Every new car should have been supplied with a user’s handbook. If you bought a used car, check in the glovebox; it may still be there. Failing that, check online. A downloadable copy might be available. Head to the section concerning tyres and punctures and read it thoroughly. It’s where you can find out about where the car’s spare wheel is located, if it carries one and how it is extracted. It should also mention where the associated tools, such as the lifting equipment, the wheel nut/bolt socket and bar, or temporary tyre inflating gear should be.


If your car has no spare tyre, or you’d simply rather avoid getting involved with wheel removal and you’ve found some inflation foam, make sure that it’s the right stuff for your car and that you know how to use it. Also check for a use-by date on the can. My advice here is to purchase an extra can or two from your local motor factor, or online and pop them into your car’s emergency equipment area. Before using the foam, read the instructions on the can to ensure that it is suitable for your car’s wheel and tyre set-up. Your tyre shop may also charge extra for cleaning up the wheel once they’ve removed your tyre.


Carry a set of lightweight overalls, some work gloves and some hi-vis vests. An illuminating warning triangle or two can help other drivers to avoid your stationary car. In addition, purchasing a good quality, appropriately sized, high-quality socket to fit your car’s wheel nuts or bolts, along with a long ‘breaker bar’, to attach it to, might help overcome very tight fixings. Often, the tools provided by the vehicle manufacturer may not overcome the tightness achieved by manufacturers’ or tyre shops’ powered equipment.


Image by Freepik

 A means of physically preventing your car from rolling when jacked up is commonly known as a wheel chock or scotch. One is useful, two are preferable. Having an axle stand available to place under the vehicle will act as a safeguard in cases of incorrectly jacked cars. They’re cheap and could save life or limb. Of course, arguably the most vital piece of your wheel change tool kit is the ‘jack’ or lifting device. Please ensure that it is present and in good order.


A prior run-through will pay dividends should you ever find yourself needing to go through the process for real. An item not yet mentioned is the tamperproof, or ‘locking’ wheel nut/bolt. Often, on every roadwheel of the car, there will be one tamperproof fixing, which requires a special adapter to be slotted into its head, which may then be turned using a standard socket or wheel bar. If you’ve never seen this item before, check in your car’s glovebox, centre console, or wherever the wheel changing kit is stowed. Without this adapter you won’t be able to change any wheels.


Before you attempt to begin to change a wheel, it is vital that first the car is on solid, level ground. Solid means concrete or tarmac, with a decent depth to it. Do not jack up a car standing on paving slabs set on earth, nor on soft or loose ground of any kind. Level means both fore and aft, and side to side. Ensure that the vehicle’s parking brake is fully on. Wedge your wheel scotches in linear fashion, under the wheel diagonally opposite the one you wish to lift. We are now ready to remove any caps or trims covering the wheel nuts in readiness to begin the process of changing a wheel.


Before you attempt to raise the vehicle’s wheel from the ground it is essential to first loosen its fixings, while the vehicle’s weight remains on the wheel. Raising the car first may mean that you have no way of arresting the wheel’s rotation when attempting to achieve this. Only a partial loosening to a little more than finger tight is necessary at this juncture. Righty-Tighty / Lefty Loosey… or clockwise to tighten, anti-clockwise to loosen. Removing the fixings completely with the car still on the ground may cause it to skew, shed its wheel and fall to the ground with potential damage and/or injury.


You will need to have your car’s spare wheel ready to hand, especially so if you are doing this operation in a ‘live’ situation. If the latter is the case, keep your wits about you, as standing at the rear of a stationary car extracting your spare next to moving traffic is an extremely hazardous place to be. If in doubt, await emergency recovery at a place of safety before attempting a wheel change.


Position your car’s jack in the position recommended by the manufacturer in the handbook. Wind it until it is in contact with both the car and the ground, then check to ensure that it is firmly footed on the ground, and securely located at the jacking point on the car. Having confirmed this, continue to wind the jack and begin lifting the wheel from the ground. With the wheel and tyre clear of the ground by about 25mm to 50mm, place the vehicle support stand under the car, close by the jack. If you’re not certain of exactly where to place the stand, do not lower the car onto it.


Undo the wheel’s fixings and swiftly remove it to one side. Take the spare and offer it up to the hub, retaining it in place with one nut/bolt to begin with, but do not tighten at this juncture. Fit the remaining nuts/bolts and screw them up until they just make positive contact and retain the wheel with their conical faces. Nip up the nuts a little more, opposite nut to opposite, or, with odd numbered wheel fixings, as close to opposite as possible and then remove the stand and lower the car to the ground before fully tightening the nuts. You’ll need to take the car to a tyre bay to have the tightness checked scientifically.


Well done, you’ve changed a wheel. Waste no time now. Get everything and everybody in your party back into the car and get on your way, preferably straight to a tyre shop, where your punctured item can be replaced, and the others checked for safety. If you’d like further instruction, consult your local schools and colleges evening class schedules. Local car clubs might well offer similar guidance. Practice makes perfect and a little knowledge can go a long way. However, if you are at all uncertain at any time, walk away from the task and leave it to the professionals.

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Load capacity of the tyre
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