Let’s be real here: Changing a tire is intimidating. Sure, it’s a “practical life skill.” Yes, you could find 100 YouTube videos breaking it down. Still, unless you know, like really know all the tools you need and all the steps you’re going to take, fixing a flat is... a lot. Especially if you’re not someone who feels particularly confident, strong enough to carry tires or encouraged to ask questions about cars.
“The hardest part of the job is getting the [spare] tire out of your trunk, because there are not a lot of tricks that you can use,” said Bogi, an auto technician and owner of Girl Gang Garage in Phoenix, Arizona, and who teaches car tech courses to groups of women and non-binary people. According to Bogi, who goes by her first name, the spare tire can be heavy and may be in a cumbersome position to try to get out on your own.
“For pretty much the rest of the job, you can use tricks to utilize your leg and body strength instead of trying to rely on arm strength.”
Bogi is passionate about getting drivers to understand their cars. She recommends getting familiar with your car’s manual, as well as the tire-changing tools that may come with your vehicle, such as a spare tire, a jack and some sort of wrench. Once you have all the tools, Bogi recommends practicing changing a tire in a driveway or parking lot.
“It is recommended that people like take off their tire and put it back on again in their driveway when they don’t have anything wrong with it,” she said. “Once you proved to yourself that it really isn’t as difficult as you thought it was when you do have to do it, it’s much easier and you’ll have that confidence there.”
Cheyenne Ruether, a master autobody technician and host of TV’s science-based construction show “Backyard Ballistics,” said that doing your own tire rotation is a great way to rehearse all the steps you’ll also need to change a tire.
“Practice makes perfect,” Ruether told HuffPost. “The knowledge and ability to get yourself out of a pickle will save you a lot of time, money and stress or having to pay back favors to friends coming to your rescue!”
And if you do practice in your driveway and have some trouble, Robin Johnson, owner of Georgia Auto Solutions in Conyers, Georgia, suggests you take a breath and keep trying.
“If you’re finding yourself struggling, do not feel bad. You are not an idiot,” Johnson said. “Professionals make it look easy, but until you actually get that jack, put it together, find a lift point on the vehicle [and change the tire], it’s not easy. Don’t get discouraged if it is a challenge for you.”
To help you on your tire-changing journey, Bogi, Ruether and Johnson break down everything you need.
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A four-way lug wrench or a tire iron
All three experts suggested loosening the lug nuts (the metal pieces that keep the tire on the wheel) while your car is still on the ground. As lug nuts are put on with a lot of force, they can be tricky for even the strongest people to remove and you shouldn't get discouraged if you're having trouble.
Bogi also noted that most cars come with some sort of basic tire-changing tool, but if your car is used and didn't come with one or if your tool is cheap, you should ensure you have a bigger, high-quality four-way lug wrench or tire iron with you at all times.
"The tool that's used for breaking the lug nuts loose, they've gotten increasingly flimsy over the years; they just don't give enough leverage," she said. "I recommend either getting a four-way or a tire iron because you can use both your leg strength and your arm strength
kind of simultaneously to break the bolts loose."
A "cheater" bar
If you're feeling nervous about getting the lug nuts off, or if you just want some much-deserved help, Bogi recommends using a "cheater" bar or an elongated handle to give you more leverage on the wrench. Be sure to check that the cheater bar will fit with the tool you have.
"If you give me a lever long enough, I'll move the world, right? It's all about physics," she said. “Place it horizontally on the car, so the arm of it isn't standing straight up, the tool is sitting horizontally to the ground, and then just literally [stand on it]. If you need to curse at it, yell at it if you have to. Use your physical body weight and force to break the bolts loose."
A reliable car jack
After loosening the lug nuts, it's time to lift the car. While your car should come with a jack or a tool to lift the vehicle, Bogi recommends checking you have one before hitting the road. If you don't have one, or if you don't have all the pieces you need to make the jack work, you'll want to get a reliable kit. We found this highly-rated one on Amazon that has 4.5 stars out of 2,206 ratings.
Johnson said to be sure to read the jack's instructions (if you're using an existing jack, check out your car's owner's manual) and practice putting the parts together and lifting your car in a driveway or parking lot. She also urged finding your car's lift points (also in the manual) to know where the jack needs to go to ensure you're lifting the car safely.
A set of rubber wheel chocks
To keep the car from rolling or moving when it's in the air, the experts advise using a set of rubber wheel chocks. "You put [them] on the opposite side of the car, diagonally opposite of what you're working on," Bogi said. "If you're working on a left front tire, you would put it behind your right rear tire. That's to keep the car from rolling when you have it destabilized up in the air."
Reflective road safety triangles
If you're changing a tire at night or in inclement weather, Bogi and Ruether say it's smart to keep visibility triangles in the car. "You wanna definitely set yourself up for success," Bogi said. “[L]ift your hood up, put your flashers on, put these reflective triangles out. It's a good idea to have those, just in case."
A rug or mat for your knees
Johnson suggests keeping a towel, a small rug or a work mat, like this padded one, in the car to protect your knees and legs when you're changing a tire on the road. "If you have to get out on the ground, you don't wanna get your knees dirty or hurt your knees, kneeling on the ground to try to jack it up," she said.
A set of gloves — yes, even cheap dishwashing ones will work
To give you some extra traction and keep your hands clean from grease or dirt, Johnson suggests keeping a pair of gloves in car. But don't worry on splurging for heavy-duty pair.
"I won't say you have to get mechanic gloves or a high-quality grade," Johnson said. "The yellow gloves you use or wash dishes, you can get those. It doesn't have to be anything fancy. I would not spend more than a $1.50 on a pair of gloves to keep in my car."
Closed-toe shoes and socks
Johnson and Bogi both recommend keeping an extra pair of closed-toe shoes and a clean pair of socks in your car. "If you're like me, you might have on flip-flops or heels," Johnson says. "I personally keep a pair of boots in my trunk, because I'm always prepared. I never know when I have to turn from being a mom and wife to [a mechanic]."
Changing a tire is a dirty job. Johnson suggests keeping some hand wipes in your car to clean yourself up as you're changing the tire and after it's done.
A tire pressure gauge
Obviously, accidents happen out of nowhere, but all experts recommended keeping a tire pressure gauge with you in your glove box and making a habit of checking your tire levels monthly. This way, if a tire is running low, you'll hopefully be able to catch it before it becomes a problem.
Pepper spray, just in case
For some extra protection when you have car trouble, Ruether recommends keeping some pepper spray with you. "I encourage women to carry pepper spray," she said. "Because not everyone out on the roads are good Samaritans just trying to lend a helping hand."
A car kit, for emergencies
Last but not least, Johnson and Ruether both recommend keeping a "car kit" in your vehicle at all times, including water, a non-perishable snack, any medications you rely on and whatever other items you may need in a pinch. Johnson recommends keeping some extra hair supplies or body and face wipes so you can put yourself back together after fixing your ride.