How to Change a Flat Tire in the Desert (or anywhere) by Stephanie Hall

Guest Post by Stephanie Hall

I dig cars.  In truth, I don’t dig cars as much as I dig “getting” cars and being able to talk with people about cars.  Especially men; men mechanics to be specific.  And, if they are being honest, they kinda dig it that a woman “gets” cars.  The basics are pretty simple – fuel, O2, fire.  It’s a simple formula for combustion that’s been around for a very long time.  Since the advent of fire.

There are some simple truths that everyone needs to know about cars – if they drive somewhere other than downtown Manhattan.  One of the biggest truths is: how to change a tire.

I presented a speech at a Toastmasters meeting about tire changing.  (More on TM at some other time).  One of the big tenets we support is positive feedback.  Someone in the group didn’t quite get the positive aspect of the feedback and handed me an unsigned note: “I’D Call AAA”.  Yes, I am SURE you would.  Snarky to be sure, but something most people truly believe.  They will NEVER be in a position to “Change a Tire.”  They would call AAA.

Let me give you a scenario.  Me, a 14 year old son, a 4 year old daughter and my ex-spouse; driving from central TX to southeast NM.  In a Suburban.  There are places in NM where cell phones do NOT work.  Trust me on this one.  Somewhere between Carlsbad, NM and Las Cruces, NM in the middle of the desert, I heard a noise.  It was a distinct sound, but not one that immediately said, “Danger.”  After a moment, I realized what the noise indicated – Flat Tire!!!  Have you looked at map lately?  Between Carlsbad and Las Cruces lay miles and miles and miles of … Nothing.  It’s a desert region.  Cell phones do not work in many parts of this area.  Even if they do, how long do you think you will be waiting in the desert for AAA?  I did not want to find out.  So we unloaded ourselves, set up some shade for the little people and set out to change the tire.

Let’s take a break here.  It was Spring Break time, so March.  Even in March, the desert does not care who is stuck in its midst.  The desert is beautiful, wonderful and awe inspiring.  It is also hot, dry and heartless.  The desert will consume whosoever and whatsoever is not prepared for existence in its midst.  It is not evil, it just IS.  Get used to that as a fact.

At this time, knowing how to change a tire was essential.  I am glad, and proud, that I KNEW what to do.   Let me give you some info so YOU will know what to do.  I hope you never are called upon to do this, but just in case, you will at minimum have the information you need to keep going.

Tire changing basics:

First and foremost – get off the road.  Yes, some tires can be expensive.  Yes, it can totally destroy a tire to drive on it flat – and add in the cost of a rim for good measure.  But what is your life worth?  I know a man who lost an eye.  He got a load of money, but do you think for one minute he wouldn’t trade the cash for his sight?  So, sit back for a moment and imagine what your family would go through if you were suddenly dead.   It can be that serious.

Not for us on that day.  We simply had to find a suitable pull-out.  “Suitable” means level – as in: as flat as you can get for safety sake and away from traffic.

Now, check traffic – in our case, what traffic?  No cars for Miles and Miles.  Ok, your safety is assured.

You will need the tools necessary.  If you drive, familiarize yourself with the location of your tools!!  (Check your owner’s manual BEFORE you need this info)  Gather together all the parts of the jack: Usually a lifting device, the “jack” portion; the “tire iron”, a tool for removing the lug nuts (those things that hold the tire to the vehicle) and an extension, maybe two.  The tire iron generally does double duty.  It will be used to remove lugs AND lift the vehicle.  In our case a Suburban.  Also, grab a bandana, or newspaper or something to hold the lugs.  If you have an extra something to kneel on, even better; this operation can be tough on the knees.

Find the tire iron – that thing that you use to loosen the lugs.  You’ll use it first.  But, first, here’s some info on the newer model vehicles.  Many trucks – and Suburbans, Tahoes, trucks, etc… save space by hanging the spare under the vehicle.  And car manufacturers make removal of the spare tricky.  By design, but we won’t go into those details now.  Just know if you walk to the back of your vehicle and see what looks like a place to put the key and turn the truck on, you have located the magic kingdom for tire removal.  If you see a hole that looks out of place and you have zero idea why it is there, you have probably found the right spot on either an import vehicle or an older model domestic vehicle.

For those of you who have a newer model truck, SUV, whatever – insert the ignition key into the slot and turn to the right (clockwise).  When the plug is released, you can remove it from the truck.  This is important and will be explained in a footnote.

Assemble the poles that are in the tire removal kit – trust me, you will know what I mean when you look at all the parts.  Insert said pole into the void in the back of your vehicle created when you removed the plug.  This gets a bit tricky, but you will be able to “feel” when the tool engages with the mechanism that is devilishly hiding your spare under your truck, SUV, whatever (from this point forward, it’s a truck).  You will feel the rod engage, rotate the mechanism counterclockwise (if you have never assembled IKEA furniture just remember “righty tighty, lefty loosey).  You want to go “lefty”.  The spare tire will descend from hidden depths under your vehicle.  Once the spare hits the ground, slide it out from under said truck.

Now, do NOT do anything with the spare other than roll it over to the dreaded flat.  Well, that isn’t entirely true – check to make sure you have air in the spare tire.  If not, you’re screwed, call AAA. Let’s go with the best case scenario and your spare is okay.

Use the Tire Iron – that funny “L” shaped tool to loosen the lug nuts on holding the flat tire to the vehicle.  Again, use the “lefty loosey” rule.  Give yourself credit, you CAN figure this out.  Note: Loosen the lugs, do NOT remove them.  And do NOT raise the vehicle off the ground first.  You need the friction of the tire to the ground to allow you to break the lugs loose.   If you give them about one free turn to the left, that is sufficient.  Really, let’s be serious.  If you are driving a land yacht you will probably need a “4-way lug”.  Look it up, get to know what it is and how it is used.

Now, read the directions and assemble the jack and put it under the vehicle in the appropriate location.  Read the directions!!  Read the directions!! Read the directions!!  Did I mention you need to read the directions that are with your tire tools?  You should find a diagram of proper jack placement – regard this as sacred.

Raise the vehicle until the flat is off the ground enough you can put the spare ON the vehicle and make it work.  Once the lifting is accomplished, go ahead and remove the flat tire. To do this you will completely remove the lug nuts.  Use the aforementioned bandana as a place to set all the lugs.  Keep them all together – you don’t want to lose one.   Put the flat tire to the side – but keep it, no matter how pissed you are at the tire right now.  It will be helpful later.  Stand the spare up on its tread, roll it to the empty space and put it on the lugs.  This step requires some muscle.  IF you absolutely cannot get the tire high enough off the ground to line up the lugs, lower the vehicle slightly.  Roll the tire into place, the raise the vehicle again.  You gotta have clearance to get the tire into the proper place.  Once you have the spare lined up on at least one lug, put a lug-nut onto the stud and secure the tire.  If you raise the vehicle without securing the tire, you risk having it fall off – and on to you.  Not good.  Once you have gotten the spare on to the vehicle put all the lug nuts on and finger tighten them.  Don’t worry that your version of ‘finger tight’ is not that strong, you are only trying to keep the tire in place.  Now, lower the vehicle to the ground.  Put the weight of the truck onto the tire.

Use the tire iron to tighten the lugs.  Don’t go around the clock, use a criss-cross pattern.  If you have 5 lugs, make a star pattern when tightening the lugs.  If you have 4 lug nuts, make an X pattern when tightening the lug nuts.  Use the tire iron to snug up the lug nuts, run them tight to the tire.  Then hit it for about another ¼ turn.  This is what holds your tires to your vehicle.

Get that broken, flat, worn-out, damaged, destroyed piece of tire back into the vehicle.  Just hang on to it.  You certainly don’t want to buy a new rim if you don’t have to.  Make sure you have gathered up all the parts, pieces and pertinent bits of tool and put those back into the vehicle.  Congratulate yourself on being an Amazon Woman from Mars, get back into the vehicle and drive away.

Now, you are no longer emboldened to AAA.  You CAN drive to those remote locations.  You CAN get yourself out of trouble.  And if you never plan to drive through a barren desert, cell phone dead zone or be without the aid of someone else to change your flat tire at least you will know if they are doing it right!!

Footnote:  spare tires are expensive.  Most cars have temporary spare tires, aka “doughnut” wheels, while trucks have “real” spares.  The reason for the puzzle trick is to keep your spare YOURS.  (Extra tires and tailgates are among the most commonly stolen items from a truck.)


Stephanie Hall

Stephanie Hall

Stepanie Hall is a mom and member of Toastmasters International based in Bryan-College Station.

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One comment

  • Being stuck in a place with a flat tire is very devastating. As a good car owner, you must be prepared with an emergency kit in fixing your tire. This will help you to smoothly handle the situation and get back to the road quickly.

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