Sooner or later, you will have a puncture. When that happens, you will have three choices:
- Change the wheel
- Fix it temporarily with a puncture repair kit
- Get help from someone else, either a breakdown service or a friend/relative
Your decision will probably depend on your age, fitness, location and other circumstances. Car wheels are quite heavy and awkward to handle, so if you are not sure you have the strength to do the job, don’t.
If you are on a motorway or dual carriageway, The AA recommends that you do not change a wheel yourself unless you can leave the road completely. Don’t do it on the hard shoulder – stationary vehicles on the hard shoulder are at high risk of collisions.
Instead, use the nearest motorway emergency phone to get help – either from your breakdown service or from a Highways Agency Traffic Patrol, who will use their vehicle to help protect you from oncoming traffic (and even close the nearside lane if necessary).
If you have decided that you might change a wheel in an emergency, it is a good idea to practice doing it at home, when it’s light, dry and there is no danger from traffic. Spare wheels carried underneath the car can be difficult to remove the first time, as the wheel carrier mechanism can rust up.
Changing a Wheel
Please do not take this advice as definitive – it is a generic outline of the procedure you should follow. You must also follow the instructions in your car’s user manual. If in doubt, follow your car’s user manual instructions, not mine.
- Get your car as far off the road as possible but remain on a hard surface. If possible, park the car so that the wheel you need to change is on the nearside, not the offside. If you feel you are in a dangerous position (on any type of road), call the police non-emergency number (101) for advice.
- Switch off the engine, put your car’s hazard warning lights on, engage the handbrake and put the car into gear (or P for an automatic).
- All passengers, including pets, should get out and stand somewhere safe, away from the car. Wear a reflective (hi-viz) jacket if you have one.
- Remove your spare wheel from its storage position – be careful of the weight, car wheels are surprisingly heavy. Check that it is adequately inflated and in usable condition. Pump it up if necessary. There is no point in going any further if the spare is not usable.
- Get out all of the tools you will need to change the wheel. Your car should have a wheel-changing kit which contains everything you need – a jack and a wrench to do/undo the wheel nuts. If you have alloy wheels, you may have locking wheel nuts – make sure you have the adapter that allows these to be undone.
If you have everything you need, then remove the hubcap (if any) and loosen the wheel nuts, with the punctured wheel still on the ground. Don’t remove them – just ‘crack’ them so that they will come undone without too much effort.
(Your wheel nuts will be very tight. To ‘crack’ them, place the wrench on the nut with the arm sticking out to one side, stand with your legs apart and your back straight in front of it, and use both hands to push down. Bend your legs, not your back.)
- Chock the wheel diagonally opposite the wheel you will be removing. If you have more chocks, chock more wheels.
- Use your car’s manual to locate the appropriate jacking point for the wheel you are changing and fit the jack. Make sure it engages correctly with the jacking point. Failure to do this could damage your car and result in the car falling off the jack when it is raised up.
- Jack the car up just enough for the wheel that you are changing to be clear of the ground.
- Undo the nuts fully and remove them, leaving the top one until last. Hold the wheel in place, remove the final nut, and then lift the wheel off. The wheel should come off quite easily but be careful of the weight.
- Put the spare wheel onto the car and fit all of the nuts, starting with the top one. Tighten them until they are a little more than finger tight and are holding the wheel firmly in place. Make sure the wheel is pushed firmly home onto the bolts.
- Lower the car back onto the ground and remove the jack.
- Tighten the nuts. Use the wrench provided with your car’s tool kit and do the wheel nuts up tightly, using your body weight to help (unless you are unusually strong!). Use the same posture for tightening the nuts as you did for ‘cracking’ them loose.
- Check that the spare is still adequately inflated with the weight of the car on it. Refit the hubcap and stow away the punctured wheel and your tools.
- Drive off carefully. Check the tightness of the wheel nuts after the first 50 miles or so to make sure they are not coming loose.
- Take the car to a tyre centre at the first opportunity and get your punctured tyre fixed or replaced and have the tyre centre refit your normal wheel and correctly stow your spare wheel.
Despite this being a long list, changing a wheel does only take 15-20 minutes if you know what you are doing and everything goes smoothly. It can be a lot quicker than waiting for breakdown assistance – but never risk your own safety to do it.