It’s very likely that, over the course of your motoring career, you’ll experience at least one flat tyre. It just seems to be one of those motoring facts of life.
Many flat tyres are caused by a slow puncture, giving you enough time to get to your favoured tyre dealer or, if you have breakdown cover as part of your insurance for young drivers, to get help (as a general rule, breakdown cover includes replacing tyres – covered under ‘roadside assistance’ – but it’s always worth checking).
Of course, and although we’d put it firmly in the list of ‘things we hope never happen to you as a motorist’, you may experience something more serious: a ‘blowout’. This is a tyre that bursts, causing a sudden loss of air pressure.
In this case, you’ll need to get yourself safely off the road first. Next, you’ll either call your breakdown cover (again, if you have the right cover under your insurance policy), or you’ll be looking at changing the tyre yourself. This procedure can sound daunting to the many motorists who haven’t yet had to do it: in reality, though, it’s not that complicated.
Let’s take a look at what to do if you do experience a blowout – and then, should you need to go down that route, how to change a tyre.
Tyre blowout: what to do
In the event of a tyre blowout your top priority is to get yourself safely off the road. And the steps to take here are slightly different, depending on whether it’s a rear or front tyre that has blown.
Rear tyre blowout
If a rear tyre bursts while you’re on the road, it’s very important to stay calm. You’re suddenly not going to have as much control over your vehicle as usual, and you need to take the right steps to bring your car to a safe stop – and to avoid putting yourself, your passengers and other road users in danger.
You’ll feel a rear tyre blowout straight away through your seat, even before the car starts to lose straight-line control. You’ll feel this particularly if you’re doing anything above 50mph.
Your instinct will probably tell you to brake: in fact, this is the last thing you should do. Sudden braking will result in the car spinning out of control, making a crash or roll more likely.
Instead, you need to come to a safe stop – and the way to do this is by keeping your steering wheel as straight as you can. Hold the steering wheel firmly, and just allow the car to come slowly to a halt.
To achieve this steady slow down, you may actually need to lightly apply the accelerator (strange though that sounds!), and then ease slowly off again. You’re not speeding the car up, in this instance – just trying to manage the deceleration safely, and avoid your car sliding to the side of the road.
Negotiating a car safely out of traffic with one defective tyre is a delicate business. Armed with the advice we’ve given here, you should be able to do it safely.
This is definitely an instance, though, when you’ll be feeling grateful for any young driver insurance you may have, should any difficulties arise.
Front tyre blowout
Once again, a blowout to a front tyre has some serious impact on the way the car steers – but your plan of action this time is slightly different.
Again, try to maintain a straightcourse by holding that steering wheel steady and avoiding any swerves. And again, you want the car to slow down smoothly and naturally. You may want to change down through the gears to help here.
Never brake, if you have a blown front tyre, unless you have regained control of the car – and even then, only brake very gently.
So, you need to change that tyre. Here’s what to do…
So far, we’ve given you some guidance on how to get yourself safely to a stop in the event of a tyre blowout.
Your next priority is going to be to fit a new tyre onto the affected wheel. And as we said, you’ve got two choices here. If you’ve included it in your young driver insurance, you may be eligible for roadside assistance and a professional will come and do it for you.
If not, you’ll have to change the tyre yourself. But don’t worry – it’s really not all that difficult.
Before you start: tyre-changing kit list
There are a few things you are going to need to successfully change a tyre, so it’s a good idea to read through this checklist and make sure you have the relevant things ready in your car should the need ever arise.
You will need:
A spare wheel and inflated tyre
Your car may have this already supplied, waiting for you in the boot – but this is no longer a legal requirement. A 2018 survey for What Car? magazine found that just 8% of new cars now come with a spare wheel. Around 30% come with a space-saver wheel. These are lighter and thinner, so they’re a good storage option – but they are not designed for long-term driving, only to get you to a garage where you can get a full-size tyre fitted. Meanwhile, 55% of new cars provide a tyre repair kit, allowing you to have a go at fixing the faulty tyre yourself.
So, you may need to either learn how to repair a tyre, or get hold of a spare wheel and tyre yourself. The latter is easy enough, with most wheel and tyre makes available from the major tyre and/or car parts dealers.
You’ll need to consult this to find out, for example, where to put your jack.
This is to keep the wheel raised while you change the tyre. You should be able to get a decent car jack for around £30-£40. Just make sure it’s sufficiently powerful to lift your car – some jacks can cope with a maximum weight of one ton, whereas modern cars typically weigh between one and two tonnes.
Wheel wrench or brace
This is the spanner to loosen the bolts attaching your wheel to the hub.
Locking wheel nut key
You might need this as well, to tighten one of the bolts on your wheel. Keep your locking wheel nut key in your car at all times.
You will need to be seen by other users.
In case you need to change a tyre in the dark or in poor light.
Again, to warn other road users that you are off the road.
To cut any cable ties used to secure your wheel.
Changing a tyre: step by step
1. Get to a safe place
The first thing you need to do, while remembering to slow down safely, is to get your vehicle and passengers to a safe place. Don’t attempt to change a wheel unless you are somewhere safe, well away from the carriageway. This can obviously be challenging, with one tyre not performing – but your clear priority is to safely remove yourself from the traffic.
Don’t use the hard shoulder of the motorway – this is not a safe place to be, and should only be used in an absolute emergency. Instead, get to the safest place you can – you can still drive on a flat tyre as far as the nearest layby or rest area.
Once you’re somewhere safe, get your car onto a level surface. Changing a tyre on a slope is hard work and potentially unsafe.
2. Prepare your car
Switch off your engine, engage the handbrake, put your hazard lights on and (unless you’re on a motorway, where warning triangles are not safe) carefully set up your warning triangle at a distance of at least 45 metres from the car, so that oncoming traffic can see you in good time and manoeuvre around you. Put on a hi-vis vest or other reflective clothing, if you have some.
Ask all your passengers to get out of the vehicle. You’ll be jacking up the car – so you need as little extra weight as possible. Remove any heavy luggage from the boot.
Cut any cable ties that may be securing your wheel trim to your wheel.
3. Loosen – but don’t yet detach – the faulty tyre and wheel
First, you need to loosen the wheel bolts on the defective wheel, in order to separate it from the hub and remove it from the car. It’s easier to do this before jacking the car, as loosening the wheel bolts while it’s elevated could cause the jack to dislodge.
Unscrew the bolts using your wheel wrench. These bolts may be screwed in tight, so your first turn may require a bit of effort. One of the wheel bolts may require a special locking wheel nut key, which you will find in your vehicle (usually in the glove compartment, boot, driver’s door bin, or wherever you last put it!).
4. Jack up the car
Once you have found the relevant jacking point for that wheel (usually under the rocker panel, just behind the front wheel, or just in front of the rear wheel – but your car handbook will help if you’re in any doubt), use the jack to lift the vehicle off the ground.
Place the jack (still compressed) under the jacking point and raise the jack until it touches the base of the car. Manoeuvre the jack into the correct position before you start to jack up the vehicle.
Use the jack to raise the car to a suitable height. Around six inches should do – bear in mind that you need enough distance off the ground to install the inflated wheel, which will be bigger than the blown tyre.
5. Remove the wheel
Now you can finish removing those wheel bolts that you’ve already started to loosen. Next, bending your knees (wheels are quite heavy), lift the wheel off the hub and put it to one side.
6. Fit the spare
Keeping the car raised with the jack, get your spare tyre from the boot. Make sure it’s properly inflated, to the right pressure indicated on the tyre. Align the new wheel, put it in place and insert one of the wheel bolts.
Screw in the rest of the wheel bolts by hand. When they’re all in place, tighten them gently with the wheel brace. You may need the locking wheel nut key again here.
7. Lower the car again
Now the new wheel’s safely in place, you can lower the car using the jack until the wheel touches the road. Disconnect the jack and slowly lower the jack further until it can be removed.
Grab the wrench and tighten the wheel bolts fully, before refitting any wheel trims and covers. It’s a good idea to get the wheel bolts fully checked at a garage later on.
8. And you’re off!
You can now put the worn tyre in the boot, pack up the tools and resume your journey. Bear in mind that, if you’ve used a space saver tyre, it may well have a certain speed limit specified. Keep to that speed limit.
Drive safely and carefully
As always, you want to be calm yet vigilant on the road. You’ve had quite a stressful experience, and you need to ensure that your driving style is unaffected. You may feel calmer at moments like these knowing that you have some good young driver insurance behind you, in the event of any more incidents.
And what to do with that old, damaged tyre? It might be able to be repaired so it’s worth taking it to a garage to check.
We hope this article has been of some help and that, as and when the moment arrives, you can change a car tyre calmly and safely.
Young driver insurance: a key part of your toolkit
We’ve recommended a few essential items to help you change a tyre with the minimum of difficulty. It’s a good idea to have them in your car at all times.
Some strong young driver insurance could also be a useful part of your driver’s toolkit.
With benefits including breakdown cover and personal accident cover, our young driver insurance can help protect you against some of the challenges you’ll meet out on the roads.