Spare Tire Time – How to Put One On

man changing flat tire with spare tire

Almost every car on the road has a spare tire, but do you know how to use it? Better yet, do you even know where it is? It seems that many people don’t even realize they have one, and we’ve seen spare tires in 15-year-old vehicles that have never seen the light of day. Chances are you, too, may never need to use one, but it’s a good thing to know. After all, you never know if you might wake up to a flat tire in your driveway or have the TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) give you a warning out on the highway.

Flat Tires Happen to Everyone

If you think about it, a tire is basically a balloon, albeit a very serious balloon. Made of steel and fabric bands encased in rubber, your tires give you traction, control, and a measure of shock absorption. Still, as a balloon, it can be deflated. Road debris, such as stray car parts or sharp rocks, can puncture the tire. The tire may leak from the valve stem or between the tire and the wheel. In some cases, wheel damage, such as a bent or cracked rim, can allow air to leak from the tire.

The result is a flat tire, and they can happen to everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are, what vehicle you drive, or even how you drive it. Still, everything you need to know is right there in your owner’s manual, which you should get to know intimately. If you don’t have your owner’s manual, you can buy one from your dealer or Amazon or eBay. You might be able to download it for free at In case you get a flat tire, here’s what you need to know.

Spare Tire Types and Usage

There are three kinds of spare tire, depending on the vehicle. If your vehicle is equipped with a full-size spare, then it works the same as the tires already mounted on your vehicle. If your vehicle has alloy wheels, the spare may be mounted on an alloy wheel or a steel wheel, and different lug nuts may be required.

The temporary spare or compact spare, sometimes referred to as a “donut,” is narrower than the tires mounted on your vehicle and may be of a smaller diameter. As its designation suggests, it is for temporary use only, for a limited distance and maximum speed.

Vehicles equipped with run-flat tires are usually not shipped with a spare tire, and may not even include a space for one. Instead, run-flat tires are built with extra-strong sidewall materials. If a run-flat tire goes flat, you can still drive it but, like temporary spare tires, for a limited distance and speed.

While you can use a full-size spare under all the same conditions, speeds, and distances of the regular tires, use caution when driving with a temporary spare or run-flat tire. The temporary spare and run-flat tire are only meant to be used for a limited distance and speed. Exceed that distance or speed and you could ruin the tire, your car, or lose traction and get into an accident. Replace a temporary spare or run-flat tire as soon as possible.

Once you discover you have a flat tire, you’ll have to replace it with the spare tire. It’s a good idea to practice this on a nice day if you can. Full instructions for your specific vehicle can be found in your owner’s manual, but here are the basic steps you need to follow.

Installing a Spare Tire

  1. Park the vehicle on level spot in a safe place. Your driveway, a parking lot, or well off the shoulder should be fine. Turn off the vehicle, put the transmission in park or in gear, and set the parking brake.
  2. On the highway, put out flares or warning triangles to warn other drivers of your presence.
  3. Before you jack up the vehicle, take out the tools and the spare tire. Check the pressure of the spare tire – if it’s also flat, just call for help.
  4. Use the lug nut wrench to break loose the lug nuts, but do not remove them yet.
  5. Use the jack to lift the vehicle until the flat tire is just off the ground, then remove the lug nuts and the flat tire.
  6. Put the flat tire next to the jack, under the vehicle. In case the jack fails, the wheel will catch it. Never put any part of your body under the vehicle while it is supported by the jack.
  7. Mount the spare tire. You might need to lift the vehicle a little higher to make it fit. If your new spare tire requires special nuts or bolts, they should be located with the spare or tool kit. Spin the lug nuts on until the wheel stops wiggling.
  8. Take the flat tire out from under the car, lower the vehicle, and remove the jack.
  9. Use the lug nut wrench to tighten the lug nuts to the best of your ability. Use a star pattern to tighten the lug nuts.
  10. Put the flat tire in the spare tire space or in the trunk, along with the jack, tools, and warning triangles.
  11. Drive directly to have your flat tire repaired or replaced and reinstalled on your vehicle.

Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers

Tires don’t last forever, but we can help you make them last. At Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers, our ASE Certified technicians keep up-to-date on the latest tire maintenance and repair techniques. If you have a tire problem or you’re running on your spare tire right now, come in and talk to one of our experienced technicians about your repair options. With 42 locations, there’s bound to be one convenient to your home, job, or school.