How to change a car tyre | Top Gear
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TG's foolproof, six-point guide to changing tyres

Much like democracy, it’s straightforward, yet often goes horribly wrong

  • Regardless of how far you drive, the roads you use, your general level of luck or proximity to a road spike surplus warehouse, you will have to change a tyre at some point in your driving career.

    And while it’s a simple operation, there are a number of pitfalls that we want to help you avoid. Because no one wants to fall in a pit. Even the nicer Pitts, like Brad, for instance, will take umbrage if you continue to fall into them. So, as a group of fellow drivers who are concerned with your safety, wellbeing and need to read things on the internet, let’s put some words in front of each other in a manner that could possibly but might not explain the process of changing one’s own tyre.

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  • Step one: bring the car to a stop

    Through rigorous real-world testing, we’ve found that tyres are much easier to change if they’re not currently rotating at hundreds of revolutions per minute. Look to Formula One for more evidence: front-running teams like Mercedes and those other ones that get a look in when Mercedes screws something up always bring their race car to a complete stop in the pits before the pit crew attempts to change their tyres. With tyres changed, they can rejoin the race and have Crofty talk about those same tyres for the next hour.

    Take a leaf from Mercedes F1, then, and bring your car to a complete stop before attempting to change a tyre. Also insist that others who would like you to change their tyres follow the same championship-winning strategy that Mercedes employs.

    On the other hand, make sure not to take a leaf from Crofty’s book, which would be a 5,000-page tome on tyre degradation that repeats itself every hundred words or so.

  • Step two: locate your wheel brace

    This, for the Americans among you, is also referred to as a ‘tyre iron’. And this, for the mobsters among you, is also known as a ‘persuasion stick’.

    Nine times out of ten, your tyre iron will be in the boot of your car. But, every now and then, it can be somewhere else entirely. So take a moment to think. Did you go to a track day and take it out because its weight was costing you precious tenths per lap? Did you persuade someone to your point of view a little too vigorously and were forced to leave them, and your preferred method of persuasion, at the bottom of the East River? Are you Bear Grylls, and did you use it as a makeshift splint the last time you broke your leg?

    If you find yourself in any of these scenarios, it is largely unfeasible to change your own tyre. Wheel nuts aren’t a uniform size, which means that flagging down a passing motorist with a mind to borrow their wheel brace might only end up with you being vigorously persuaded not to with the aforementioned wheel brace.

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  • Step three: loosen the wheel nuts

    Loosening the wheel nuts while the car is still on the ground is an often-overlooked step. And, as any Vietnam veteran will attest, not looking where you’re stepping is a tremendous way to find yourself at the bottom of a punji pit with a sharpened piece of bamboo in distressing proximity to your duodenum. On balance, theirs was much more of a pitfall than ours (thank you and goodnight), but ours is a pitfall all the same.

    Should you jack the car up first, then attempt to loosen the wheel nuts, the rotational force you apply to undo the wheel nuts is transferred to the whole wheel, rotating it instead. And look at that! We managed to sneak some actual advice into this article.

    And how about two pieces of actual advice? Be sure to undo the wheel nuts of the wheel that has the tyre you need to change, otherwise it will be exceedingly difficult to change the correct tyre.

  • Step four: using the jack

    Before lifting the car at all, ensure that it’s on a flat surface and a safe location. A model's abdomen fulfils the first part of this test but fails on the second. Conversely, a solid piece of concrete is a good start but falls down if it’s attached to a tower block that’s about to be demolished.

    Make sure the parking brake is on and that you’re in gear, so the car resists rolling away. Also, crucially, turn the car off before exiting, as a car that’s in gear with the engine running has a tendency to want to go places. If you, on the other hand, do not want the car to go places, you can see where problems start arising. For added safety, you can place a chock under the wheel that’s opposite to the one you’re changing. It’s important that whatever you use to chock the wheel is a) readily available, b) dense enough not to be squashed and rolled over and c) something you couldn’t possibly care about if it gets ruined. The novels of E.L. James fit that bill.

    With that sorted, it’s time to avail yourself of the jack. It’s important to use the right kind of jack for the job – there’s a Jack in our office, and he’s rubbish at lifting cars. And, it turns out, quite litigious when it comes to hospital bills.

    The jack supplied with the car is the most obvious solution, but, if you’re changing your tyre at home or the home of a friend with useful tools (as opposed to your old friend from high school, who was a useless tool), you can avail yourself of pneumatic jacks, hydraulic jacks or floor jacks. Just not Top Gear Jack. His back is still out.

    Locate the proper jacking points for your car. The modern car, as Jack complained from his rehabilitation suite at the hospital, is quite a heavy beast, so placing your jack anywhere but these specific hard points will result in creative reinterpretations of how doors should fit, whether exhaust pipes should be crimped halfway along and how long a fuel tank should ideally store fuel.

  • Step five: removing the wheel nuts

    If you’ve been following our instructions so far, you should be standing next to a car that is parked, safely restrained from rolling away, and jacked up on one corner to allow easy access to the wheel you intend to remove. If you find yourself in any situation other than this, feel free to not blame this set of instructions, which is flawless in its methodology and, frankly, deserving of some kind of prize, literary or otherwise. Chase down your car if it’s still salvageable; otherwise, place a call to your insurer/barrister/priest as is necessary. We are unable to help you further. Or unwilling. Either way.

    If, on the other hand, you’ve followed our instructions and haven’t wreaked a trail of destruction that will take some days to remedy / tally up the fiscal and human cost, well done! Pat yourself on the back, because we are unable to do so from here. Also, unwilling, because you might have already broken a sweat at this point, and patting strangers on their sweaty backs is not really our scene.

    Now, it’s time to undo the wheel nuts. They’ll already be loose, so you should be able to undo them completely, just with your fingers. If they’re still tight, use the wheel brace until they’re loose enough to use your fingers. If you do not have fingers, use the wheel brace until they’re loose enough to use your toes. If you have neither fingers nor toes, consider rugging up a bit more the next time you go to the North Pole.

  • Step six: everything starts to fall down a bit here

    In the good old days – which were actually bad but seem much better when compared to modern life – cars came with a spare wheel. And this, more often than not, also came with a spare tyre around it.

    So, at this point in proceedings, one would simply exchange the wheel with the flat tyre for the wheel with the spare tyre, do the wheel nuts back up to finger/toe/jaw tightness, let the car back down onto its wheels, fully tighten the wheel nuts with the wheel brace, stick the ruined tyre and jack in the boot (NB: also don’t do this with Top Gear Jack; he says he’s allergic to being kidnapped) and drive away.

    But as we’re no longer living in the slightly-better-than-now days, we’re often forced to grapple with a raft of space- and weight-saving tyre repair kits that range from the entirely useless to the mostly entirely useless. In theory, you’re supposed to be able to remove the offending nail, screw, bolt or Amazonian dart, plug the hole with some horrible-looking goop (sit down, Gwyneth; we’re talking about the other kind), reinflate the tyre and be on your merry way. In practice, you’re probably just as well off trying to eat your tyre repair kit as use it. So, take a moment to appreciate progress. Then take several hundred more moments to appreciate it. That recovery van will be a while.

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