Perhaps you were driving from the grocery store loaded down with frozen waffles, or maybe you were going the kids to a soccer game when it happened. Regardless of how it happens, you know the second you hear the thud of the hubcap on the road that you need to get your hands dirty and change a tire.
But what if you open the tool kit and find that you don’t have the tool to lower or release the spare tire from its storage?
In general, you can lower a spare tire without the factory tool with the help of an ignition key, the ratchet crank of your car’s jack, and elbow grease. However, with certain vehicles, like pickup trucks and Suburbans, you can use a combination of a hammer, pliers, a socket wrench, and a flathead screwdriver to lower a spare tire.
Depending on the tools you have available will determine the method you can use to lower your spare. Read on to explore several ways you can attempt to lower your spare.
- Why Can’t You Drive On A Flat Tire?
- What Tools Do You Need To Lower (or Unlock) A Spare Tire?
- How Are Spare Tires Secured On Vehicles?
- Where Is The Spare Tire Located?
- Safety Rules For Changing Tires
- How To Lower The Spare Tire On A Truck?
- Ignition Key and Jack Method
- Alternative Truck Method
- How To Lower The Spare Tire On An SUV or Jeep?
- How To Unlock The Spare Tire On A Car (Interior Spare Storage)?
- How To Change A Flat Tire?
- A Parting Thought On Safely Accessing Spare Tires
Why Can’t You Drive On A Flat Tire?
Before you consider not dropping your spare and just driving to the nearest mechanic, remember that driving on a flat is dangerous to you, your passengers, and the vehicle itself. Understand that driving on a flat puts wear and tear on your vehicle’s alignment, frame, and rims – all of which are costly to replace.
Additionally, any car with a flat tire is not safe to drive because you’ve lost secure handling of the vehicle. A flat tire won’t make turns properly, can’t drive on water, and overall increases the risk of accidents while in use.
Long story short, if you have a flat tire, don’t try to make it to the nearest mechanic. Instead, pull over, take off the damaged tire, and drive to the nearest mechanic on your spare tire.
If you don’t know how to access and lower your spare tire, your first step is to grab the proper tools for the job. Don’t panic; most vehicles or car emergency kits come with the tools you need.
What Tools Do You Need To Lower (or Unlock) A Spare Tire?
The tools required for lowering your spare tire will vary depending on the method you are trying. However, most methods utilize some variation of the following tools. Therefore, you should keep an emergency kit with these tools in every vehicle.
Also, keep in mind that if you purchase a used car, it may not come with standard tools (like your missing tire key.) Therefore, make sure it comes with the factory jack kit required to change a tire. If it does not, purchase one right away to keep in the vehicle.
- Ignition Key
- Jack Kit (Usually includes a Scissor Jack and Ratchet)
- Mechanic Gloves
- Safety Glasses
- Flathead Screw Driver
- Socket Wrench
- Ratchet Extender
Helpful, but not required: 2×4 or wedge for lowering the tire
Once you have your tool bag out, you’re ready to begin lowering your tire. It’s best to understand how a spare tire is attached to a vehicle before trying to remove it.
How Are Spare Tires Secured On Vehicles?
Most spare tires are secured the same way, regardless of the vehicle type you drive. In general, a spare tire secures to its storage place with a wing-nut and screw fastener. This fastener is what you need to remove to drop the spare tire to the ground.
Where Is The Spare Tire Located?
Most vehicles have spare tires kept in one of three locations. On a car, you’ll generally find the spare in the trunk space, secured under a shelf or flap. For trucks and SUVs, you’ll find spare tires secured beneath the vehicle. Finally, some smaller SUVs, Jeeps, and coups have the tire attached to the rear exterior of the car.
Safety Rules For Changing Tires
Before you start changing tires or lowering spares, make sure that you are prepared to do so safely. You and your passengers can be placed in a dangerous situation if you start changing a tire without taking the proper safety steps:
Put your vehicle in park, not neutral. Additionally, always engage the emergency brake of your car. You wouldn’t want your curious child to accidentally put the car in neutral and find it rolling down the hill, so it is essential to engage all brakes in the vehicle to prevent that.
Put on your hazard lights. Even if you have to change the flat in broad daylight, turn on your hazards to warn other vehicles of your location and situation. This step encourages other drivers to respect your space and protects you while you work on the car.
Wear safety gear. Vehicles can expose you to hazardous chemicals and sharp materials, so you want to keep a pair of mechanic gloves and safety glasses in your car for situations where you need to get under the hood.
Park in a safe place. If you can, park your car on a flat surface away from heavy traffic to do your repairs. If you must park off the interstate, make sure you pull off out of traffic on the right-hand side of the road.
How To Lower The Spare Tire On A Truck?
Flats on a truck can dramatically damage the vehicle’s frame; as such, if you develop a flat on your Chevy Silverado, Ford F-150, etc., you want to get the spare on ASAP.
Ignition Key and Jack Method
This method requires a few basic tools, including the ignition key of your vehicle, the tire jack, and a ratchet or tire rod.
Vehicles That This Method Works For
Trucks like the Chevy Silverado, Ford F-150 and up, Toyota Tundra, and other larger trucks. It also works well for SUVs with tires on the exterior undercarriage, like the Toyota Highlander or Lexus RX 350.
Engage the emergency brake. If possible, park on a flat surface to prevent the vehicle from rolling while you are working. Put on your safety glasses and mechanic gloves before getting started.
Slide carefully underneath the truck bed. You should see the spare tire protruding underneath the frame. Most tires store in the rear of the truck bed, so start there. Place a 2×4 or wedge under the tire, about where the tire should lower to the ground. This step can protect you if the tire falls suddenly to the ground.
Once you have found the tire, locate the plastic cover that protects the tire. You may remove this cover one of two ways:
Firmly rotate while pulling toward’s the rear of the vehicle to remove the guide tube. Removing the tube should reveal the drop mechanism of the spare tire.
If a plastic flap or cap covers your tire, you can slide your ignition key between the plastic cover and the tire. Then, use the key to pry off the lid and reveal the drop mechanism of the spare. And, again, most mechanisms are just a wing-nut attached to a screw that locks the tire in place.
Grab your pliers and firmly start rotating the “key” or wing of the mechanism to the left, removing it from the mechanism. If the nut holding the tire in place is not winged, you can use the jack to remove it by turning counterclockwise.
If you’ve removed a winged nut, you can now use the ratchet to remove the tire by inserting it into the hole left behind by the winged nut. Using the ratchet rod that comes with your jack, turn counterclockwise slowly to lower the tire to the ground.
Alternative Truck Method
If you have difficulty with the ignition key and ratchet method or don’t mind damaging a 14 mm socket to lower your truck’s spare tire quickly, you can give this alternative method a try.
Vehicles That This Method Works For
This method only works with trucks that have a hole in the bumper for tire access, like the Chevy Silverado, Ford 150, or Dodge Ram.
Engage the emergency brake. Then, locate the access to your spare tire key, usually found in the rear bumper on newer trucks as a small hole by the license plate.
Grab a 14 mm socket (and use a cheaper one to ensure it can actually bend over the anti-theft key of your vehicle), a hammer, and a ratchet extension.
Slide the socket and its extension through the hole until it meets the key. Take the hammer and firmly beat the socket onto the key. You’ll feel it give way as the metal forms around the key.
Using the ratchet included in your car’s tire kit, turn the ratchet counterclockwise. You should see the tire begin to lower to the ground as you turn. If you have difficulty turning just the ratchet, see if your tire kit comes with an extension, and add that to the ratchet if it does for more leverage.
The damaged socket will remain on the end of the ratchet beneath the truck in the plastic tube that protected the key. To find the anti-theft key left inside the tube, you’ll have to remove the socket with a flathead screwdriver. Don’t lose this key; you’ll need it later to return the spare to its storage space at the mechanic’s shop.
How To Lower The Spare Tire On An SUV or Jeep?
You can generally lower the spare tire on your SUV like you would for a pickup truck. Most SUVs, including Jeep Wranglers, Suburbans, and Tahoes, have the tires attached either to the vehicle’s rear door or the undercarriage.
It’s important to note that removing a spare tire from the rear door of a vehicle requires additional care than if the tire stores underneath the car. In addition, you should have someone help you with removing the spare when it is attached to the door, as it is more likely to fall on you if improperly held or lowered.
How To Unlock The Spare Tire On A Car (Interior Spare Storage)?
When it comes to cars, compact vehicles, and even some SUVs, you’ll find yourself pulling out the spare tire, not lowering it to the ground. With that in mind, accessing and removing your spare without the factory tool requires a different process than working with a truck or SUV with exterior tire storage.
However, you’ll still want to use most of the same tools: pliers, a ratchet, mechanics gloves, and safety glasses.
Vehicles That This Method Works For
This method works for any vehicle with the tire kept in the trunk section of the vehicle. You can use this method for some of the most popular cars on the road, including the Toyota Camry, Subaru Outback, Honda Civic, Ford Focus, and Nissan Rogue.
Locate the spare tire in your car. Most cars and compact SUVs store the tire beneath a cardboard flap or shelf board in the trunk. If your engine is in the rear of the vehicle, as with some BMWs or foreign cars, you’ll generally find the tire in the hood area of the vehicle.
Prop open the shelf hiding the tire – most cars include a prop to do this. Or, the shelf may physically remove from the trunk. Once you expose the tire, locate the wing nut holding it in place.
Take the pliers and use them to loosen and pull the wing nut off the screw holding the tire in place.
Carefully lift the tire out of the car, and place all loose tools, nuts, etc., in the tire cavity to prevent losing any vital pieces.
How To Change A Flat Tire?
Now that you have accessed the spare tire, you’ll want to know how to swap it for the flat safely. Follow these steps to change a tire:
Make sure your car’s hazards and the emergency brake are still engaged.
Grab your car’s included tire iron or ratchet with the extender attached. Begin loosening each wheel lug – the nuts that hold the tire in place on the car. Turn the ratchet or iron counterclockwise firmly. In some cases, you need to kick or step down on the iron a few times to get the nuts loosened. Do not remove the nuts entirely just yet.
Before completely removing the nuts, place the jack under the car. Raise the jack until it has made contact with the vehicle’s frame and has lifted the tire completely off the ground.
Remove the lugs entirely, and then remove the flat tire. Keep the lugs nearby in a secure place, and put the flat tire near the trunk or tire cavity, as you’ll store it there shortly.
Slide the spare tire over the wheel studs by lining up the holes on the wheel to the studs protruding off the tire hub.
Screw on the wheel lugs to the spare. Start by hand to prevent cross-threading the nuts. Once you can no longer tighten the lugs by hand, use the ratchet or tire iron to finish tightening them to the tire.
Lower the jack slowly. Make sure the spare tire touches the ground before pulling the jack out from under the vehicle. Then, tighten the lugs again to verify they aren’t going anywhere.
Store your flat in the tire cavity unless you cannot get it back on due to a damaged key or wing nut. If that’s the case, try to store it in your truck bed, trunk, or back seat. The mechanic can sometimes salvage the tire, saving you money on replacement fees.
Get to a mechanic and have them replace the spare. Ask them if they can order you a factory key for the spare tire storage while you’re there; it can reduce the headache of a flat tire change in the future.
A Parting Thought On Safely Accessing Spare Tires
Changing a flat tire gives everyone a headache, especially when the factory key for the spare goes missing. But you can manage it as long as you keep a standard flat tire kit in your car. Make sure you’re prepared for a flat before one occurs by keeping a jack kit and set of car tools in your vehicle.
Otherwise, you’ll have to wait for roadside assistance to save the day. And, finally, remember only to change a flat if you can do so safely – be safe, pull out of traffic, and take the time to do the job correctly. Follow the tips in this article, and you’ll be back on the road in no time!