Things You Should Know, Vol. 5: How to change a tire

youshouldknowYou don’t need to save someone’s life to be a hero. Maybe you just save their day.

Consider the inevitable flat tire.

Whether you’re traveling to school, work or summer camp, it’s bound to happen eventually. That makes knowing how to change a tire — either your own or one belonging to a stranger in need — an essential life skill.

As with most life skills, this is one young men and women can learn in Scouting.

Take Requirement 11c of the Automotive Maintenance merit badge, for example. It asks Scouts to: “Locate the manufacturer’s jack. Use the jack to demonstrate how to engage the jack correctly on the vehicle, then change a tire correctly.”

So pull over to a safe place, activate the parking brake and let’s learn how to change a tire.

How to change a tire

  1. lug-nutsStabilize (chock) the wheel that is diagonally opposite the flat tire by putting bricks, logs or other heavy objects in front of and behind it.
  2. Pry off the wheel cover or hub ornament with the narrowed end of the lug wrench.
  3. Loosen, but do not take off, the lug nuts with the wrench. You may have to step on the end of the lug wrench to make it turn.
  4. Find the notch under the door panel nearest the flat tire, and center the jack there. Turn the handle of the jack clockwise until the wheel is all the way off the ground.
  5. Remove the lug nuts and put them in a safe place, such as inside the wheel cover. Then, pull the wheel off the vehicle.
  6. Put on the new wheel and tire.
  7. Put the lug nuts back on with the tapered edges facing inward; hand-tighten them.
  8. Lower the vehicle by turning the jack handle counterclockwise. Remove the jack.
  9. Tighten the lug nuts all the way, following the order in the picture. Put the wheel cover or hub ornament back on. Put the jack and lug wrench back in the trunk, along with the flat tire. Get the flat tire fixed as soon as possible.

The relevant page in the Automotive Maintenance MB pamphlet


About this series

Things You Should Know (previously called Things Guys Should Know) is an ongoing series about those essential life skills all young people should have in their arsenal.

Cool thing is, everything in the series is a skill a guy or girl could learn in Scouting. Maybe he or she picks it up while spending time outdoors with his or her troop, team or crew. Or maybe he or she learned it in a merit badge pamphlet or while reading the Boy Scout HandbookFieldbook or Boys’ Life magazine. Either way, one thing’s clear: Scouting helps teach skills that help young people become better Prepared. For Life.

See all of the Things You Should Know here. And leave a comment if you think of a skill guys and girls should know (and learn in Scouting) that I should cover in a future edition.

Hat tip: That awesome Things You Should Know illustration is by Kevin Hurley.


  1. Another thing every Scout leader should know is this blog! Share it on Facebook using the link above. (What? Your District or Council doesn’t have a Facebook page? Fix that, too!)

  2. The directions provided in the merit badge book actually make taking a tire off harder then necessary.

    Prior to loosening then lug nuts put the jack in place and raise it just enough that it is tight under the car and the vehicle lifts slightly. This is not to lift the car off the ground but to take pressure of the lug nuts. Leave enough pressure on the tire to prevent it from spinning. Loosening the nuts prior to taking weight off of wheel can cause the wheel to shift and damage the threads on the studs.

    Never use your foot on the lug wrench you could break a stud and can get injured in the process. Support the lug wrench at the bend with one hand and push down on the other. If the nuts will not move use the jack handle, if it will fit over the wrench end, as an extension to get more leverage or a rubber mallet or hammer and tap down on the end of the wrench to free the nuts while supporting the wrench at the bend.

    Now you can raise the car.

  3. Having worked on many vehicles, the first step in the instructions should be to “follow the instructions in the vehicle’s owners manual for changing a tire.” Each vehicle may have a different procedure. A body on frame vehicle vs a unibody might require different steps. Each jack may operate differently. The safest jacking point is always called out in the manual too.

    Sure, if a manual isn’t available, then you can follow these generic steps.

  4. I teach the Automotive Merit Badge, and I feel that there is a safety tip that is omitted. Even though it is not in the book, I still teach this.

    After removing the flat tire from the axle, immediately place it under the frame slightly behind the jack. This way, if the jack falls, the car will land on the rim of the flat tire. This will allow you to reposition the jack and get the car back up. At the same time it will keep any body parts that were in an unsafe spot from being crushed.

  5. I’m glad to see that you’ve re-titled this series “Things You Should Know” from the gender-biased “Things Guys Should Know.” So glad to see that the BSA is finally putting away their male chauvinistic attitudes and embrasing inclusivness, diversity and equality! Welcome to the 21st century!

    • All of the girls I’ve met in the program have no problem being a card carrying member of the BSA.
      I really don’t think they would have even minded about the “Things Every Guy Should Know.” title.

      • Good point! Another reason girls should be in the program … they’re not as easily offended. 🙂 We could learn a thing or two (or 2,000) from them.

      • Jessica, our Ship’s second Quartermaster and also our Council’s first female QM, applied to the Navy Recruitment Office and when they read that she had put down she was a “Boy Scout” they said “No way, can you tie a bowline?” She produced a length of line and tied a bowline, bowline on a bite, and a double bowline. I said she should have tied a “dragging bowline”, but that would have too much. She is proud to be a “Boy Scout”!

  6. Why and how do you put the hubcap back on a temporary donut Spare? May need a small 12v air compressor to top off Spare. Wood blocks are needed in many situations for soft ground. Have someone flagging oncoming traffic around vehicle. You do have a flashlight in vehicle for nighttime service? Slow down driving on temporary Spare.

  7. I had no idea that there was a certain order that you had to put the lug nuts in. My parents just got a new car and I’m terrified that it is going to break down on the side of the road one night. Of course I can just call for roadside assistance but I think it is better to try and learn how to do things like change a tire before an emergency happens. Why exactly do you need to put the lug nuts in, in a certain order?

  8. the lug nuts are put on ( not necessarily in order ) but tightened in a specific order – to make sure they are evenly tightened and all securely holding the tire on the wheel. if this pattern ( or similar) is not followed, some of the lug nuts may work themselves off the wheel causing the lugs to break and the tire to become unstable leading to : a) excessive wear on the tire or b) the tire to actually come off while driving

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