While tires are one of the most important components of your vehicle, many drivers don’t know how to identify and address many common problems.
This DIY troubleshooting guide will help you locate a leak, change a flat, and understand some proper maintenance measures to take so your tires are in peak condition.
Locating a leak
If your tires are going flat regularly, the first thing you’ll want to look for is a puncture. Inspect the tire to see if you can spot a nail or any other piece of debris penetrating the wall.
If you can’t, try this trick: fill a squirt bottle with a mixture of vegetable based soap and water (or a leak detector fluid), inflate the tire and spray to cover with the fluid. As the solution runs over the tire, you should notice a small eruption of bubbles where the puncture is. Have a professional inspect the tire and make a proper plug or patch repair.
Tire puncture sealants (such as Fix-A-Flat), may be used to temporarily seal a puncture quickly and easily, but they’re not a permanent solution. Overuse may also create a high-pressure environment inside the tire, so notify your mechanic before he or she fixes your tire.
If, while inspecting, you notice a bulge in the sidewall, visible tears, or if the tire has gone flat due to a blowout (signalled by a loud popping sound, caused by air escaping the tire), it’s an indicator that your tire will need to be replaced.
Changing a flat
Keep these tools on hand to help you in the event of a flat: your vehicle’s owner manual, an inflated spare tire, a jack, a screwdriver, a lug wrench, bracing material (like a brick), and a flashlight in case you need to change a tire at night.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to changing a flat tire:
- Park your vehicle on a flat surface, away from traffic. Place a brick or wooden wedge to block the wheels at the opposite end of the car for security.
- Pry off the wheel cover with the tip of a screw driver (as if you were lifting the lid off a paint can).
- Loosen the lug nuts with a lug wrench, but don’t remove them completely. Get them loose enough to remove by hand after you jack up the vehicle.
- Using your car manual to make sure that the jack is in the proper position, jack up the vehicle about 6 inches off the ground.
- Jack up the car enough so you are able to slip the tire off with ease. Remove the lug nuts and keep them in a safe place.
- Remove the tire, pulling it directly toward you. Roll it out of the way.
- Place the spare tire onto the vehicle, and push it into the wheel base until it’ll go no further. Place the lug nuts in the correct positions and tighten by hand.
- Lower the vehicle, tighten the lug nuts with a lug wrench and replace the hubcap. Secure it by knocking it with the heel of your hand.
Basic maintenance tips
Many instances of tire damage can be prevented with proper maintenance. Here are some upkeep tips to bear in mind:
- Air pressure: It’s recommended that drivers check their air pressure once every month. Invest in a quality tire pressure gauge. Insert the gauge into the valve stem on your tire at least 3 hours after you’ve driven. The gauge will show a number – compare it to the number found in your owners manual. If your tire’s psi (pounds per square inch) is above the number, let air out until it matches. If below, add air (either with a manual pump, or head to the nearest gas station), until it reaches the proper number.
- Rotate: Experts recommends getting your tires rotated every 3,000 – 6,000 miles or so. Rotating tires from one side to the other, front to back, helps avoid uneven tire wear, which can lead to poor performance and increased gas mileage.
- Alignment: Indicators that your tires need to be aligned include uneven tire wear, drifting as you drive, or a vibrating steering wheel. Refer to your owner’s manual to check how often this service is recommended. Alignment ensures your car drives straight and handles properly.