IT SEEMS ridiculous, but one of the highest risk things you can do on a car is change a wheel by the roadside. There are just so many opportunities for what should be a simple task to go horribly wrong.
Let’s start with the most basic thing: where you stop. You’re better off risking trashing a wheel by driving a little further and finding a clear space with (hopefully) a little firm ground to work on. The biggest priority is to be well clear of the traffic, which is easier said than done in a lot places with roadside fencing. Still, the last thing you need is your arse hanging out into the traffic while you’re juggling a jack.
Speaking of jacks, it’s not a bad idea to walk out to your car now and just nut out where the lift points are. It’s so much easier than doing it late in the day by the side of the road. Generally, for a model that comes with a scissor jack, there will be a crimped mounting point on the lower sill, not far from the wheel.
If it comes with a bumper jack, which a lot of old cars do, seriously consider retiring it and buying a scissor jack to throw in the boot. In general bumper jacks are notoriously unstable and remember they rely on the bumper itself being properly bolted down to work. Even then, they’re marginal.
Something else to throw in the boot is wheel chocks – handy to keep the car in place, particularly if you’re lifting the rear end, which reduces the effectiveness of your handbrake.
If the ground is a little soft on top, a boot mat or similar placed under the jack might help stabilise it a little.
I also like to put the spare under the car as you start to raise it, just to have something there in case the jack lets go. At least it keeps the car off the ground and this might just avoid an injury. Swap the wheels over as you change them on the hub – that is, put the punctured one under the car as you mount up the spare.
As you screw the nuts on, don’t wind them in all the way with your fingers until you’re ready to tension them. That leaves a visual reminder of what has and hasn’t been done. Double and triple check you’ve tensioned the nuts before you hop back in. Once you’ve completed the change, just drive down the road a bit and use the brakes a couple of times. Then hop out and double-check the nuts are still tight.
Now here’s a thought, when was the last time you checked the spare? It takes just a minute of two, but a monthly pressure check is worthwhile.
If you’re lifting cars at home, go nuts and get yourself a trolley jack. They’re the most stable option (outside a hoist) and are just so much better to work with. That and a set of stands is a pretty cheap way to make the job a whole lot safer. Even if you only ever use them once, they’re worth the investment. (Image: Hi-Lift.com)