So you've never changed a wheel/tire before, but neither have millions of other people. We will show not just how to do it, but how to do it safely and with the least expenditure of effort. Ready, let's do it!
First, make sure the car is safely pulled out of the way of any other vehicles, that it is as level as possible and that the parking brake is applied fully. If the car has an automatic transmission put it in Park. If it has a manual, put it in reverse. If there is a rock or log or brick handy, put it in front of one of the wheels.
Next, open the trunk and check to see if the spare is in good condition and if it's got air in it (unfortunately, many people leave the spare unchecked for years, only to find all the air has leaked out!). The spare will probably be held in place with a hold-down mechanism of some kind, so do whatever is needed to free it. When you are ready to lift out the spare wheel, don't just grab it and lift. You are leaning way over into the trunk and are in the worst position for your back. Just grab one side of the tire/wheel and tilt it upright, then roll it out and over the lip of the trunk opening and down to the pavement. Lay the wheel down and look for the jack and its assorted components. If the jack is a "scissors-type" or a "screw" type, go to the next paragraph. If you have a bumper jack, don't take it out! See note:
Removing the hubcap.
Note: If you have a bumper jack, found on most older cars through the mid-60s, it is too cumbersome and dangerous — by today's standards — to use. Besides, it will scratch and bend that re-chromed, perfect bumper on your restored vehicle. Buy yourself a bottle-jack, one of those little hydraulic jacks that can be found at auto parts stores, Sears, Harbor Freight, J.C. Whitney, for under $25. They come in all sizes (heights), so make sure you know how much room you have under the car.
Time now to look at the owners' manual, or at least at the pictured instructions on the label inside the trunk, if there is one. You need to know where (exactly) to put the jack to lift the appropriate wheel. Don't do anything more until you've satisfied yourself that you are placing the jack correctly.
Position of the jack.
Ready to jack up the wheel? Not yet! First, you need to remove the hubcap (if there is one) and loosen the lugs (What are they? See note below) that are holding the wheel on. If you tried to do this when the wheel is up it wouldn't be possible. Using the tire iron supplied with the jack (or a universal one you might have been keeping in the trunk), place the iron on a lug nut, positioning it so that its arm is horizontal to the street, facing to the left (assuming your lug nuts are right-hand-thread, of course, otherwise reverse the arm).
Lugs: Automobile wheels historically have been held on in one of three manners: 1) The wheel is slipped over threaded studs that are mounted on the brake drum or rotor, and then held in place by threaded nuts (lug nuts) that secure the wheel. 2) Wheels are held on by bolts (lug bolts) that are inserted through the holes in the wheel and threaded into mating holes in the drum or rotor. 3) Wheels have a center hole that is slipped over a threaded axle and held on by a large, threaded cap (spinner) that is either tightened by tapping with a soft metal hammer or a special tool. Many wire wheel-equipped vehicles utilized such mountings.
Sometimes ya just gotta stand on it!
Lug nuts are tight! At this point you can grab the iron and push down with all your might, but we recommend you stand on the arm and use your weight to do the job. Using your shoulder and wrist muscles to remove them might work if you're strong enough, but will definitely result in soreness and stiffness the next day. Save yourself the pain — and the Advils — and stand on the arm, keeping yourself steady by holding onto the fenders with your hands.
Just as each nut breaks free, move to the next one. You don't want to remove them yet, just get them loose enough that they can be removed when the wheel is up in the air. Now you can raise the wheel up with the jack, making sure nothing is slipping and the car is stable. Remove all the lug nuts, except if the car is a Porsche or VW, in which case there are no studs on which the wheel rests. In that case, leave one of the lug bolts in to hold the wheel until you want to remove it.
Using your foot to lift the tire off the car.
At this point the wheel can be pulled off, but stop! Again, grabbing the wheel and lifting is dangerous for your back and shoulders. Instead, extend one foot under the wheel to act as a "lever" to let the wheel down. Gently pull the wheel off the lugs (or remove the last lug bolt) and let your foot lower the wheel. Your legs and feet have far more muscle power than your upper body.
Note: If you found your lug bolt or stud threads to be rusty or the fasteners were hard to turn all the way off, put a little grease or oil on all the threads before you put everything back together. It will make things easier now and the next time the wheel must be removed.
Lifting the tire back onto the car with your foot.
Now that the flat wheel/tire is off, roll the spare over to the axle and onto your foot. Use the "foot elevator" to raise the wheel up to the lugs and slip it on. Install each lug one at a time and tighten each just enough to take out all the slack. You won't be able to tighten them enough for driving until the wheel is back on the ground.
Starting the lugnuts.
Tighten lugs in a criss-cross pattern.
Once the lugs are snugged it's time to jack the car back down. Do so slowly and carefully, taking the time to make sure the jack is fully down. Take the lug wrench and tighten the lugs in a criss-cross pattern.* That is, tighten one, then tighten the one directly across the wheel from it, and so on. You can use the "standing method" to tighten them, but don't go crazy with the force. If you can estimate about 50 pounds of force on a 14-inch wrench arm, that's plenty.
Why? Because the wheel must be held in place with equal force against the brake drum, axle or rotor, so that it can rotate in the correct plane. Tightening one point before another can result in a warped wheel.
The best way to put the hubcap back on is with your hand. It's too easy to dent them using anything else.
Put the hubcap back on and make sure it's snapped into place. Grab the jacking tools and put them back into the trunk in their proper place. Then, roll the wheel over to the trunk opening and lift it up to the opening lip, keeping as erect as you can and lifting with your legs. Roll the wheel into the trunk and secure it.
That's it! At this point you are a little dirty but back on the road. Enjoy the drive, but don't forget to get the tire repaired.