Rolling a car's spare tire up to the flat tire to change it out, while it snows.

Tire maintenance & safety

How to change a flat tire: Your essential guide to winter tire replacement

A flat tire is never a welcome experience, but it can be even more complicated when the temps plummet, and there’s snow or ice on the ground.

Remember the flat tire scene from the movie “A Christmas Story”? Even if Ralphie is there to cheer you up, flat tires during winter cause misery.

With that said, many winter flats are preventable by outfitting your vehicle with the optimal season tires. Winter tires are designed to remain soft at winter temperatures and provide better grip roadways. They also have treads that are designed to channel more water providing better control.

But flats can still happen, so it's better to prepare yourself properly should you experience a critical loss of tire pressure while on the road this winter. Here’s some guidance on what to do when you get a flat during the winter months.

safely pulled over to work on car on snowy road

Put together a winter flat tire kit

The days get dark earlier, and the colder temps can cause loss of focus and dexterity. Preparation for these conditions is key and begins with a winter tire kit.

Here are some items that can make changing that dreaded winter flat simpler.

  • Gloves: You’ll need a pair of warm gloves that can still let you grip the tire iron while wearing them. If you wear standard driving gloves, they are likely not warm enough. A pair of latex or rubber gloves worn under your tire-changing gloves will help keep your hands dry in slushy conditions.
  • Small tarp: It’s a good idea to set out your tools and small parts on a small tarp—preferably in a bright color to keep everything visible and easy to find—to avoid losing anything in the snow or puddles. Plus, you can kneel on it.
  • Ponchos: It could be raining when you get a flat. Keep more than one poncho on hand in case anyone else stops to help you. You can also use a poncho to kneel on or hold bolts if you don’t have a tarp.
  • Hand warmers: A little extra heat from these convenient little pouches can help ward off frostbite.
  • Winter socks: Get an extra pair with insulating materials, such as wool or alpaca, in case you’re wearing dress socks or accidentally step in a big, cold puddle.
  • Working flashlight: Check every so often to see if the light and batteries still work in this flashlight—especially since it remains inside a cold vehicle.
  • Lubricant spray: If your lug nuts are rusty or stuck for any reason, you may be able to loosen them with some lubricant.
  • Pack extra winter clothes: Even if you’re getting into a thoroughly warmed-up automobile, make sure that you pack extra clothes that are appropriate for the outdoor temperatures. While it’s feasible to have a pair of gloves and some socks in your trunk, you probably won’t be keeping your favorite, toasty winter coat and scarf in there.

Inspecting a flat tire in the snow

Changing a flat in winter weather

Changing a flat tire is a challenge in the best conditions. Unfortunately, winter weather can make it even harder.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for winter tire changes:

Step 1: Use hazard lights to alert other drivers if you're on the roadway. Winter visibility is low, so take extra care to be seen. You may find you need a flashlight even in daylight hours during the darker winter months.

Step 2: Put your vehicle in park and engage your parking brake. It's essential to be extra vigilant about parking safety on icy winter roads.

Step 3: Examine your spare. Make sure your spare tire, whether it’s a temporary or full sized spare, is in decent condition before removing a flat.

Step 4: Loosen each lug nut before raising your vehicle. You'll need to loosen your lug nuts before you raise your vehicle, or your efforts will be wasted as your tire spins.

Step 5: Raise your vehicle appropriately. Make sure your jack is appropriately lined up with the frame of your vehicle. Raise the vehicle until the flat tire is approximately 1/2 inch off of the roadway. Support your vehicle with a jack stand and block downhill tires for added safety.

Step 6: Swap your flat for your spare. Tighten each lug before lowering the vehicle back to the roadway.

Step 7: Finish tightening lug nuts and inspect the installation. Once you've lowered your vehicle back to the road, finish tightening each lug nut. Carefully inspect your spare before attempting to hit traffic speeds.

Winter spare tire safety check tips

Make sure your spare tire is in good shape before mounting it. Here’s what to look for:

  • Cold air temperatures can affect the air pressure in your tires. Make sure you check the pressure of your spare during the winter months.
  • Your spare tire will be printed with speed limitations for your safety. In winter driving conditions, it's even more important to respect the limitations of your spare tire.
  • Unlike winter tires, temporary spares are not designed to tackle ice and snow. So take extra care when driving in slick winter conditions on a spare tire.

Professional roadside assistance helping with a tire in snow

When should you call a tow truck?

Sometimes, the combined cold and wet conditions throughout the winter can cause the lug nuts to rust and become stuck. Even with all your body weight and plenty of spray lubricant, you may not be able to loosen them.

If you’re not up to the task of changing your tire, there’s no shame in calling someone for help. As mentioned, be sure to keep some supplies in the car to keep you warm and comfortable until the tow truck gets to you.

Once you have changed to your spare tire or called the tow truck, you’ll need to head to the nearest dealership to repair your flat tire.

You may want to consider replacing all of your tires if the flat was due to tread wear. In addition, this is a time to consider the benefits of dedicated snow tires for winter driving such as improved traction and better handling.

For an easy tire buying experience, turn to SimpleTire where you’ll get free shipping and fast delivery on every tire.

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