Teen driving safety: Teach ‘em to fix a flat tire

There are lots of things parents should teach a child as they go from being a 10-year-old pain in the butt to a 15-year-old pain in the butt.

That’s not exactly true. They’re a pain in the butt at just about any age, but there are things that need to be taught. At a young age, kids are taught that they can dial 9-1-1 for a police officer, or dial 9-1-1 to tell the police officers who came to their school that day that they enjoyed the presentation, or to tell the 9-1-1 operator that they don’t like their brother or sister.

Later, you try and teach your kids to actually use the dirty clothes hamper, located not more than six inches from the pile of clothes on the bathroom floor that apparently was a better landing zone.  Maybe you made an attempt at teaching them how to make the bed. (Pause here so you can laugh, especially if you have boys.)

As they get older, you are all too soon faced with allowing this thing — with all the maturity of a pinecone — near your car. Worse yet, at some point they’re going to get behind the wheel. If you are approaching this time with your first kid, stop reading and go to the liquor store.

There are certain absolutes to teaching your kids to drive. The first is simple: At some point they will try and kill you and any other occupant in the car at least once. So one of the spouses should not be in the car while the other attempts to teach beginning driving skills — unless you are done with a current will and are satisfied with your current life insurance policy.

Each of my children has tried to take my life while in the beginning stage of driver’s training. The preferred method for my kids was the “left turn of death.”

“Okay, dear, see the large tractor-trailer truck approaching? Well, make sure you never attempt to turn in front of — what the %@]#(&!$ are you doing??!!”

Somehow they learned and passed — sometimes eventually passing — the driver’s test.

Now, fast forward to that time where they actually get to use the car for the first time, solo. This will be a few months before the first ticket that you hope they fess up to before the court date and after all that stuff you try to drill into their head. Things like “Make sure you go the speed limit. If you get a ticket, my insurance rates are going to hit the max faster than a convenience store burrito passes through your — whatever, you get it?”

There is nothing you can do to ease the trauma and excitement of staying up all night. At least it seems like all night — though it’s only 11:00 — when you’re waiting for your kid to arrive safely.  (This is the same kid who farts, then chuckles, at the dinner table.)

But there is something you can do that is both important and gives you some peace of mind — not much, but some. How many of you have kids who, in the case of a flat tire, can pull over and change it?

I have — on many, many occasions — come across stranded motorists, standing there, lost and on the cell phone trying to get someone to come and change a tire. (“Motorists” being both male and female.) Do yourself and your kid a favor and teach them how to change a tire.

They may never have to do it, but knowing they can get the tire changed and back on the road in 15 minutes is a heck of a better option than them sitting on the side of the road for an hour — especially at 11 p.m. when you are at home expecting them to come through the door, farting and chuckling.

In most cases, the kid will have a cell phone. You should have an in-car cell phone even if you don’t want them to have a regular cell phone. (Texting is another matter and a topic for another day, so we’ll shelve it for now.)

Here’s what you do: Get the car that they will use. We live just outside of metro Ball Ground and, by law, we have to own at least one truck. So, depending on what you own, put it in the driveway or garage and do the hands-on lesson on how to change a tire. (Before you give the lesson, read the manual so you’ll look like you’re a wiz at it.)

  1. Find the spare tire and how it comes undone. Each vehicle is different, though with trucks, if you don’t want the hassle you just keep the spare in the truck bed next to the lawn chairs and aluminum cans.
  2. Have the proper tools. Some tire tools supplied by the manufacturer are better suited for opening soda cans (which can be discarded later in the bed of your pickup truck) than removing tight lug nuts. Do yourself a favor and buy a four-way lug-nut wrench. They’re shaped like an “X” and have four different sizes of sockets that will fit just about all cars and trucks. It’s much easier than trying to torque that little L-shaped thing made in Taiwan.
  3. If you have a truck or even a car, a good inexpensive investment is a 2¼-ton hydraulic jack you can slide under the frame and lift with much less labor. Cars don’t have quite as much room in the trunk, but it’s an option.

Take said child and go over the rules:

  1. The car will still move, even with a flat tire. Move to a safe(r) place. As much as I like the car, you are more important, so moving to a safe place is okay, even if you damage the rim.
  2. Before you change a tire — and the most important part of changing one — put the emergency brake on. (You also can carry a couple of blocks of wood to block the tires.) But that brake thing is VERY important. There are tragic stories about those who forgot to set the brake.
  3. Commence with the instructions about setting the jack, loosening the lugs, not losing the lugs, swapping tires, tightening the lugs, lowering the jack and moving on, all in about 15 minutes.
  4. Observing all the safety mentioned above, loosen the lug nuts a bit, jack the car, remove the lug nuts. (Lug nuts are harder to remove if the tire isn’t grounded. The tire goes round and round and it’s not much fun since you’re already mad that you have to change it.)
  5. Follow the instructions and change the tire.
  6. Tighten the lug nuts as this, too, is important.
  7. Stand and offer congratulations to your child for successfully changing a tire.
  8. This is important, too: Ask the child if he or she has any further questions or would like to repeat the procedure. If not, again congratulate them.

That night, once they are in and ignoring you — which is usually when they arrive home and until they go to bed — you should sneak out, bring the car to a level place in eitherthe driveway or garage, and let the air out of a tire. Then go to bed.

The next day when they get up that afternoon, as most do, you will soon hear “Augggggaaaahhhh! The tire’s flat!!”

Your response: “Change it.”

After they whine, moan and then realize you weren’t kidding, supervise them changing the tire solo and offer helpful advice (not yelling or criticizing, but calm advice) when needed until they finish. This way, they’ll know they can change a tire, and you’ll feel better knowing they can change one and perhaps get out of a bad situation as soon as possible. After that, it’s all farts and chuckles.

26 comments Add your comment


December 1st, 2009
8:50 pm

Ummm, if the emergency brake is set, the tire will NOT go round and round, unless it’s time for new brake pads. Won’t get into RWD vehicles and front tires.


December 1st, 2009
11:02 pm

Excellent column today, Lt. Steve! I followed my mom’s advice and training when I was their age, and taught them not only how to change a tire, keeping the spare inflated and making sure the tools are there, but also passed down my Mom’s sure-fire parallel parking method (which came in real handy for me when I attended GA State, but also for each of my sons on their driving test).


December 2nd, 2009
8:33 am

I know HOW to change a tire, but that doesn’t mean I can. The last flat I had had me and two other women in the car. None of us could budge the lug nuts, which had been tightened with a machine. Fortunately we were at a gas station and a large strong man took pity on us and changed it. (His fast work would have made a pit crew envious.) I don’t consider myself a helpless female, but in that case I was.

Mountain Mom

December 2nd, 2009
8:54 am

My dad taught me how to change a tire when I was 16– and I had to show him I could do it right there in the driveway before I could drive solo. I have used this skill numerous times (to the amazement of many a burly mechanic man when I bring a punctured tire in to be patched) and even offered to host a lunch and learn for my girlfriends– they are quite impressed I can do this. But I agree with workingmom: the machine-tightened lug nuts can ruin your emergency plan.


December 2nd, 2009
9:11 am

As a woman who has come across the machine tightened lug nuts I offer this suggestion:

1. Keep a pair of heavy shoes in your vehicle
2. Change into the heavy shoes when you find you cannot budge the lug nuts
3. Kick and/or push down with your foot on the wrench

Your body weight (even if you’re a petit thing) should help move the lug nut when your arms can’t. It’s worked for me many a time.

Atlanta Gal

December 2nd, 2009
12:43 pm

I’ve actually stood on the lug wrench and bounced but couldn’t loosen the darned thing! Fortunately, some burly guys came by and helped but it still took a 250 pound guy to stand on it to loosen the machine tighted thing!


December 2nd, 2009
3:05 pm

emergency brakes engage the rear brakes, but if the car is an automoatic and in P, the front wheels won’t turn, but the back ones will. Just set the E brake, and leave it at that.


December 2nd, 2009
3:16 pm

good column Steve. ONE MORE IMPORTANT TIP!!


i chuckle when i see a car on the side of the road w/ the jack underneath it, and nobody around. somebody went from having a pain to deal with to a real problem.

Old Geek

December 2nd, 2009
4:52 pm

I think some garages have a contest to see who can get lug nuts the tightest. I had to have several studs removed and replaced after going to one place for a brake job — I have never been back there.


December 2nd, 2009
6:01 pm

Most garages, WalMart included, torque lug nuts to at least 80 ft. lbs. for liability reasons, and man, that IS TIGHT!


December 2nd, 2009
6:05 pm

One other thing: 80 ft.lbs. torque is typically how much head bolts are torqued to the engine block to hold the head in place FOREVER.


December 2nd, 2009
6:21 pm

my son wound up with a flat during the first driving class with dad. they were driving around an office complex and he had trouble judging distance with the curb along the side of the parking space. by the time they got home, neither was speaking, BUT my son learned how to change a flat. my husband got new tires after that lesson and wound up with 2 flats, in the two new tires, on the side of ga 400 the very next morning. he was not a happy camper.

i remember taking drivers ed (in the summer of 1980!) when four students and the teacher drove around together. the instructor (a shop teacher) opened the hood of the car on the first day of driving, showing us (4 girls) the engine, how to check the oil, water, etc. blank stares for sure. when we got in the car, the driver (not me) tried to start the car that was already running. he must have had nerves of steel…it’s sooo tense just driving with one inexperienced driver, can’t imagine driving with four in one morning.


December 2nd, 2009
7:13 pm

Mountain mom: my dad did the same. I had to rotate all 4 tires (on my beloved flowered Barracuda, 1969) before I was allowed to take the test. Think Alabama in July. It took me most of the day to get them moved from one place to another, but I learned a lot.


December 2nd, 2009
8:41 pm

I just apply my lipstick, raise the hood and call Triple A.
(hee hee just kidding)

Old School

December 2nd, 2009
9:06 pm

In addition to proving I could successfully perform most routine maintenance chores on a car, I had to prove to my dad that I could drive at a constant speed (curves, straightaways, up and down hills, etc.) and back up around the block. Luckily I live in a small town! All five of us kids had to take our driving test in a standard transmission car. The test back then included parallel parking, 3 point turn, and a railroad crossing.


December 3rd, 2009
8:46 am

I remember my dad teaching me how to change the oil, change out the spark plugs and wires, add antifreeze/coolant, and changing a tire. Of all those things, the only one I’ve done myself in the past is change out the spark plugs and wires on a couple of Nissan vehicles in the past, and change a flat on the Ford I have now.

Also, in relation to the spare in the truck bed: My dad always did that, and still does. A heck of a lot better than trying to skooch under the truck, with the hydraulic jack holding up the part with the flat, praying the jack will hold, and cussing both the flat tire, the road you’re lying down on, and company that made the truck you’re driving. You hope that the nut you’re loosening will loosen the spare, and not end up draining your gas tank. Then the tire falls on you, which requires an “UGH!” followed by a set of colorful words. The only advantage is while you’re under the truck getting the tire, you *really* get to know the road.

Also, you should teach the kid to never, ever use Fix-A-Flat, no matter how much their buddies say it’s a lifesaver. Trust me, it does more harm than good to your tires.

Also with tires, not only should you learn how to change a flat, but how to plug it, so that you can replace it again. Most spares aren’t full-size, and are rated to handle a top speed of 45 MPH, which is fine if you’re driving through Powder Springs or Sandy Springs, but not so much when your teen is driving on I-285 for the first time, and suddenly gets the idea he’s Tony Stewart down in Daytona.

Jeffrey Amos

December 3rd, 2009
12:39 pm

Good column, Steve. I’ve learned to always cover my keyboard and computer screen with plastic before reading your stuff, I’ve spit WAAAY too much coffee on them over the years whilst reading your prose, and it is simple prophylactic measure. One thing I might add though, is to include a 24″ to 36″ piece of 1 inch steel pipe in your tire changing kit. You can slip it over the end of the tire iron, pull on it and generate enough torque to break loose almost any nut. By standing on the pipe and putting your full body wight on it you can get anything loose. If the people who put the tire on at the shop over torqued it this may be the only way to get it off on the side of the road. The pipe also comes in handy for those moments in time when only a blunt instrument will do.

Chris Broe

December 3rd, 2009
2:01 pm

In high school, I taught this one cheerleader how to fix the frammus on the brentin. You know, the one in the back seat of the car.

mystery poster

December 3rd, 2009
8:51 pm

I was with my son training for his driving test when we got a flat. I thought, “well, time to learn to change a tire.” I couldn’t get the lug nuts off, with me and my son both standing on the wrench. My husband was out of town so I had to call emergency road service. He used one of those tools that looks like a plus sign and they loosened right up. I like the idea of a piece of pipe, I think I’ll do that.

A couple years later, I was taking my mother-in-law for her cancer treatment and we got a flat tire on I-20. She said, “You’re not going to change that, are you?” I most certainly did. For safety’s sake I probably wouldn’t have if it had been on the drivers side, but it was on the passenger’s side and we had an appointment to keep.

Everyone who drives a car should be able to perform this task.


December 4th, 2009
1:54 pm

Best tip is by far the cheater pipe. Get one!


December 4th, 2009
8:18 pm

I think the best thing a parent can do to be proactive in shaping their teen’s driving habits is purchase a GPS tracking system. When I bought a GPS tracker for my teenage daughter I was simply curious if she was speeding. I later found out that she was not only speeding, but also discovered she was frequenting places I did not approve of. People interested in this method can get more info at http://www.tracking-system.com/


December 7th, 2009
4:40 pm

You should loosen the lug nuts BEFORE jacking.

Another Quick Hint

December 10th, 2009
11:46 am

After you have had your tires tightened by a machine, ask someone with some strength to loosen them for you. Then you tighten them back on.

Sandy Springs Guy

December 16th, 2009
2:49 pm

Changing the tire on your ride should be a required step in getting your driver’s license – must be demonstrated or no license.

Teacher Mom

December 18th, 2009
9:52 am

Great ideas! My husband taught both of our daughters to check fluids and change tires. About the machine tightened lug nuts, years ago my parents had new tires put on the family station wagom. Coming down the mountains from Lake Burton, the left back tire came off and bounced across the road! Needless to say, we stopped rather suddenly. My brother had been telling my mom that the weird noise we were hearing was a loose lug nut. Well, it wasn’t just one and it wasn’t just loose. They had stripped the threads on all of them. Luckily, a trucker stopped and helped us out by taking one nut from the other three tires to get us to the nearest service station.

Ole Guy

January 2nd, 2010
8:19 pm

Parents teaching their offspring how to drive…reminds me of the time my Dad took me up for my first helicopter ride. Already an accomplished fixed wing pilot (or so I thought), I soon found that my “pilot finess” meant next-to nothing in a chopper.

The same concept should apply in teaching an already inexperienced kid. For some damn reason, known only to moronic parents who are afraid their kids won’t like em if they don’t spoil the hell out of em, too many kids drive, not the ten-year-old heaps we drove on campus, but brand spankin new (high-powered, much less) wheels. Rather than considering the transition from the old family fliver, in which the kid first learned, into the newer car, some of these parents simply give the kid the keys and let em set sail into oblivian. AND WE WONDER WHY SO MANY AUTO ACCIDENTS INVOLVE KIDS!