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  • Writer's pictureDennis Ho

Tire Yourself Out! The Definitive Guide to the Tire Swap

Mobile Tire Swap - 2017 Chevrolet Cruze - London Ontario - Wheel Easy Mobile Tire Service
At home tire swap for a 2017 Chevrolet Cruze - Spring 2022

If your all-season and winter tires are each on their own set of rims, completing the spring or fall swap is pretty simple - just take the one set off and put the other set on. With the right tools and know-how, you could get it done yourself in less than an hour, and save yourself money and the time of travelling to the shop twice a year.

While you’ll have to take care of getting the tools yourself, the purpose of this article is to give you the know-how to complete the swap yourself, or at least some insight into the process; that way, if you still want Wheel Easy - Mobile Tire Service to come and make the swap, you’re familiar with what we’re doing! Don’t hesitate to book your tire swap with us or ask us any questions you may have - education is an important component of the Wheel Easy experience, so we’re always happy to help.

Otherwise, on to your own tire swap!

Tools Required

  • Torque wrench (1/2 inch drive) & the right socket for your lug nuts

  • Your spare tire tools (or other set of tools - breaker bar, socket for lug nuts, jack)

  • Jack stands if you have them

  • Power tools make it easier (spinning off and on lug nuts quickly instead of by hand)

Step 1 - Prepare the wheels that will be going on the car

Our process starts with getting the tires going on the vehicle ready. This could include several steps:

  1. Remove from storage location - a good place to have them stored is in the back shed or garage, protected from the elements.

  2. Remove from bags or tire totes.

  3. Determine and set tire pressure - find the manufacturer's specification on driver’s door jamb, or look it up online.

    1. Tires may lose 5-10 psi over the few months they are stored - this is normal!

    2. We use a portable compressor; you might have one, or you could use one of the small pumps that connects to your vehicle’s AC power supply.

    3. If your tires are low on pressure and you don't have a compressor at home, consider transporting your tires to a pump (off the vehicle) so you don't have to drive on them with low pressure.

  4. Clean the wheel mounting surface - where the tire meets the vehicle.

    1. Rust and corrosion that keep the rim and hub/rotor from mounting flatly can cause problems. You could use sandpaper to clean this, or a buffing tool, like a drill with an arbor attachment with a polishing disc.

  5. Place tires at correct locations to vehicle

    1. Tires should have been marked at which location they came off the car (left front, left rear, right front, right rear). If not, the best tires should be on the rear axle. If possible, keep the tires on the same side of the vehicle (might not be possible if they weren’t marked when they came off - not a big deal).

Cleaning corrosion from the wheel's mounting surface
Cleaning rust and corrosion from the wheel's mounting surface (on the inside face of the rim)

Step 2 - Jack up the vehicle and remove the first wheel

Now that the tires going on are ready, we are set to use a jack to raise the vehicle in order to take the wheel off. We’ll start by locating the pinch rail under which to place the jack.

  1. Put the car in park on flat ground, engage the parking brake, and block the wheels. This is to prevent the vehicle from moving while the wheel is off - that would be a big problem. You can use triangular wheel chocks, blocks of wood or bricks to block the wheels - make sure to block them from in front and behind, and not the wheel you’re working on (you’ll have to move the blocks when you get to that wheel).

  2. Find the manufacturer’s specified lifting points on your vehicle. This is important to ensure that you don’t damage your vehicle as you lift it - obviously plastic parts can’t support the weight of the vehicle, so lifting there will damage them. It can be a bit tricky - vehicles are different and you may not be familiar with the undercarriage.

  3. Once you have the vehicle jacked up, use a jack stand under the pinch rail as well to secure the vehicle safely. Now, if you’re just using the spare tire tools, there may not be a jack stand; in this situation, I try to minimize the time the car is without a wheel on it. That’s why it’s important to prepare the wheels going on to the car in advance. An additional safety measure is to place the wheel that you take off under the same area as the jack - if that car slips, it will land on that wheel instead of the ground.

Lift point examples
Examples of lift points in the pinch rail. Note the arrow in the picture on the right, indicating the right location

One thing to remember - if you try to loosen the lug nuts once the wheel is completely clear of the ground, the wheel may just spin around freely. Instead, raise the vehicle slightly (an inch or two perhaps, with the wheel still "held" by the ground) and loosen the lug nuts with the lug wrench. Remember - lefty loosey, righty tighty (I will never not need to remind myself like that - counter-clockwise to loosen, clockwise to tighten). You can use you foot to push down on the lug wrench (LEFTY LOOSEY) with more force.

Locking wheel lug nut key

At this stage, it might be time to get the wheel lock key, if your vehicle has wheel locks. This uniquely patterned security lug nut prevents theft of your wheels - thieves won’t be able to remove the lug nuts, as one can only be removed with the key that you store inside your vehicle. Common places to look for the wheel lock key are the dashboard or centre glove box, or in with the spare tire. Not all vehicles have a wheel lock, so if your lug nuts all look the same, skip this step.

Install lug nuts by hand

Now that the lug nuts are loose, raise the vehicle further until the wheel is off the ground, and simply remove the lugs and take the tire off the car! vehicles have lug bolts instead of lug nuts - the wheel is held up by the bolt, so once you remove the last one, be aware that it could drop.

In some cases, the wheel could be stuck on the hub with rust or corrosion. Just tap the back of the tire with a hammer to break through the rust.

Step 3 - Install new wheel

Recall how we cleaned the wheel’s mounting surface to ensure flat contact. Now, we will do the same with the mounting surface on the vehicle - the outside face of the brake rotor/drum. With both sides cleaned of rust and corrosion, we can have completely, smooth contact, which ensures that when we tighten the lug nuts, there will be proper, full engagement and our torque specifications will be met.

Cleaning rust and corrosion from the vehicle's wheel mounting surface
Cleaning rust and corrosion from the vehicle's wheel mounting surface (the brake rotor or brake drum itself)

With both mounting surfaces clean, we’re ready to put the new wheel on the car. Hang the wheel on the studs (for most vehicles), or line up the holes and install your lug bolt (for Euro cars). DO NOT use a power tool to install initially - if the threads are cross-threaded, you could cause damage. Use just your hands/fingers or a socket that you turn by hand. Once you have them on a few turns and you know the threads are correct, then you could use an electric drill to spin them on quickly.

Snug the lug nuts/bolts up - turn them on (righty tighty) until you can’t by hand any further. If you’re using a power drill, turn them down until the drill stops (don't use the drill's hammer).

Wheel lug nut torque pattern - star pattern

Use a star pattern to ensure the wheel is pulled in evenly - go to a lug nut across from the one you are working on next.

Once the lugs are snug, it’s time to use the torque wrench to tighten the lugs to the manufacturer’s specification. A torque wrench gives you the ability to set your target torque (a measurement of lug nut/fastener tightness, a specification set by the manufacturer), then you use it to tighten the fastener, and it will click or vibrate to let you know the correct torque has been reached. You can usually find the specification for lug nut torque in the owner’s manual, or you could look it up online; Sparky Express is a source I regularly count on to look up torque specifications.

Torque wrench

My approach to hand-torquing wheels is as follows:

  1. Set torque wrench to half of manufacturer’s specification.

  2. Torque lugs in star-pattern to this setting while the wheel is off the ground (hold the top of the wheel with one hand if it’s spinning around.

  3. Once all the lugs are torqued to half specification, lower the vehicle until it makes contact with the ground.

  4. Set torque wrench to full manufacturer’s specification.

  5. Torque lugs in star-pattern to this setting.

Step 4 - Repeat steps 1-3 three more times

Of course, what you’ve done so far is only a quarter of the way done! Repeat this process for each wheel.

Step 5 - Wrap up

Once all four wheels are on, I like to go around once again with the torque wrench set to full torque, and re-torque all the lugs on all the wheels, just to double-confirm that they are all tight - some additional peace of mind. Our Wheel Easy technicians use a second torque wrench as a redundant safeguard.

Now it’s time to put away the tires that you’ve taken off and put away all your tools. It’s recommended that you store your torque wrench with the setting at 0 ft lbs - this keeps tension off the mechanism (if left on, it could affect the calibration). If you’re using your spare tire jack and lug wrench, make sure those go back where they came from, in case you need them on the road.

Now your car is all set! As I’m writing this in the springtime, from my perspective right now, your car is all set with its nice wheels for summer road trips and Sunday cruises!

Nice wheels!

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns about anything that you see here - education is an important goal for Wheel Easy, so anything we can do to help you learn more about your vehicle would make us very happy. And of course, if you're in London, Ontario or the surrounding area, and you prefer to have us come and do the tire swap for you, don’t hesitate to reach out or book online!

Good luck and see you out there!

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