Monthly Archives: February 2010

How To Change A Tire

Changing a spare tire is not as daunting as it may seem. All you need is the right equipment and a bit of brute strength. Bear in mind that your car’s instruction manual will have directions on how to change a spare. You should consult this manual before changing a tire in order to ensure that you are following the correct procedure for your particular model.

 To change a tire, you’ll need:

  • A spare tire, obviously. Most, although not all, cars will carry the spare tire under the floor of the trunk. You should check the pressure in your spare when checking your tire pressure. Nothing is more disheartening than pulling over to fix a flat and realizing that your spare tire is flat as well.
  • A lug wrench (also known as a tire iron.)
  • A car jack
  • A wheel chock, large stone, or brick.

As soon as you notice a flat, begin looking for a hard, level surface, away from the road, where you can change the tire. Once you have located such a surface, safely pull over—don’t panic and make a dangerous lane change.

After pulling over, put your car into park (automatic) or first gear (manual.) Apply your parking brake and turn on your emergency lights. If you are near a busy road, you may also want to raise your hood, to let people know that you have stopped to make a repair.

Next, place the stone or wheel chock against the wheel diagonally opposite the wheel you are going to change; for example, if you are changing the left rear wheel, place the chock against the right front wheel. If you are on a slight downward incline, place the chock in front of the wheel; place the chock behind the wheel if you are on an upward incline.

Now, place the jack underneath your car on the side that the flat is on. Most recent models of car will have notches on the underside of the car near both the front and rear wheels to indicate where the jack should be placed. Consult your owner’s manual if you are in doubt as to where to place the jack, and make sure that the jack is making contact with the metal underside of the car and not a plastic frame.

Raise the jack until it is supporting the car. DON’T raise the wheel off the ground at this point. If you try to loosen the lug nuts while the tire is off the ground, you’ll just spin the tire.

Remove the hubcap and begin to loosen the lug nut. As with most things you turn the lug nuts counterclockwise (to the left) to loosen them. Remember: right—tight, left—loose.

Throughout this process, you should loosen—and tighten—the lug nuts in a star pattern. Don’t tighten or loosen the bolts all at once. Instead, loosen each one slightly, moving in a star pattern; start with one, loosen it a bit, then loosen the one across from it, then the one across from that one, etc. Once you’re back to the first nut, loosen them all a bit more.

At this stage, you just want to loosen the lug nuts slightly. This can be quite difficult; if you don’t bench press regularly, you may need to throw your weight against the wrench, or even jump on it. Just be sure you are turning the wrench in the right direction.

Once the nuts are loosened, it’s time to lift the wheel off the ground. After making sure that the jack is level and the car is steady, raise the jack until the wheel is four to six inches off the ground. Once the wheel is off the ground, finish loosening—and then removing—the lug nuts, continuing to loosen them bit by bit in the star pattern described above.

Once the wheel is off, lay it flat underneath the car, just in case the car body falls. Now, you need to fit the spare tire onto the wheel studs. Remember that the side with the air valve should be facing outwards.

Reattach the lug nuts and begin to tighten them, using the same technique that you used to loosen them. At this point, you want to tighten them just until the tire is snug against the wheel hub. Once the tire is attached, lower the wheel back to the ground and remove the jack. Finish tightening the lug nuts; they should be as tightened down as you can get them. Once you’re down with this, you should be good to go!

To learn more about this topic, visit

Or visit’s Safe Driver Resources website to read up on a broad range of topics ranging from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Battery”.


What To Do If Your Car Skids

Feeling your car suddenly skid out of control on an icy road can be a terrifying experience. Unfortunately, most of our instinctive reactions to such a situation—like braking suddenly, turning the wheel in the opposite direction, or staring at the target we’re about to hit—are not only ineffective, but can actually make the skid worse!

A skid occurs when there isn’t enough friction between tire and road. This can happen when driving in  wet or icy conditions, stopping suddenly, or entering a turn at a high speed.

A few tips for preventing skids:

1.      Make sure your tires have adequate treads. Tires are made with a “wear bar” in the treads; if the level of the tire reaches that of the “wear bar,” it’s time to get new tires. You can also check your tires by inserting a penny into the tread upside-down. Lincoln’s head should be at least partially covered.

2.      Drive slowly in wet, icy, or snowy conditions.

3.      Keep an appropriate distance between you and the car ahead of you. A general rule of thumb is four car lengths for every ten mph. If you are travelling 40 mph, keep 16 car lengths between cars. This way, you’ll have plenty of time to react if the driver in front of you stops ; trying to stop too suddenly can cause a skid.

4.      Slow down before entering a curve or bend. Taking a curve too quickly or braking suddenly while going around a bend can cause skids.

There are two different kinds of skids: front wheel skids and rear wheel skids. We’ll discuss how to deal with these in turn. First, however, in dealing with any kind of skid, keep two basic principles in mind.

First, don’t panic! You need to keep your head clear when you go into a skid, because your “instinctive” reactions are likely to do more harm than good.

Second, keep your eyes focused on a target in the distance. Choose a point further down the road, in the direction you are headed, and stay focused on this object. With this target in view, you’ll be better able to redirect your car so that it is once again travelling in the right direction.

Now, on to different types of skids.


A four wheel skid occurs when the entire car starts drifting in a direction other than the driver’s intended course. This type of skid tends to occur when a driver enters a curve too quickly.

If your car enters a front-wheel skid, ease off the accelerator. If you are driving a car with manual transmission, depress the clutch. With your eyes focused on your “target,” try to steer the car back on course. If you don’t regain control of the car within 2-3 seconds, THEN depress the brake lightly. If your car doesn’t have anti-lock (ABS) brakes, pump the brakes lightly.

Braking will help to transfer power to the front of the car; braking too suddenly, however, can cause the wheels to lock, which will make the skid worse.


A rear will skid occurs when the back end of the car slides out to the right or left; this is also known as “fishtailing.”

At some point, at least one person has probably toward you to “turn into the skid.” He or she was talking about what to do if your car fishtails. However, this advice can be misleading. Say that the back end of your car suddenly slides out to the right; you don’t want to turn your wheel sharply to the right as well, especially if you are travelling at a high speed. You want to turn to the right JUST ENOUGH to straighten out the car, i.e. bring the front wheels back in line with the rear wheels. This is why focusing on a target is helpful: it prevents you from “over-correcting.”

As you turn, slowly ease off the accelerator. Avoid the temptation to brake suddenly.

To learn more about this topic, visit

Or visit’s Safe Driver Resources website to read up on a broad range of topics ranging from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Battery”.

What To Do If Your Brakes Fail

The average driver uses his or her brakes about 75,000 times a year, making the brakes one of the most important (and overworked!) parts of your car. While total brake failure is rare, it is also very dangerous. The best way to deal with brake failure is to prevent it by maintaining your brakes.


Most cars have two brake systems. The regular brakes—those attached to your brake pedal—are connected to a hydraulic system. The parking brake—either a lever to the right of the driver or, on some automatic cars, a foot pedal—is activated using a cable. It’s designed to be totally separate from the regular braking system, so that it can be used if the main brakes fail.


Many newer cars have anti-lock brake systems (ABS). If you have ABS, an ABS logo should light up on your dashboard when you turn on your car. If you are unsure of what kind of braking system you have, you can also check your owner’s manual.

ABS brakes are designed to help you stop as quickly as possible. Brake pressure is at a maximum right before the wheels lock; however, once your wheels lock, you lose control over steering. An ABS system senses when a wheel is about to lock and automatically “pumps” the brake to maintain maximum pressure without locking the wheel. If you have ABS, you’ll feel a shuddering in the brake pedal when you try to stop suddenly. While this may feel unpleasant, as though something is “wrong” with the brakes, it’s actually a sign that your ABS system is keeping you safe. Consult your owner’s manual to learn how to use your ABS brakes properly.

If you don’t have ABS brakes, you should learn how to pump your brakes yourself. When trying to make a sudden stop, press down on and release the brake repeatedly and as quickly as possible, rather than simply pressing the brake to the floor. This will prevent your wheels from locking.


There are a few simple ways to check the health of your brakes. First, open the hood and look at the brake fluid in the master cylinder. If this is low, there could be a leak in the system OR the brake pads could be wearing thin. If you aren’t a capable mechanic yourself, take your car to a local service station to have your brakes checked.  Second, check the level of the brake pedal. If it’s too low, there could be a problem. Finally, check the color of the brake fluid. If it’s dark brown or cloudy, it’s likely that your brake fluid needs replacing.

In general, aim to get your brakes checked annually. Many experts recommended changing your brake fluid—also called “bleeding your brakes”—every one or two years.

You can also take steps to avoid damaging your breaks. Aggressive driving and driving in stop-and-go traffic can place unnecessary strain on your brake system. Modify your driving style and try to avoid driving in traffic whenever possible; consider leaving for work a bit earlier and taking a slightly longer lunch break to avoid rush hour.  Also, avoid resting your foot on the brake pedal when not braking.


In the past few years, several leading automobile companies have recalled cars and trucks due to potential brake problems. If your car has been recalled, don’t risk a possible problem; take it in for maintenance as soon as possible. For a complete database of recalls issued in the United States, check out this government website:


Despite all the precautions one can take, brakes do fail. Should this happen to you, DON’T PANIC. Then, follow these steps to begin slowing down your car. Remember that it’s important to slow down gradually; slowing your car too suddenly could cause you to lose control of your car and end up in an accident.

1.      Shift into a lower gear.

If you are driving a car with manual transmission, downshift as quickly as you can without losing control of the car. Don’t shift into first or second gear too suddenly; wait until the car has slowed somewhat.

 If you’re in a car with automatic transmission, shift down one gear at the time. The first of the low gears is usually labeled “1.”

2.      Check to see how your brake pedal feels.

If your brake pedal feels loose, this could indicate a lack of brake pressure. Pump your brake rapidly to build up pressure (do this even if you do have ABS brakes.) Then, once you have built pressure, press down on the brake firmly.

If your brake pedal feels stiff, there could be a blockage. Use your foot to clear possible obstructions from under the brake pedal or have a passenger take a look.

3.      If (2) doesn’t work, then apply your parking brake. Apply this brake gradually to avoid locking your wheels.

4.      Again, don’t panic. As you complete these steps, keep your eyes on the road to avoid obstacles. Alert other drivers to your predicament by flashing your lights and honking.

5.      If steps 1-3 aren’t effective, then you’ll need to find alternative ways to slow your car. Remember that friction will help to slow you down. Create friction by:

a.     Brushing against a guard rail;

b.     Driving on a non-paved surface;

c.     Driving through shrubbery;

d.     Turning from side to side;

e.     Opening the doors or sun-roof to create air resistance.

Remember to approach the guard rail or non-paved surface at a shallow angle; otherwise, you’ll risk flipping the car. When driving through shrubbery or underbrush, avoid trees, as these will stop your car far too suddenly. Only try to turn the car from side to side if you are travelling at a fairly low speed; if you turn sharply while moving quickly, you’ll risk flipping the car.

Above all, remain calm, stay in control of your car, and slow down gradually. Once you’ve come to a complete stop, exit the car and call for help.

To learn more about this topic, visit

Or visit’s Safe Driver Resources website to read up on a broad range of topics  from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Battery”.

How To Make An Emergency Lane Change

Imagine you are happily cruising down the interstate at 70mph—music blasting, windows slightly open. You don’t notice that you’ve crept up a little too close to the car in front of you. This car stops suddenly; by the time you see it, there isn’t enough space for you stop. However, the lane to your right is free.

You need to execute an emergency lane change. This is a helpful technique that allows you to change lanes quickly and safely in the event of brake failure, a tire blowout, a sudden obstacle in the road, or other similar emergency. Use this simple one-two-three motion to make an emergency lane change to the right:

1.      Your hands should be opposite another on the steering wheel—at 9 and 3 o’clock. From this position, spin the wheel 180 degrees to the right, so that your arms are crossed.

2.      As soon as your arms touch, spin the wheel back 360 degrees, so that your arms cross in the opposite direction.

3.      Immediately straighten the wheel with a 90 degree turn back to the right.

To enter the right-hand lane: RIGHT-LEFT-RIGHT.

To enter the left-hand lane: LEFT-RIGHT-LEFT.

Using this technique, you’ll be able to make a quick lane change when traveling at speeds as high as 60-70mph without losing control of your vehicle. 

To learn more about this topic, visit

Or visit’s Safe Driver Resources website to read up on a broad range of topics from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Battery”.

Defensive Driving For Insurance Reduction – How Much Can You Save?

By completing a state approved defensive driving course such as, you’ll not only improve your skills as a driver—you also could be eligible to save money on your insurance.  Many of the leading insurance companies in the state of Texas offer various kinds of “safe driver” discounts, including discounts for completing a defensive driving course.   Most of those companies offer a 10 percent discount for three years after successful completion of defensive driving.

How Much Can You Save?

Because auto insurance rates vary depending on gender, amount of coverage, marital status, zip code, and especially age, there is no meaningful “average” insurance premium cost. But it is reasonable to assume that most adult drivers under the age of 25 in Texas will pay at least $1000 a year for minimum coverage. That means the average person would save $100 for taking a defensive driving course, $300 for three years.

Now imagine you pay more – much more, as some drivers do. The chart below shows potential savings:

How much does cost?  $25.  Would you pay $25 to save up to $750?