Everyone knows that having a flat tire is no fun. It’s a pain in the neck, it is inconvenient, it is costly, and at the very least, it will cost you about 20 minutes of your time—and at most can derail a trip.
Being properly prepared for this fairly common emergency can save you a lot of money in the short and long term. If you have all of the tools you need, including a spare tire, then changing a tire will only cost you the price of the tire—which can typically run around $100 for a standard new tire, depending on the size of the car.
Most new and used cars come standard with a jack and a lug wrench, the two most important tools that you will need, as well as a spare, often referred to as a "doughnut". A doughnut is a smaller tire designed for temporary use in order to allow you to either drive home or to a repair center. According to the Automobile Association of America (AAA), however, the use of a doughnut is not recommended for distances of more than 50 miles.
The Cost of the Tire Itself
Tire prices can vary dramatically, depending on what type of tire you need. If you need a gently used—retreaded—standard car tire, you might be able to pay as little as $20 or less for the new tire. But, if you prefer a new tire, it will likely cost you between $100 or up to $1,000 or more if it’s a large tire for a pickup truck, an SUV, is for off-road or high-performance use.
According to Automotive Fleet—a leasing firm—a standard 17 or 18-inch tire will be the most affordable option, and the larger the diameter, the higher the price.
During the past decade, tire diameters have increased in size to as much as 24-inch, 26-inch, and even larger.
Paying to Have the Tire Changed
If you purchase a tire from a reputable auto shop, the cost of replacing the tire is generally built into what they charge you for the tire itself. These charges will include the disposal of the old tire and placing a new valve stem into the new tire. That being said, you will pay a premium if someone is changing your tire for you.
If you have AAA or another roadside assistance program, then changing a flat tire is likely included in the cost of your membership. Also, many auto insurance policies contain riders that include roadside assistance to change tires. In most cases, this rider includes changing the tire in your driveway or parking space if you come outside to see it is flat.
Just make sure that you are in a safe place while you wait for assistance to reach you, and know that they could tow you to a repair shop rather than changing your tire on the fly, setting you slightly out of your way. Often, the cheapest repair shop (or the one preferred by your roadside assistance organization) could be up to 50 miles away—make sure to check your specific policy.
Also, if you live in an area where tires are frequently damaged by roadway debris, you may consider getting a policy rider to cover your tire replacement.
Do It Yourself
Of course, the cheapest method of changing a tire is knowing how to change a tire yourself. If you know how to change a tire, all you will need is the tire itself, a jack, a lug wrench, and a few minutes of patience.
Make sure you are fully off the road, engage your safety flashers, and be sure to place a warning flare if you are attempting to change a tire at night along a traveled roadway.
Tire Changing Tools
Generally, most of the tools you need to change a tire are included when you purchase a vehicle. In addition to the spare tire, the jack for your car, and the lug wrench, it is helpful also to have wheel wedges and a tire pressure checker.
If you don’t have these items, a portable, manual jack for your car can cost between $27 and $700, a lug wrench will cost about $10 to $25, wheel wedges will set you back $10 to $25, and a tire pressure gauge will cost about $2 to $100 or more. Of course, in a pinch, you could also use a stone or a brick for a tire wedge, which in most cases, will be free.
As a rule, you should have the air pressure of your spare tire checked regularly. If you ask the shop where you get your oil changed regularly, they may do this service for free.
Cost of Your Time: Priceless
Of course, the biggest variable in this whole equation is whether or not you are willing to change the tire yourself. If you are willing to take the time to learn how to change a tire properly, then you can save a lot of time and money in the long run. It is a fairly straightforward process and is not that difficult once you get the hang of it.
But, if you find yourself without the necessary supplies, or do not have the inclination to change a tire yourself, then it could certainly cost you several hundred dollars to change a tire.