by Jim Kerr

The snow is gone and the streets are dry. I have been a little lazy and am just now getting ready to change from winter tires back to the summer tires on my car. No sense in doing it earlier. After all, there could have been a freak snowstorm and I wouldn’t want to get caught without traction! Oh well, no more procrastinating. Here are a few things to look for when you swap your tires too.

Because I have an extra set of wheels for my winter tires, swapping back to the summer tires can be done in my driveway. A car is a heavy chunk of metal so before you start, keep safety in mind and never put any part of your body under the car while it is up on a jack or jack stands.

Before I start, I set the parking brake and block the wheels so the car won’t roll. Then I loosen all the lug nuts on the car one turn before I jack it up. Trying to loosen a tight lug nut while the car is balanced on a jack is just asking for trouble.

Now the car is ready to be jacked. Lifting one corner at a time is the safest. I use a floor jack, but the vehicle’s jack will work just fine.

It is also a good time to spread a little grease on the jack’s threads so it won’t be seized if you have to change a tire on the side of the road. After jacking the car up, place a jack stand under the suspension or a reinforced section of the body, just in case the car should fall off the jack. Also, make sure the jack and jack stand are on a solid base. Concrete is great, but a jack can dig into asphalt or dirt. Place a short piece of heavy plank under the jack if in doubt. I often see vehicles supported with concrete blocks. This is a no-no! Those blocks may look strong but break easily. A jack stand costs only a few dollars and will last a lifetime.

With the car raised and supported, remove the wheel nuts and wheel. Mark each tire with its location (right rear, left front, etc.) so you can rotate them when you reinstall them next fall for more even tire wear. With the wheel off, it is a good time to look for oil leaks, brake pad wear or loose or damaged parts. It is normal for shocks and struts to have an oil film on them but if there is oil dripping, they will need replacing. If you have drum brakes, it can be difficult to remove the drums to inspect the brakes, so leave that task to a repair shop.

Before installing the summer tires and wheels, clean the wheel-mounting surface on the brake drum or rotor and the back-side of the wheel. Use some coarse sandpaper, a wire brush or a scraper to remove any rust and dirt. Dirt trapped between the wheel and rotor can cause the rotors and drums to warp when the wheel is tightened. This will cause a pedal pulsation when you stop, although the problem may not show up for several thousand kilometres. By then, you will need to have the brakes repaired, too.

Never lubricate the wheel-mounting surface or the wheel nuts. The lubricant could cause them to loosen as you drive. With the summer tire in place, install the lug nuts and snug them all up evenly. Then tighten each one slightly in a criss-cross pattern for four- or six-bolt wheels, or a star pattern for five-bolt wheels.

After all the wheels are installed, go around the car again and torque the wheel nuts to the proper specifications. Many are torqued from a range of 75 to 100 ft-lbs. The torque is critical. Too loose, and a wheel could come off; too tight, and the brake rotors will warp. Use a torque wrench for final tightening. If you don’t access to one, tighten the nuts and have them checked at a nearby repair shop before driving any longer distances.

Finally, you are ready to check the air pressure in your tires. You could also do this before they are installed. I finish up by taking the winter tires down to the car wash and cleaning them up. It makes putting them back on next fall a much nicer task.

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