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Changing Car Wheel Sets Summer & Winter

by Julian Stacey

I've done this, 4 wheels, twice a year, summer & winter, since 1985, in Munich Germany (80 Km from mountains). A few tips for those new to it.
  • Some people initially/ occasionally toy with the idea of 2 sets of rubber tyres, & 1 set of metal wheel rims, to save capital cost (I did too, before realising why not). Bad idea:
    • Raises annual cost, changing rubber tyres on wheels costs more than just changing wheels. Needs a garage with hydraulic press, can't be done at home.
    • Probably keep stretching the rubber rims will damage tyres & or rims, making it less safe at speed.
    • Summer & winter wheels are often different width (narrow for winter to dig through slush to road, broader in summer) Winter rims are usually steel, Summer often aluminium.
  • If you talk to people while you do this job, you'll lose concentration, & do something wrong, more pain, risk, or just less efficiently, more moving of wheels, wasting time.
  • Check the other set of tyres are inflated to correct pressure before you start.
  • Take a torch & mirror: ideal time to spot check disk brake wear on discs & pads. Take water, thirsty work. Take a smallish flat screwdriver for flipping out stones before they dig in too deep. Take a stick of chalk to mark tyres.
  • Working on road is a right pain, dangerous, might be illegal some places, probably all of Germany (a country with laws for everything, & excessive restrictive practices.
  • Concrete is good, tarmac not so good. Brush the gravel away, soft grit at edge of road really bad & unsafe, & wood planks can slip or splinter.
  • On a slope is dangerous, my park space is on a slope, so I either use the car wash bay of the underground garage, or one of the shop's parking slots, (no customers on a Sunday or late at night), or use a neighbours, & if neighbour arrives, ask them to park on your space. (they might argue, but mine never have, & a car on a jack is obviously Not going to get out of their way quickly, which would discourage argument starting, so far any have just happily taken my slot). A wider bay is needed than just for parking, a narrow bay slows you down, & increase the strain on your back heaving the tyres around.
    Never heave wheels around or change trajectory - too easy to twist a back or muscle.just move in a straight line, Stop, re-direction yourself, start.
  • Avoid areas with grit/ dirt/ sand on road. May act as a lubricant allowing jack to slip. May get in wheel studs, damaging or locking thread.
  • Always put a spare wheel under edge of car in case jack collapses. Even though not under car, just changing wheels, one can have head elbow fingers in wrong place, eg while examining brakes.. think how things will move, lever & compress if it slips. If the jack collapses, it will just drop on the wheel, causing minor damage to the edge of car body seal, & wheel, easily lifted by a new jack, much less damage to car & human than if car suspension & brake crushes into concrete. I knew someone who got crushed under a car. Car jacks Do collapse, they are not that strong. At least one or two friends have told me of collapsed car jacks.
  • Use 2 more wheels fore & aft on side you'r not jacking up, to chock car from rolling (also of course be in gear & handbrake hard on) If you have one of those little plastic car wedges like I have, (with pointed metal studs) put a wheel behind it, else it'll slip on flat concrete, even if it might hold on a tarmac hill once under pressure); (They're useful 'cos a wheel on its side is too high to go under skirt of car in front of front wheel.)
  • If the jack is a diamond profile, symmetric, do not place jack exactly under middle of top jack point, but a bit (maybe 0.5 to 1 cm ? ) further in, (there's usually a bit of slack/ play) because when car is jacked up it will tilt to other side, & one wants least stress on jack, by keeping the jack in the middle of its slack range.
  • You can get heavy duty jacks (4 wheels, 2 have 360 degree swivel). Garages have seriously big ones, & individuals buy smaller ones. A lot stronger than the emergency jacks kept in car for a flat on the road. But one problem is: Your car jack is designed to fit the vehicle jacking point (often edge sill) without harm, but where / what should you use on vehicle as jack point with a larger jack ? You don't want thin bits of car body punctured. You don't want to break or bend the sill. You don't want t to slip, You don't want the jack vertical lips to damage underseal & cause rust. SO though I have one, I use the stored- in- car jack !
  • Keep the screw of the jack well greased, never allow any sand or grit to blow on it.
  • Put a rag under where hand winds to avoid scrapping knuckles of hand on concrete - you'r going to be doing a lot of winding, quite fast.
  • Take a steel lengthening pipe (ie old steel 1/2" electric pipe) to lengthen the tool to undo nuts. I now have a a tool that has an integrated lengthening piece. (never use the lengthening pipe to re-tighten, just to do undo).
  • Some tyres (often winter, some summer too) have a forward driving direction, (they expect the V shape in contact with road to be pointing backward. That means the old idea of rotating wheels to even the wear becomes impractical, with V profile tyres only can only swap front to back, not side to side as well.
  • Slackening the nuts a fraction before you jack up the wheel helps, don't slacken much, you do Not want the car moving on the studs, putting weight on the threads. Just a slight loosening. I normally slacken them after the jack is up, tight enough to not slip, but while wheel is still taking most/ or some of weight, so I don't stress the jack with more leverage.
  • Keep each wheel nut in a pattern so they go back on same screw thread (some may think that excessive)
  • In Munich they mark wheels as they take them off, with chalk: VL, VR, HL, HR {Vorne=front, Hinter=back}{Links=Left, Rechts=Right} The letters are run together on the vertical. I find it easier with my hard chalk, to write on black steel of winter wheels, rather than on the tyres.
  • Always blow wheel nut to blow out grit.
  • Do Not oil or grease wheel studs ! Just clean the studs with cloth or wire brush, & blow in nuts to blow out dirt/ grit (so don't work there is sand, thats bad for ack & nuts)). The place that sold me last winter tyres Did put grease on the studs (many people wouldn't approve of that, not sure I do, comment welcome.)
  • Beware using an electric impact driver to loosen or tighten wheel nuts: By default they plug into cigarette lighter socket, on a Subaru you have to turn on ignition to power that socket up, & that turns on air suspension, which starts moving, NOT what you want when a wheel is off. Could cause big damage ! Some electric impact driver set also include car battery crocodile clips to 12V socket converter.
  • The place that sold me summer tyres also used an electric rotary wire brush to clean the studs.
  • Putting the other set of wheels on, usually the car needs to go up or down a bit, or one has to lift the wheels on to the studs, watch out for back strain.
  • Tightening order: If a 5 stud wheel go round several times doing every 2nd nut, gradually more torque. Do not do every nut. Finish off with a torque wrench ideally.
  • Only make wheel half tight while wheel is in air, ie avoid applying excessive force while car is on a jack.
  • Do Not use an extension bar to tighten. Do not stand on lever to tighten. They need to be tighter than light weight girls think, They can often need to be less tight than heavy strong men think. Use a torque wrench !
  • Torque settings vary according to size of wheel, how many studs etc, for my Subaru:
    • My garage 2008-08-11 said they do 110 Nm, He said Subaru recommend torque 100 to ?;
    • Tyre shop said a month before, they torque 120 Nm.
    • redirect loop @ 2018-05-17: 88-90 Nm.
  • For winter tyres, Leave plastic covers off, till you've done maybe dunno 10/ 30/ 50 km, then check nuts are tight, then put plastic hub caps (wheel covers) on.
  • Check pressures on new wheels.Also check pressure on the spare.
  • Some places in Munich one can pay to store wheels all year, & pay them some more to change wheels.
  • Some places in Munich one can rent car bays with hydraulic vehicle lifts, by the hour, that might be more comfortable than jacking up each wheel, I've never tried that.
  • Some shops in Munich sell car battery driven electric tools to take off wheel nuts, (a cheaper version of what professional garages have, that run off compressed air), I bought one to try, I do not get on with it, I put it on my For sale page at "Car hammer screwdriver (for loosening Car Wheel Nuts etc)"

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