Most new vehicles come with a jack to be used when changing tires. If you have a secondhand car, or if your jack has been lying around neglected, you may need to buy one. When shopping for a new jack, you can buy the scissor type, but I suggest that you invest in a hydraulic jack, which is faster and safer and not terribly expensive. Be sure to buy one that can handle the weight of your vehicle.
Whatever type you buy, make sure that the jack is suited to your vehicle's body design. To determine the type of jack you need and to find out how to use the jack that came with the vehicle, check your owner's manual or asksomeone at an auto parts store.
Check your jack periodically, never use it without the base plate, and never jack up your vehicle unless the wheels are properly blocked.
Your jack should be in the trunk of your vehicle at all times. There's nothing more depressing than knowing how to change a flat and realizing that you've left your jack in your garage when you get a flat tire on the side of the road.
If you plan to remove a wheel for any reason, you need a pair of jack stands as well as a jack. The stands hold the vehicle off the ground with less danger of slipping and enable you to jack up more than one side of the vehicle at a time. Remember to get two jack stands — you'll need them both.
Substituting boxes, stones, or bricks for jack stands is very dangerous. They can slip out or break while you're under the vehicle. A jack can do the same thing, and when it really comes down to it, jack stands aren't all that stable, either. So I recommend that, instead of doing anything under your vehicle that involves more than just reaching under the vehicle for a few minutes (like opening and replacing the oil drain plug or changing an oil filter), you seriously consider paying a professional to put your vehicle on a hoist and do the job. If you can work under your vehicle without having to jack it up, you should also get a creeper.
A creeper is basically just a board with casters (wheels that can move in several directions) on the underside (see Figure 3-15). If you have an SUV with sufficient clearance under it to allow you to scoot around underneath without having to jack it up, a creeper comes in handy when removing mud and debris from the undercarriage.
If you have some carpentry skills, you can make a creeper from some plywood and a couple of old roller-skate wheels. If you're fed up with buying things and you don't want to make a creeper, try lying on an old bed board or a ratty old blanket instead.
If you're not yet game for a lot of under-the-car work and you just want to change your tires, change your oil, and be done with it, forget about the creeper. Get a jack and jack stands that work properly, and know how to use them safely.
From Auto Repair for Dummies, copyright © 2009 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana. Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.