Got a Flat Tire? Here's How to Handle It When Driving

Flat tires are a normal part of being a driver. The average driver can expect to deal with five flat tires over their driving life. So it’s important to know what to do when you get a flat tire.

But how do you know if you have a flat tire? Most modern cars have tire pressure sensors that alert you when you have a flat. Even if your car doesn't have these, you can generally tell if you have a flat based on the clunking noise or pull in the direction of the flat tire.

Steps to Take When You Get a Flat Tire

Once you recognize that you have a flat tire, what should you do? Here are three steps to take when you get a flat tire. 

1. Find a Safe Place to Park

If you notice the flat before you get behind the wheel, you’re probably already parked in a safe spot. So you can skip straight to step two!

But if you get a flat or have a tire blow-out while you’re driving, your first priority is to get your vehicle out of the flow of traffic so that you can bring it to a stop safely. No need to slam on the brakes — you can gently slow your vehicle with control. 

Pulling into a parking area is ideal, but you may be forced to pull over onto the shoulder of the highway. Try to find a spot that will give you (or your roadside assistance mechanic) plenty of room to work on the tire. Avoid stopping on bridges or on narrow roadways if at all possible. 

Make sure your hazard lights are on so that other drivers can give you a wide berth. 

2. Call Roadside Assistance or Change the Tire Yourself

Flat tires tend to come at horribly inconvenient times. In many cases, you don’t have the time to fully diagnose the problem with your tire and fix it on the spot. Instead, you just need to replace the flat tire with your spare tire so you can drive to a tire shop.

Roadside assistance services can take your flat tire off and replace it with a spare tire. In most vehicles, there is a spare tire located in the space under your trunk. While you’re waiting for help to come, you can clear out your trunk so the technician can easily get to the spare. If your car doesn’t have a spare, the technician might need to tow you to a service center.

If you remember how to change a tire from your driver’s ed course, you don’t need to wait for roadside assistance. You can change the flat tire yourself! Changing a tire isn’t difficult, but you’ll be a lot more confident if you’ve done it before. It’s a good idea to practice changing from your normal tire to a spare and back in the stress-free environment of your own driveway so that you’ll be ready when you get a flat. 

3. Get the Flat Repaired or Replaced Quickly

With your spare in place, you’re free to drive your vehicle. You just need to be extra careful because spare tires are not as stable as normal tires. Drive slowly. And consider keeping your hazard lights on. 

It’s best to drive straight to a tire shop where a qualified technician can inspect your tires and tell you if your tire can be patched or if it needs to be replaced. Then the technician can replace your spare with the repaired (or new) tire and send you on your way!

If you were on your way to something important, like work, it’s probably OK to continue to your original destination. Just make a plan to get to the tire shop immediately after.  

Flat Tire FAQs

You’ve got questions? We’ve got answers! Here are some of the most common flat-tire questions. 

Can I Drive on a Flat Tire?

No! Driving on a flat tire is dangerous. It’s easier to lose control of a car with a flat, which can cause a crash. And even if you’re able to maintain control, driving on a flat can do major damage to your car. 

Will the Spare Tire Feel the Same as My Normal Tire?

Nope. Your spare is likely smaller than your normal tires. That means your car might feel a little off-balance. It also means that some of your vehicle’s features (like cruise control or all-wheel drive) won’t work with your spare. Most importantly, spare tires can’t go as fast as normal tires. You’ll want to stay below 50 mph on your spare.

How Long Can I Drive on a Spare Tire?

You want to replace your spare with a proper tire as soon as possible. Generally, a spare is only meant to go about 50 miles. Hopefully, that’s enough to get you where you need to go, then get to a tire shop. 

When Should I Replace My Tires?

Even if your tires seem to be in good condition, you should replace your tires according to your manufacturer’s longevity schedule. The longest most tires can last is about 10 years.   

Proper Tire Maintenance Is Part of Being a Responsible Driver

Flat tires can put you, your passengers, and other drivers in danger. As a licensed driver, it’s your responsibility to make sure your tires are in good shape. Pay attention to the air pressure in your tires and repair or replace damaged tires immediately to stay safe on the road! 

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