What Should I Do If I Get a Flat Tire?

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By |2020-08-21T11:54:41-04:00June 12, 2020 - 08:40AM|Car Owning & Maintenance Advice|

Every week, drivers across the country have to deal with a flat tire. What if that’s you one day? AAA says “tire-related” problems are responsible for approximately one-third of all roadside emergencies. Don’t worry: There are proven ways to handle the situation. 

Maybe the most important tool to have with you if you get a flat: Your cell phone. More on that in a bit.

What Should I Do If I Get a Flat Tire While I’m Driving?

How can you tell your tire is flat? There’s usually some sort of bumping or thumping, followed soon after by a noticeable change in steering and handling, and not for the better. After the air escapes the tire, the only thing between the road and the wheel rim is a thin piece of rubber. You’ll feel the difference, especially if it’s one of the front tires that’s flat. You may hear a flapping noise or notice the steering wheel pulling hard to one side.

Once you realize you have a flat, don’t panic. Put on your emergency flashers, slow down and try to get off the road safely. If there’s not a parking lot nearby, pull off onto the right shoulder as far as possible. You can also use the left shoulder in certain freeway situations – for example, if there’s a safe median area in the center of a divided highway. Don’t go far, though: Most experts don’t recommend driving on a flat tire for very long. 

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Should I Try Fixing a Flat Tire Myself?

We don’t recommend the DIY approach to most flat-tire situations unless you’re able to park safely away from traffic and are fairly confident in your wrenching skills. If you absolutely must change a tire yourself, follow the instructions in your owner’s manual carefully.

Many newer vehicles don’t even have spare tires. AAA reports that nearly 30% of the cars and trucks produced for the 2017 model year rely on alternatives such as run-flat tires or inflator kits instead. Neither one will help if you have more than a small hole in your tire.

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Who Should I Call If I Get a Flat Tire?

As we said, maybe the best tool for when you have a flat is your cell phone. There are several places to turn for help:

Roadside Assistance

First, you should turn to your automaker’s or insurance company’s roadside assistance program. These work by contacting a nearby service center, who will then send out a tow truck and mechanic to change the tire for you.

Be aware of your current mileage, though, if you use the assistance program that came with your car; these programs typically expire after a set time or mileage level. If you don’t have a roadside assistance program, it may be worth considering one for situations like this.

AAA

Otherwise, if you belong to AAA, you can contact them. Needless to say, having these numbers ahead of time – and stored in the vehicle as part of a proper emergency car kit – can make your life a lot easier.

Police

If you don’t have any such coverage, many state highway departments have courtesy patrols that stop and help with a flat tire. Don’t be afraid to call 911 if you’re stranded on the side of the highway and you feel you’re in danger, such as when there’s not much of a shoulder to take refuge on. 

Be Cautious

A final word of caution: Always be careful when anyone approaches you to help. This is especially true if a vehicle stops and it’s not a clearly marked police car, courtesy van, or tow truck. In most cases, it will be a generous stranger looking to lend a hand. But not always. If you have any worries, stay in your vehicle with the doors locked and call 911 if the need arises.

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About the Author:

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who got his start working on dealer publications with General Motors. He has covered nearly all aspects of the industry since then and continues to explore auto-related topics for Carfax today. Away from work, Charles enjoys reading, photography and spending time with his family. Charles owes his interest in cars to his father, whose daily drivers when Charles was growing up included a Lotus Elan, a Jensen-Healey and a pair of Toyota Celica Supras.