Every week, drivers nationwide 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 essential 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 Driving?
How can you tell your tire is flat? There’s usually some 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 no 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 can park safely away from traffic and are relatively confident in your wrenching skills. If you must change a tire yourself, follow your owner’s manual instructions 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.
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:
First, visit your automaker’s or insurance company’s roadside assistance program. These work by contacting a nearby service center, which will send you a tow truck and mechanic to change the tire.
However, be aware of your current mileage 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.
Otherwise, if you belong to AAA, you can contact them. Having these numbers ahead of time – and stored in the vehicle as part of a proper emergency car kit – can make your life much easier.
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 feel you’re in danger, such as when there’s not much of a shoulder to take refuge on.
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 marked police car, courtesy van, or tow truck. In most cases, a generous stranger will be looking to lend a hand. But not always. If you have any worries, stay in your vehicle with locked doors and call 911 if needed.
If you have questions about this story, please contact us at Editors@carfax.com