If you’re thinking about whether to spend a few minutes reading this story, here’s something else to ponder. In the time it would take you to finish, thousands of drivers across the country will be dealing with flat tires. That’s because flats occur about seven times every second. The AAA says “tire-related” problems are responsible for approximately one-third of all roadside emergencies. Drivers who prepare for a flat tire often can avoid an emergency, though.
What Should I Do If I Get a Flat Tire While I’m Driving?
Most folks can tell they have a flat tire immediately. There will be some sort of physical bumping or thumping, followed soon after by a noticeable change in steering and handling. Without air in the tire, the only thing between the road and the wheel rim is a relatively thin piece of rubber. You’ll feel the difference, especially if it’s one of the front tires that’s flat.
Once you realize you have a flat, don’t panic. Put on your emergency flashers. Slow down, and try to get off the road. If there’s no parking lot nearby, pull off onto the right shoulder as far as possible. You also can use the left side in certain freeway situations. (For example, if there’s a safe median area in the center of a divided highway, and you’d otherwise have to cross traffic to get to the right shoulder.) But most experts don’t recommend driving on a flat tire for very long. So, as a general rule, don’t try to keep going and reach the next exit on a flat.
Should I Try Fixing a Flat Tire Myself?
Changing a tire seems like a simple task at first. It’s pretty much just a matter of loosening a few lug nuts, jacking up the car, swapping wheels and getting the lug nuts tight again. Yet, in the real world, those lug nuts can be more than a little sticky. After years without being unscrewed, they may not come free without a professional-size lug wrench or an air wrench. Further, when you’re on the side of the highway, with traffic whizzing by at 70 mph, the easiest repairs quickly can become dangerous. If you’ve pulled over so that the flat tire is on the same side as the passing cars and trucks, the risk is even higher.
Fewer and fewer new vehicles have spare tires. The AAA reports that nearly 30 percent of the cars and trucks produced for the 2017 model year rely on alternatives such as run-flat tires and inflator kits instead. And neither will help if you have more than a small hole in your tire.
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 try changing a tire yourself, follow the instructions in your owner’s manual carefully.
Who Should I Call If I Get a Flat Tire?
When you combine that AAA data with a recent study from the Pew Research Center, it turns out that the percentage of U.S. adults with cellphones is higher than the percentage of new vehicles with spare tires. Pew puts the former at 95 percent, while the latter, as just mentioned, is about 70 percent. With that in mind, we consider a cellphone to be the most important tool for dealing with a flat tire.
If you belong to the AAA, now’s your chance to benefit from more than the organization’s extensive automotive research. If you don’t, many highways have courtesy patrols that stop and help with a flat tire for free (although a tip can show a little courtesy of your own). Don’t be afraid to call 911 if you’re stranded on the side of the highway. These situations often are considered emergencies because of the increased potential for a bigger problem. Insurance companies and automakers also offer roadside assistance plans. You’ll have your choice of local towing companies as well, some of which should be able to provide emergency tire-change service. Needless to say, having these numbers ahead of time, as part of a proper emergency car kit, can make your life a lot easier.
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 don’t hesitate to call the police.