What is a Flat Tire and How Does it Happen?
If you’ve never experienced a flat tire before, then you’re missing out on a crucial character-building experience! Just kidding. Flat tires are quite inconvenient, and can happen for a wide variety of reasons.
A flat tire is exactly what it sounds like – your tire no longer has air in it. Without air, there is no longer a cushion of air between the metal of your wheels and the rubber of your tires, which drastically affects your vehicle’s handling performance.
Flat tires can sometimes be a product of negligence, but they often happen due to mistakes, accidents, or random debris found on the road. Here are some of the most common flat tire causes:
- Sharp Objects – It might almost seem like a cliche, but running over something sharp like a nail can absolutely give you a flat tire. It is impossible to know or predict what will be on the road, but if you stick to paved roads, you’re much less likely to encounter something sharp that punctures your tire.
- Hitting Something – This one should be fairly obvious, but any impact to your tires can certainly cause a flat. This is because the air inside your tire is very pressurized, and the force of an impact can create a perfect escape route for the pressurized air in your tire. While something like a car accident will almost certainly create a flat, you can also cause one by hitting something minor, like a curb.
- Negligence – Sometimes a flat tire could’ve been avoided entirely. If you drive on extremely-worn, under-inflated, or even patched tires, you’re far more likely to run into a flat. Furthermore, if you fail to replace the air pressure cap on your tires, you can also slowly lose pressure that way too. The lesson here is to practice thorough car maintenance!
- Tire Failure – While some flats are avoidable, some are simply bizarre and unavoidable. The most common scenario this happens is with catastrophic tire failure. This doesn’t happen a lot, but sometimes the manufacturing process isn’t perfect when a tire is made. Perhaps one spot of the tire is too thin, or maybe it isn’t securely built. Either way, you can encounter a flat as a result of poor tire construction. If you have a newer tire that suddenly goes flat for no obvious reason, you likely received a faulty tire.
What Do You Do When You Get a Flat Tire?
When you do eventually encounter a flat tire, what to do is the first thing that will enter your mind. Even if you’ve never experienced a flat tire in your own life, you should still be prepared and equipped to handle one in case it does arise. Think back to any kind of emergency training you’ve had before.
Maybe you took a class on CPR, perhaps you learned about wilderness survival techniques. Chances are you probably haven’t used that knowledge yet, but you feel more confident about handling yourself when you are in that situation.
That same thinking applies when it comes to a flat tire, or any car emergency for that matter. It isn’t something you’d likely practice for, but you should at least understand how to fix a flat tire. Fortunately we’ve got a few suggestions for you below!
Driving on a flat tire certainly isn’t an option, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your car into a state where it can be driven. If you haven’t done so already, pull over to the side of the road immediately! If you want your car to run, flat tires certainly stand in the way of that. One of the best solutions for a flat tire is swapping it out for a spare.
A spare tire is often kept under the trunk of your vehicle, but sometimes it can be found underneath or even on the back of your vehicle. A spare is often a smaller, less-inflated tire that simply serves as a temporary tire just to get you to a service center. Most spare tires recommend driving under 45 MPH and less than 25 miles, but the less strain you place on the smaller tire, the better.
To replace your flat tire, you’ll need a car jack and a key for your vehicle’s wheel lug nuts. Many wheel lug nuts are tightly fastened, so they’ll require quite a bit of force to remove. Once you’ve removed all the lug nuts securing your tire, you can remove it and place the spare on. Each vehicle is different, so you should always consult your vehicle’s user manual before putting your car up on a jack.
If you don’t have a spare tire, or replacing a flat just isn’t an option for you, there is one other less-effective method for flat tire repair. That method is known as emergency patching. Emergency patching only works for very minor flat tires and doesn’t work when your tire is completely flat.
This works when you notice one of your tires is under-inflated, but not yet fully flat. To patch an under-inflated tire, you’ll need to identify where the tire is leaking air. Carefully read the instructions of whatever patching agent or sealant you’re using, and follow them precisely.
Call for Help
More likely than not, when you finally encounter a flat tire, you’ll probably be in a state of panic. It can be hard to think clearly and learn a new skill like swapping out a tire, so calling someone to help is an excellent solution.
Can you call 911 for a flat tire? Yes, with caveats. While flat tires aren’t necessarily an emergency themselves, if you encounter a flat tire on the highway, the potential for a serious accident skyrockets, which makes the flat tire indirectly an emergency. Even if you aren’t on the highway, you can still call 911, but it won’t be viewed as an emergency situation, and it’ll take far longer to receive help.
Many insurance policies also have some coverage regarding flat tires or car breakdowns. If your policy has roadside assistance, call your insurance company to help you out!
If you’re a member of AAA, you can take advantage of AAA flat tire service! All you need to do is call them, let them know where you are, and they’ll send out a service vehicle or tow truck depending on what you need!
Who to call for a flat tire largely depends on what your insurance coverage and family situation looks like. Maybe you have a friend or relative nearby that knows how to fix a flat, or perhaps you’re covered by AAA. If you don’t have any resources available to help you, consider looking into emergency roadside assistance programs as they’re worth far more than they cost.
What to Avoid
A very common question drivers have – is it safe to drive on a flat tire? Simply put, the answer is NO.
What happens if you drive your car with a flat tire? Well, the simple answer is you’ll wreck your wheel and potentially other costly parts on your car. Without the pressurized air barrier between the rubber of your tire and metal of your wheel, the metal of your wheel will shred the remaining tire to pieces.
Bare wheel rims are absolutely not made to be driven on, and provide no cushion for any parts connected. Your vehicle’s brakes, axle, and even the suspension can all be seriously damaged when driving on a flat tire, or especially a bare rim. A new tire usually costs just a few hundred dollars, but replacing something like your suspension can easily cost thousands.
The important takeaway here is that flat tires aren’t always avoidable, but by performing routine maintenance, you can easily prevent any from happening due to negligence. If you do drive regularly, it is a great idea to have emergency roadside assistance to call and help. Otherwise, you’ll have to learn how to jack up your car and swap the flat out for a spare! Above all else, never drive on a flat tire!