Although we all hope to never get a flat tire, it’s bound to happen at some point in your life. Here is everything you need to know about driving on a flat tire.
You shouldn’t try driving on a flat tire for extended periods of time, nor should you drive on a flat tire at high speeds. If you have a sudden blowout, you should safely make your way off the road and pull over. From there, either install your spare or call a tow truck unless the shop is close by.
If you’ve ever had it happen to you, you know just how frustrating it can be to have a flat tire. But what should you do if you do get a flat tire? Can you drive on it? How far can you go? How fast? Is it safe? Can it be fixed? In this article, we’ll answer all of those questions and more so that by the time you’re done reading it, you’ll know everything there is to know about driving on a flat tire.
Our main goal at Carshtuff is to make sure that you get the best content possible so next time you’re out and about and you get a flat tire, you know what to do. To ensure this, we used our own personal knowledge and took input from technicians from all over to come with a complete guide on how to handle driving on a flat tire. After this, you’ll know exactly what you should (and shouldn’t) do.
Can You Drive On A Flat Tire?
Most of us have probably been there one way or another. You walk out to your car in the morning and notice a flat tire. As if you weren’t already going to be late for work. Or you leave the office and you’re excited to get home, but you have a flat tire in the parking lot. And the worst one, you’re just driving down the road and suddenly your tire blows out and goes entirely flat.
Now what? Can you drive on a flat tire? Should you drive on a flat tire?
Realistically, you can drive on a flat tire for a very limited amount of time and at very slow speeds. Driving on a flat tire for too long or while going too fast can present all sorts of potential issues and dangers that we’ll get into in more detail throughout this guide. But in general, you should try to avoid driving on a flat tire whenever possible.
So if you notice a flat tire when you walk out to your car in your driveway or a parking lot, either decide to put the spare on, call AAA, or call a different towing company and have it taken somewhere. In almost all cases, these options are better than trying to drive on a flat tire!
How Long Can You Drive On A Flat Tire?
The short answer to this question is that you shouldn’t drive on a flat tire at all, for any amount of time outside of pulling over if you have a blowout while driving. But I know that’s not what you’re here for. So is it even possible to drive on a flat tire and get your car to the shop? Or do you always need a tow truck?
In most cases, a flat tire has likely been getting low for hours, days, or even weeks and you just noticed it. If there is an air pump nearby, try filling your tire with air first before calling a tow truck. If you don’t hear the distinctive hissing sound of that new air rushing out, then you’re probably safe to drive to the nearest shop as long as it’s close by.
But if the tire is 100% flat and cannot hold air (i.e. it leaks pretty much just as fast as you’re able to put it in), then you really don’t want to try to drive on it at all. If the shop is just down the street, as in like a mile or less away, then you can potentially drive to the shop super slowly, although I don’t recommend this.
Driving on a flat tire is unsafe and damages the tire, so you're almost always better off not trying to in the first place.
Should You Drive Slower If You Have A Flat?
This question is much easier to answer. You should absolutely drive much slower if you have a flat tire and you’re trying to get your car to the shop or even just pull over on the side of the road. If you try to continue driving at normal speeds, you’ll run into two main issues: vehicle control and excessive damage to the tire.
Flat tires make it significantly harder to control your vehicle, especially if one of your front tires suddenly goes low. Since that tire has little to no air in it, that side of the car will droop down substantially. When that happens, your car will immediately start pulling to that side. Heavily. You’ll be constantly fighting the steering wheel to keep it straight.
If one of the rar tires goes flat, you’ll have issues with the car tracking the way it should. Rear tires work to follow the car's front tires since you steer the fronts only, not the rears. If one of your back tires has no air in it, it won’t be able to track as easily as it’s designed to, so you could start dealing with inadvertent swerving and losing control of the vehicle at high speeds.
The other issue with driving fast on a flat tire is that you will cause irreversible damage to the tire in a very short amount of time. Driving on a flat tire tears up the inner lining. And if the lining gets worn too thin and the nylon and steel belts within the tire start to show from the inside, the tire cannot be fixed, no matter what actually caused it to go flat.
So if you have to drive on a flat tire for any reason, make sure you pop your hazard lights on and go very slow. If you’re just pulling over to the side of the road, get there quickly and safely while slowing down. If you’re limping your car to the shop, just go as slow as you possibly can without causing any dangers to the traffic around you. Be safe!
How Hard Is It To Put On A Spare Tire?
If you are unlucky to get a flat tire while you’re out driving, you might have no other option besides putting your spare tire on the car. Other than that, you would most likely need to call a towing company and have your car towed to the nearest shop that you can find. While spare tires can be great in a pinch, not everyone knows how to install one.
For more detailed information of everything you need to know about spare tires, check out our complete guide on the topic. Since we have that article, I won’t go into too many details here about installing a spare tire and all the steps on how to do it, but I will hit the main points so you have a quick idea of if it’s something you think you can handle on your own.
Before you go through the trouble of getting your spare tire out of the vehicle, much less starting to jack it up on the side of the road, check one thing first. Make sure that your spare is full of air! Very few people actually keep their spare tires aired up and when they end up needing it, the spare is totally flat as well. If yours is flat, don’t bother trying to put it on. Just call the tow truck!
If you do decide to put your spare on, there are only two parts that can be too difficult: breaking the lugs loose and jacking the vehicle up. Using the provided tire iron or tire tool, break the lug nuts loose before jacking the car up. Then, very carefully use the included jack to raise the vehicle. Make sure you’re only using dedicated jacking points on the vehicle, or you can risk damage to the floor board or rocker panel.
Once the tire is loose and the vehicle is jacked up, it’s pretty easy! Overall, putting a spare tire on your vehicle is not hard to do. But the included jacks that most cars come with make it significantly harder and you also need to ensure you’re being safe with other traffic on the road. Overall, it’s not too hard but you just need to stay safe and make sure you do it right.
Can Flat Tires Be Fixed Or Do You Have To Replace Them?
In many cases, flat tires can actually be repaired instead of you having to buy a new tire. But the key here is that you can’t really have driven very far on the flat tire if you’re hoping to have it replaced. As you drive on a flat tire, the inside of it gets chewed up and it starts to get damaged from the inside out.
If you pull into a tire shop and have them zip off your flat tire to see if it can be repaired, it becomes plainly obvious if you’ve driven on it for too long and it’s past the point of repair. Inside the tire, there will be a fine powder made up of tiny little pieces of the inner lining of the tire. If that lining is too far gone, you’ll have to replace the tire as the damaged one won’t be safe to drive on any longer.
Other than that, the type of damage and also location of the damage will determine if the tire is able to be repaired. In general, any sort of damage to the sidewall is not repairable. Similarly, tire injuries that are longer than ½” in length or within 1” of the sidewall cannot be repaired. Modern tire repair kits work from them inside, combining a plug and a patch into one. But they don’t work if the tire’s damage meets any of the above limits.
If you do have to replace the tire due to whatever issue caused it to go flat, hopefully you’ll only need to replace one. Many times, it’s suggested to get at least two tires so that the both tires on the same axle have similar tread depths. If you drive an all-wheel drive car, you’ll need to replace all four. Otherwise you could potentially damage the transfer case on your vehicle!
Are Run Flat Tires Worth It?
As you’re trying to figure out everything you can about driving on a flat tire, you might have come across something known as a run-flat tire. As the name suggests, these tires are designed to be able to be driven on even when flat. So even with zero pressure, run-flat tires are capable of supporting the weight of the vehicle so that you can get it to the local shop.
So if they make tires that you can drive on even when flat, why don’t all cars just come with them and why doesn’t everyone just put run-flats on their cars?
The main reason that run-flats are not as possible as you might think is the additional cost. These tires are far more expensive than regular tires since they have heavily reinforced sidewalls designed to support the vehicle with no air. Not only do they cost more upfront, you also can’t repair a run-flat tire. So any time there’s an issue, you’ll have to buy a new one.
Run-flat tires are also far heavier than regular tires. This additional weight is often offset in the vehicle by removing the spare tire and tire removal tools. But then that brings up another issue: you’ll have no spare tire or tire removal tools! So you’ll be totally reliant on the run-flat to get your car to shop since there is no spare tire.
For the vast majority of people and vehicle manufacturers, run-flat tires just simply are not worth it. But if your sole concern is getting a flat tire and being stranded somewhere, then buying a set of run-flat tires might not be the worst decision ever.It just comes down to what you want to spend and what you’re hoping to get out of your tires.
About THE AUTHOR
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding