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Why can't I sit on a flat tire for too long?
The answer is quite simple: A car tire is designed to have a cushion within a load of air – often 30 to 35 pounds per square inch, that keeps some distance and weight off the tire's rim and suspension. Without air in the tire, this whole cushion is gone and the rim and suspension are left to take most of the impact of the vehicle's weight and movement.
A tire is, unfortunately, more easily damaged once it's out of the air – though the damage is often the cause for an air leak anyway! The shoulder and sidewall of the tire are suddenly taking on more than a ton of weight and could get folded in or out. In addition, the metal rim in the tire can be bent out of shape, making it difficult for a tire to be put on properly without replacement.
Finally, the steel belt within the tire can be bent too – or even exposed to air which readily causes corrosion which isn't good for a piece of equipment meant to hold a tire together.
How soon should I do something?
If at all possible, immediately. We recommend at least getting the bad tire (or tires) off the ground within 24 hours to avoid the immediate negative consequences of additional weight.
How can I lift the vehicle?
There are a few things you can do to save your rims, tire, and vehicle. It all depends on what equipment you have in your car and your willingness to do a little work yourself. If you have a jack in your vehicle as well as a spare tire, you might have the opportunity to drive somewhere yourself to get the tire fixed up. Slide the jack under the frame of the vehicle near the tire and lift it until the tire is off the ground (read the instructions first), then use a wrench to take the bolts off the tire. If you have a spare, place that on and use the wrench to tighten that. If you aren't that strong or the bolts were air-tightened, this could be a challenge for you - but try it to save time and money.
Another solid option for those with free roadside assistance on their car insurance is a tow truck. A tow truck can pick up your vehicle either on a flatbed, or if the front tire is damaged – on a dolly, and tow it either home or to a shop.
Can I drive on a flat tire?
We strongly recommend against driving on a flat tire. Driving more than a couple of miles on a flat tire is worse than simply letting your vehicle sit with a flat tire because your rim will rotate and have more opportunities to bend – in addition to possibly damaging the suspension on your vehicle.
If you need to drive on a flat, take it very slow and only drive a couple of miles to a place where you can get fixed up.
Your chances are getting into an accident with a flat tire are also much higher. The vehicle will be much more difficult to control because of the uneven tires, so turning, stopping, and starting will be much harder, especially in traffic.
What else can happen if you let a flat tire car sit?
If you happen to stop in a place where you aren't allowed to park, your vehicle could be ticketed or towed. While we did suggest towing – we don't mean impound towing. Impound towing can result in a fine of several hundred dollars that could readily be put toward getting your own tow truck and buying a new set of tires.
Can I plug a flat tire?
Products like Fix a Flat are good for temporary, small fixes. These produce a rubber or foam barrier that holds the air in the tire while you get to some place for a more permanent fix. While the actual mileage may vary, we recommend using Fix a Flat to get your vehicle off the road and to somewhere you can get a new tire or get a tow truck instead.
How about a low tire versus a flat tire?
We've all had these – a tire that unexpectedly, but gradually, has a leak that pushes air out. You can practically see it happening between stops. In this situation, we recommend you bring an air compressor with you until you have time to get to a shop or do a more permanent fix.
What's a run flat?
Some tires can be driven for up to an hour while “flat.” These tires have a stronger internal structure that can support the vehicle's weight at a slightly higher speed. You should still try to limit the amount of time you let your vehicle “stand” on a run flat and the number of miles, for safety reasons.
How long should I use my spare tire?
Use a spare tire to get to your next stop. A spare tire is useful for at least a few hours, but the purpose of future use we wouldn't recommend taking a full road trip on your spare.
So what is the first thing I should do in the event of a flat tire?
First, if you had a flat tire while driving, get the vehicle to a safe place. You can move to the side of the road for safety's sake. Second, evaluate your situation. Do you have a spare tire and a jack or roadside assistance? Put them to use! Are tire shops open at the current hour? You might be able to head straight to one.
The first answer is still safety. A stalled vehicle can easily get hit by another motorist. Worry about the tires themselves after clearing the way.
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