You’re cruising along smoothly when suddenly it happens. You might know exactly why, or it may be a mystery. Either way, the moment you feel that thud beneath you followed by that strange rattle and difficulty steering, you know you have a flat tire and can count on a challenge ahead.
Every driver hopes they never encounter a flat tire. It’s certainly a hassle, but you can be back on the road quickly if you know how to fix a flat tire or whom to call for help.
What to do when you get a flat tire
A flat tire isn’t a reason to panic, but you must act quickly and deliberately. Slow down, flash your emergency lights, and pull over as soon as possible. Find a flat spot with plenty of space, for your safety and out of courtesy to others on the road. You’ll need time and room to fix a flat tire. If you get a flat tire on a highway, avoid slamming on your brakes. Keep steady speed until you can pull over to the shoulder or exit. Learn more about driving on the highway.
Steps to change a flat tire
With a spare tire and repair kit on hand, replacing a flat tire is easy. Dave McCurdy of Eco Driving USA gives the following steps:
- If the vehicle is on a hill, block or wedge the flat tire to avoid slipping. Take out your spare tire, tools, and car jack. Learn more about how to use a car jack.
- Loosen the lug nuts on the flat tire and place the jack below the frame. Lift the car with the jack.
- Remove the lug nuts on the flat tire and replace the flat tire with the spare.
- Secure the lug nuts in an “X” or crisscross pattern. Don’t tighten yet.
- Lower the vehicle and remove the jack.
- Tighten the lug nuts as firmly as you can.
It’s also possible to fix a flat tire with a repair kit using a sealant and air compressor. A kit will usually include detailed instructions on how to patch a flat tire. Remember that a patched flat tire is only a temporary solution until you can get a replacement. Learn more about how to replace tires.
What tools do you need to repair a tire?
You’ll need the following tire repair tools to change a tire. You should keep these tools in your trunk so they’re handy when you get a flat tire.
- A manual scissor car jack
- A lug wrench
- Wheel chocks to keep the vehicle from rolling
- Tire inflator
- Tire air pressure gauge
Who should you call to fix a flat tire?
If you get stuck by the side of the road or even in your driveway with a flat tire, just because you have all the tools and a spare doesn’t mean you have to change it yourself. The following are several options for getting help changing a flat tire.
- Roadside assistance. If you pay for roadside assistance as an add-on to your auto insurance, you can call your insurer to get you back on the road quickly. Flat tires are among the most common roadside assistance calls. A professional can come to fix your flat tire at no cost to you when you have this coverage and a spare tire, or only the price of a spare tire if they need to bring one. Learn more about roadside assistance from Progressive.
- If you do not have a roadside assistance plan, services such as AAA Auto Club offer 24/7 roadside assistance.
- Other options include calling a local towing service to tow your vehicle to a repair shop that can change your tire.
If your tire sustained irreparable damage and you must replace it, find out if car insurance covers tire damage.
What to do if you have a flat tire and no spare
Don’t have a spare tire? You’re not alone. Many auto manufacturers choose not to include spare tires in newer cars. According to Consumer Reports, “Carmakers are skipping the spare because of regulatory pressure to squeeze more miles out of every gallon of fuel: Ditching the 40 or 50 pounds that a tire and jack usually add to a car’s weight helps to increase fuel economy slightly.”
If your car doesn’t come equipped with a spare tire, consider purchasing one yourself. If you want to save money, buy a tire repair kit, and keep it in your trunk. Newer cars that don’t have a spare tire may have a tire repair kit.
Now that you know what to do if you should get a flat tire even if you don’t have a spare, learn helpful tips about driving at night and driving in fog. These are practical skills that will keep you safe as a driver.