When you own a vehicle, flat tires are a part of life. They can appear anywhere at any time.
- If you leave your car sitting for a few weeks, it may lose air pressure.
- If you run over construction debris, the puncture wound may flatten your vehicle almost immediately.
- A compromised tire may blow when you’re driving down the street.
If you’ve ever had a flat tire, it can be a scary experience.
But a blow-out is different from a flat tire. What if you notice a flat tire when you come out of work? Or your dashboard monitoring system alerts you to a tire that’s a little low in air pressure?
Should you drive on a flat tire?
It’s easy to think: “I’m only 20 minutes from home.” Should you try and make it there?
What caused the flat tire?
The first question you should ask yourself is: What caused the flat tire? It could be from a variety of things:
- A sharp object on the road
- Pothole or a rough road
- Wear and tear
It may have a factory defect if it’s a new tire, though this is rare. Instead, it’s usually based on driving conditions, and the perils you face even if it’s just a daily commute to work and back.
What caused the issue will also determine stability. If you keep driving, will the tire quickly deteriorate? Will the situation go from bad to worse?
Should you chance it and drive to your next location? In most cases, the answer is no.
What could happen if you drive on a flat tire
If a dashboard icon lights up, it’s a warning signal that something is wrong. It’s alerting you to drive to safety, then do what it takes to fix the problem.
Low air pressure is a sign of a problem. If you drive on a flat tire for an extended period of time, it can cause damage to your vehicle. At a minimum, it may damage the tire. It can impact other components, including:
The tire – often, a flat tire can be patched and repaired. But if you drive on a flat tire, it can further damage the tire structure, and make it unusable.
The wheel – the tire cushions the rest of the wheel components. A flat tire can’t do its job, and will impact the wheel directly with every rock, bump, or pothole you hit. This can trigger damage to other areas connected to the wheel, including brakes and suspension.
Safety – tires are designed to be the contact point between your vehicle and the road. It provides control. Without proper control, your car won’t handle the way you’re used to. Any shift in drivability will put you and other passengers at greater risk.
What to do if you have a flat tire
Your first step is to assess what’s wrong with the tire. Is it low in pressure? Or is the tire compromised?
Some vehicles today come with a spare tire. Others come with emergency filling mechanisms to allow you to fix a flat. If the tire isn’t compromised, you can attempt to fill it with air. That may be enough to get you to a service station for evaluation and repair.
If you aren’t sure, you’re better off not driving. Change to a spare tire if you have one. Call in a tow company and have it brought to a mechanic.
Maintaining air pressure is the most important thing. If the tire is compromised in any way, air pressure will quickly deplete, putting the tire and you at increased risk.
A flat doesn’t always mean a new tire
When you see a flat tire, dollar signs may flash before your eyes. But it isn’t always so. A lot of flat tires are caused by a puncture. That’s because debris is everywhere on your drive. Even a sharp rock can cause damage. Nails and screws often litter the roads. And when they embed themselves into the tire, they can cause a slow leak. But the damage can often be repaired with a patch.
Industry guidelines allow for mechanics to repair small punctures of up to ¼-inch in diameter in a tire’s tread. This is the size of a small nail or screw. If the puncture impacts the sidewall or is any bigger than this, the damage is too severe to patch.
The only way to determine it is to have it inspected.
Ways to avoid a flat tire
Flat tires often occur at no fault to the driver. If you drive over a nail and it embeds into the tread, there’s little you could have done to prevent it.
Yet there are other things you can do to reduce your risk of a flat tire occurring at all:
- Have tires inspected regularly
- Check air pressure routinely
- Purchase the correct size, type, and load capacity based on your drive
- Ensure proper loading – don’t drive with your vehicle weighed down
- Perform tire rotation and balancing on a schedule
- Keep your vehicle in good condition with things like regular maintenance and alignment
- Practice good driving habits
The average vehicle on the road today is just over 11 years old. Given that the average mileage per year is somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 miles, you can expect your vehicle to last between 200,000 and 300,000 miles.
With that in mind, maintenance is key. Schedule regular maintenance visits throughout your vehicle’s life, and you’ll have a car that is less likely to break down. Pay attention to noises, smells, and visible changes in your car’s handling. All are indicators of potential problems.
Have you experienced a flat tire?
Having a flat tire can be a scary experience. While low air pressure can result from many things, a sudden flat is usually a sign of damage.
Don’t drive on a problem tire, or wait to check it down the road. Instead, get to a safe place and deal with the problem immediately. If you don’t have a spare, a tow truck may be the best solution. Safety is first. Then follow through with a repair immediately.
It’s the best way to fix the problem and get your vehicle back into good working condition.