I Got a Flat Tire… Now What?

Whether you’re on your way to work, embarking on a family road trip or just running errands around town, there’s never a good time to get a flat tire. But it’s an unfortunate situation that most drivers find themselves in at some point.

While there’s not much you can do to prevent getting a flat tire, a little preparation can save you time and money when it does inevitably happen. Here, we cover some helpful tips to ensure you’re prepared in the event of a blowout.

What Are Common Causes of a Flat Tire?

As tires wear, they become more prone to puncture and damage. There are a number of issues that can cause a flat tire, including:

  • Punctures: A puncture occurs when your tire runs over a sharp object such as a nail, a shard of glass or a piece of metal.
  • Road hazards: The shock from hitting a pothole or driving over rough, uneven pavement can do enough damage to cause a flat tire.
  • Air leaks: Over time, your tire can develop a leak around the bead area (where it seals against your wheel) or in the valve stem (where you inflate the tire). While these leaks may be slow at first, they can eventually lead to a flat tire.
  • Wear and tear: Tires don’t last forever. As they wear, low tread levels or cracked, aging rubber can cause leaks.
  • Vandalism: Sadly, it’s not uncommon for tires to be targeted during acts of vandalism. When this happens, they can be cut, punctured or deflated.

How Do I Tell if I Have a Flat Tire?

If your tire goes flat while your vehicle is parked, it’s easy to spot. But recognizing a flat while driving can be more difficult. Here are some warning signs:

  • Warning light: In the United States, all vehicles manufactured since 2008 have been required to come equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). If you get a flat tire, a warning light will illuminate on your dash. This light typically looks like the cross section of a tire with an exclamation point in the center.
  • Noise: A flat tire will make a lot of noise, typically in the form of a loud thumping or flapping sound.
  • Vibration: Along with the noise, you’ll feel a shaking or vibration from within the vehicle.
  • Steering: When your tire is flat, your vehicle will drift or pull toward the side with the bad tire. The change in steering will feel more pronounced if a front tire has deflated.

Can You Drive on a Flat Tire?

That depends on your car. These days, many luxury and performance vehicles from automakers such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac come equipped with run-flat tires. As the name suggests, these types of tires are designed to allow you to drive for about 100 miles with no air pressure, so you can safely drive to get your flat repaired.

However, if your car has conventional tires, driving any distance on a flat is always a bad idea. If you don’t pull over immediately, you can do irreparable damage to the tire and may even destroy your wheel.

How Do I Change a Flat Tire?

If you suspect you may have a flat tire, follow these steps:

  • Pull over. Turn on your hazard lights and pull off the roadway in a safe location. If you’re on the highway, get as far onto the shoulder as possible. Once you’re safely out of traffic, turn off the engine, put the car in park and apply the parking brake.
  • Locate your spare tire and jack. Your spare tire may be stowed in the trunk or suspended below your vehicle. Check your owner’s manual for the exact location and instructions for removing the spare.
  • Loosen the lug nuts. Using the provided tire iron, loosen the wheel’s lug nuts by turning them counterclockwise. If you can’t loosen them by hand, try stepping on the lever. Keep in mind that the goal for this step is to just break them free; you don’t need to completely remove them yet.
  • Jack up your vehicle. Place the jack on solid, level ground. Following the instructions in your owner’s manual, jack up the car until the flat tire is completely off the ground.
  • Install the spare. Finish removing the lug nuts, then replace your flat tire with the spare. Reinstall the lug nuts (tighten them by hand) and lower the car to the ground. Before driving off, finish tightening the lug nuts using the tire iron and check the pressure in the spare tire. Then stow the flat tire and tools in your vehicle.
  • Get to safety. Spare tires are not a long-term solution. They are designed to help get you to the nearest repair facility, so get your flat tire repaired or replaced as soon as possible.

What if My Car Doesn’t Have a Spare Tire?

In response to increasing fuel economy standards, many auto manufacturers are ditching the spare tire to save weight. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, about one-third of new cars on the road today forego the spare. Instead, they’ll include a can of tire sealant and an air pump.

If you get a flat and your car doesn’t have a spare tire, try using the provided sealant and reinflate your tire with the compressor. In the event of a small puncture or slow air leak, you may be able to get back on the road. But if the damage is more significant, you’ll likely need to call for help.

Who Can I Call for Help if I Get a Flat Tire?

If you need help, you have a few options:

  • Roadside assistance: If you’re an Erie Insurance customer, see how our Emergency Roadside Service Coverage can save the day. It’s an optional coverage that’s easy to add to your auto insurance policy and only costs about $5 per vehicle per year.1 With this coverage, all you need to do is call 800-FOR-ERIE to be connected directly with Agero, our nationwide roadside service partner.
  • Towing companies: If you don’t have roadside assistance, you can call a towing company directly. Call the company of your choice or dial 411 to find services near you.

Can My Flat Tire Be Repaired?

Just because you got a flat tire, that doesn’t mean you need to install a replacement. In many instances, tires can be safely repaired by a qualified tire service technician. But according to the Tire Industry Association, there are several requirements for a safe repair:

  • The technician must first remove the tire from the rim. This allows them to check for any internal damage.
  • The puncture must be located near the center of the tread. If a hole is too close to the sidewall, it could impact the structural stability of the tire.
  • The puncture must be small. Holes or cuts larger than one-quarter inch cannot be reliably repaired.

The technician will let you know if your tire is repairable. If not, it probably doesn’t meet one of the above criteria.

One final tip: Make sure to check your tires and treads routinely. If they’re worn down, don’t wait for a flat (or your annual inspection) to change them out for a new set.

Get Back on the Road

A flat tire can ruin your day if you’re not prepared. When you’re stranded, it helps to have someone you can count on to help ease the stress.

At ERIE, our promise is simple: to be there when you need us. With our Emergency Roadside Service, we can help with lockouts, flat tires, mechanical breakdowns, dead batteries or even an empty gas tank. It’s an optional coverage that’s easy to add to your auto insurance policy and doesn’t cost a lot. You can also purchase the coverage with ERIE’s Roadside & Rentals bundle, which includes Rental Car Expense Coverage.2

Contact your local ERIE agent and find out how we can help you get back on the road.

1. Vehicles eligible for coverage include cars, light trucks and motorcycles. The service also covers horse, livestock and other trailers that are pulled by vehicles that ERIE insures. See individual policies for specific coverage details. Certain terms and limitations may apply. Refer to our disclaimer for additional information. In North Carolina, coverage is purchased by limits ($25, $50 and $100).

2. In all states except Virginia and North Carolina, transportation expenses are included with comprehensive coverage but must be purchased separately for a collision loss. Rental vehicle coverage is based on the type of vehicle rented, rather than a specific dollar amount, and is subject to a per-day limit if you select a vehicle in a higher class than you have purchased. In Virginia and North Carolina, transportation expense coverage is included with comprehensive coverage and collision coverage and is subject to a per-day limit. The six classes of rental car options are not available in Virginia or North Carolina. Transportation expenses are included in Virginia with comprehensive coverage and is optional with collision. In North Carolina, transportation expenses are only covered with vehicle theft claims. The limit is $15 per day and up to $450 per loss.