What to Do in a Flat Tire Situation: Everything You Need to Know

Do you know what to do in case of a flat tire?

Whether you spell it tire or tyre, getting a flat is something every driver dreads. But you might not be able to avoid it forever. According to statistics, approximately 7 tire punctures occur every second in the US alone. That’s 220 million flat tires every year.

The likelihood of running into such a roadside emergency is not negligible at all. So you better prepare for it.

Fortunately, today we are going to learn just what you need to get out of a flat tire situation. And to decrease the likelihood of getting into one in the first place.

Noticing the Flat

The first step is becoming aware of the flat. This can happen either when you’re at rest or while you’re driving. Though neither is a pleasant situation, noticing the flat while you’re driving is definitely the more difficult scenario.

Get to a Safe Stop

In newer cars, the tire pressure alarm should warn you that something is not right well before your tire goes flat. Yet, whether you hear a fizzle, or a louder movie-like BOOM, or nothing at all, you’ll feel the flat as a general loss of control of the vehicle. In particular, you’ll feel a drag in the direction of the flat tire. This is because the flat acts as a pivot point for the car.

Try not to panic and keep the vehicle under control.

Do not slam on the brakes. Just ease off the accelerator, turn on the hazard lights, and find a safe spot to calmly pull over. You’ll want a flat, straight section of road, ideally with extra space on the side.

It’s important to give yourself as much room and visibility as possible so you’re not at risk of being hit by passing vehicles.

Examine the Situation

Once you have safely pulled over, set the parking brake, get out of the car, and examine the situation.

Generally, the flat tire will be very noticeable. However, if the tire is only slightly depressurized (i.e., if it’s not flat) and the leak is barely noticeable, you might actually be able to drive on to the nearest mechanic and get it fixed properly.

If you have a proper flat on the other hand, then you’ll have to fix the situation then and there.

It’s important not to drive on a flat tire as you could increase the damage to the tire or worse damage the wheel and vehicle structure.

So stay where you are. Put up the traffic warning triangles and/or the cones. You should have these in the trunk of your car. Always watch for oncoming traffic and other dangers as you place the warning triangles behind your vehicle. Consider putting on the reflective vest if you have it, especially if it’s getting dark.

A traffic warning triangle placed behind a car on the roadside

Fixing the Flat Situation

Once you are safely at rest, it’s time to fix the situation.

The objective is one and only one: get your car to a mechanic/tire technician as soon as possible.

All flat tire remedies are temporary and just to help you reach the repair shop. You should not rely on any of these in the long run. Again, their goal is to get you to a tire technician as soon as possible and let him repair or replace the tire properly.

With that in mind, depending on the damage to the tire (i.e., how bad the hole is), we have various possibilities. In order of increasing severity of the rupture (and effort of repairment), we have the following solutions:

  • re-inflate the tire temporarily with an air compressor
  • seal the puncture
  • change the flat with a spare tire.

Re-inflate the Tire with an Air Compressor

If you have access to an air compressor (be it a portable air compressor, or a service station/garage one), you may be able to pull off this trick.

If the puncture to the tire is not too severe, you can try and inflate back the tire. Keep an eye on it for 5 to 10 minutes and verify its pressure. If the leak is not too severe you could then be able to drive to the nearest mechanic and get it fixed properly.

While not always applicable, this trick could save you a lot of time and effort.

Seal the Puncture

Various inflator kits exist on the market, and they are a growing but less-than-ideal substitute to a spare tire. New cars nowadays sometimes come with an aerosol seal kit instead of a spare tire altogether. These products, while convenient, offer a very temporary fix for only minor tread punctures.

Most of these are canned products that work by spraying sealant into the flat via the air-inflation valve. The sealant then plugs the small puncture hole and the air also inflates the tire a little bit.

However, it bears repeating: these kits only work on small holes in the tread, and they don’t work at all for slits or holes in the sidewall of the tire.

Sealants also leave grime inside the tire that can affect your tire pressure monitoring system (i.e., the safety equipment that alerts you if the tire pressure is not right). Any time you use a sealant you’ll need to have the pressure sensors in your tires cleaned to avoid damage.

All in all, these are better used as a last resort in the absence of a spare. They are easy to carry and store, and simple to apply. But because of their limited applicability and the possible complications you may have after using them, you should not rely exclusively on them to get you out of a flat tire situation.

Change with a Spare Tire

Changing the flat tire with a spare is generally the most versatile solution. No matter the severity of the puncture, you can get out of the flat tire situation. If you have a spare that is.

The spare tire is generally stored away in the trunk of your car, usually underneath the floor mat. If you have an SUV, minivan or pickup, though, the spare tire could also be mounted on the back of the tailgate or underneath the vehicle itself.

Though once a standard piece of equipment, in recent years the spare tire is not always present in sold cars. So it’s always a good idea to verify its presence when buying a new car. And buying it separately if it’s not present.

Changing a flat tire with a spare tire, though it may seem complicated, it’s actually a rather simple process. The essence of it is

  • jacking up the vehicle near the flat so that the tire is unloaded
  • swapping the flat with the spare
  • lowering the vehicle back down

Of course there are various tips and techniques to make the process as smooth as it can be.

Check out this video from Bridgestone to see how it’s done.

There you go. Not that difficult is it?

Plus, though a flat tire may be no one’s idea of a good time, the thrill you’ll get from changing the flat with a spare and getting out of the situation all on your own has few equals.

That said, at the cost of starting to get annoying, I’ll remind you one more time that even the spare tire is a temporary solution. The spare tire is usually of compact size and weight, and it is not a full-size tire. You should not use a compact spare at high speeds or for long distances. Its only purpose is to let you drive, slowly and safely, to the nearest tire shop to get your main tire properly fixed or replaced.

Call for Help

If all else fails, you should definitely call for help. While momma is always the first thought, you have several options.

You can phone a nearby friend or family member. He may have a compatible spare and/or actually be able to put it on. This could save you a lot of money on calling a roadside assistance company.

If calling a friend is not an option, your next best bet is to call your insurance company. Depending on your policy, your insurance may provide emergency roadside assistance, or help you with the expenses of using a local one. At the very least they’ll be able to recommend a company if you don’t know who to call.

If you already know that your insurance won’t help you, then your only remaining option is to call a local roadside assistance company. This option tends to be the priciest. But if all else fails, just Google a company nearby and call them.

Final bonus tip: if you’re not able to access the Internet to search for a particular phone number, or you are in a foreign country and don’t know what to do, you can always call 112. 112 is a common emergency telephone number that can be dialed free of charge from most countries to reach emergency services. Just explain your situation and they’ll help you out.

Prevention and Preparedness

Now you know how to get out of a flat tire situation.

But don’t just nod and walk away now with your newfound knowledge.

Actually spend a couple more minutes and have a plan in place now for what you’ll do if you get a flat tire. Make sure you have a spare tire and the necessary tools to change your tire. You’ll need a jack, wheel wedges, gloves, a lug wrench, and a flashlight.

I’d advise you to actually practice changing a tire with a spare sometime. Consider it a fun activity to try on a lazy Sunday afternoon. While its fun factor is debatable, you’ll definitely be happy to have practiced if you ever need the skill.

An air compressor on the floor, next to a lug wrench and a car jack

Finally, basic prevention tips can help you avoid getting a flat tire in the first place.

Make it a habit to check the tire pressure once a month, and make sure it matches your tires’ recommended pressure requirements. You can find these requirements either on a sticker on the inside frame of the driver’s door or on the good ol’ owner’s manual.

And do check the spare tire pressure from time to time. You don’t want to find yourself with a flat spare tire just when you need it the most.

Also, inspect your tires regularly for visible cuts, bubbles, cracks, punctures, and other evident damage. Be especially conscious of damages on the sidewall and shoulder of the tire as these are structural areas. All these problems should be fixed immediately by a tire technician.

Be aware that front tires wear down faster than back tires. This is because front tires usually bear more weight and handle more stress from the steering and braking. Getting your tires rotated (front swapped with the back) can help you maintain even wear on all four tires. Your owner’s manual will give you a good idea of how often to do this depending on your mileage. A general recommendation would be every 7,500 miles (12,000 km).

Even with rotation, tires wear down over time and will need to be replaced. Getting new tires when necessary can help you avoid a flat tire. Most tires can last 60,000 miles (100,000 km), but you might need to replace them earlier. Look at the wear bar on your tire, a narrow strip of rubber across the tread. If the wear bar is visible and even with the tread, it’s time to replace your tires.

Lastly, pay attention to warning signs that your tire might blow out. If you feel your car vibrating while you drive, there might be a problem with the tires. A hissing sound from your tires is a sign of a leak that will eventually cause a flat tire. If you notice any of these signs, bring your car to a mechanic right away.


Getting a flat can be a scary experience, especially while driving. With the right tools and preparation, however, you can easily get out of the pickle. Get to a safe stop, examine the situation, and decide on the best course of action.

Spend the time now to actually prepare for the situation. And regularly apply the prevention tips to avoid getting a flat in the first place. Write some reminders on your phone now!

In a flat tire situation a little prevention and preparation really goes a long way. Literally.

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