Driving on a flat tire is never a good idea. If you notice your tire has gone flat, you need to slowly pull over and wait for the tow truck or put on the spare tire. It’s best not to try to ‘limp’ the car to an auto repair shop or gas station.
There are times, however, when the nearest safe place to stop is a short distance away. So you may be wondering, how long can you drive on a flat tire safely?
If you have to drive with a flat tire, make sure to:
- Drive slowly.
- Avoid bends in the road.
- Stay away from wet surfaces.
- Only pull over on a flat surface, and away from traffic.
- Put on the spare tire or wait for roadside assistance.
Why Should I Not Drive on a Flat Tire?
Let’s first take a look at the reasons why road safety experts and car manufacturers are against driving on a flat tire.
Damaging the Tire Beyond Repair
Flat tire driving is one of the top reasons why most tires don’t last. Ignoring the problem will only exacerbate the situation, as you’ll now have to deal with an internal structure tire damage.
What that means is the tire will get to a point where it needs replacing because the damage is irreparable. Not all flat tires mean you have to replace the tire—it may just be a small puncture that can be fixed easily with a plug. But if you drive on it while flat, you’ll be looking at the significant expense of a new tire.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or study quantum physics to understand how this happens. Driving on a flat tire means nothing’s acting as a cushion for the rims.
What could that lead to? Infinite possibilities. First off, there’s a reason why metal parts of a vehicle are never allowed to touch the road. Rims are made of metal, and when they come into contact with the road surface, there’s an opposing force that’s created, also known as friction.
Whenever there’s friction between two surfaces, there’s a production of heat. Add that component to gasoline found in the tank of your vehicle, and we have ourselves a ticking time bomb.
Damage to Components
If your tire begins to break apart while you’re driving, it can lead to damage of important components within the vehicle. These include parts of the suspension, brake lines, rotors and calipers.
Even if you have a vast wealth of experience driving professionally, we can all agree it’s virtually impossible to drive on a straight path with an underinflated flat tire.
Plus, if there’s damage to the suspension or brakes, the vehicle can behave unexpectedly, which can lead to accidents.
Can You Drive on a Flat Tire?
Driving with a flat tire is possible, but here’s how to do it safely.
Remember, you’re not in a ‘Need For Speed’ simulation. This is the real world, so don’t treat your flat tires in such a cavalier fashion.
Lightly step on the accelerator and maintain the speed at 15–20 miles per hour. The logic behind this is to try to reduce damage caused to the suspension components.
Don’t Drive on Bumpy Roads or Wet Surfaces
It’s not a good idea to drive on a road riddled with patches of asphalt, steep inclines and potholes. Avoid such roads, as they can easily destroy the rims and put the vehicle out of alignment.
Wet and sandy terrains are also no-go zones, seeing as they could make the vehicle slip, sink or get stuck.
When Driving on a Flat Tire, Avoid Turns
Trying to navigate winding avenues or taking steep curves is not encouraged. Just coast ahead slowly and turn the wheel gently, once you see a gas station or somewhere safe to pull over.
Hold the wheel steadily to resist the drag caused by the running flat tire, but try not to struggle as to compromise your steering ability.
How Far Can You Drive on a Flat Tire?
It’s possible to drive several hundred yards without destroying the tire or rims of your vehicle. Try to steer the car off the road to a safe spot to avoid stopping traffic.
What To Do With a Flat Tire
Changing a flat tire is, without a doubt, an inconvenience. However, with the right tools and know-how, it’s a walk in the park. And to be honest, if you’re a responsible driver, fixing a flat tire shouldn’t feel like a foreign concept.
Replace the Flat Tire With the Spare
Now that you’ve stopped at a safe place away from traffic, it’s time to get out your tire-changing tools. They include:
- Lug wrench.
- Pressure gauge.
- Wheel wedges.
- Portable tire inflator.
If you don’t have any idea of what does what, just review your manual.
Step #1: Put the Tire Wedges in Place
Some people like to refer to them as ‘wheel chocks.’ Regardless, your tire wedges are triangles made of sturdy materials. Take them out and wedge them under the tire to prevent the vehicle from rolling while you work.
Step #2: Remove the Hubcap
Exercise caution while removing the flat tire, lug nuts and hubcap, as they could be hot due to the friction created while driving. It may be best to wait until they cool down.
Some hubcaps have screws, so you’ll have to undo them first before removing it. If yours doesn’t have screws, don’t fret. You can always use the lug wrench’s flat end to pop it off.
Step #3: Loosen the Lug Nuts
Loosen the lug nuts with the help of your lug wrench, but do not completely remove them. Chances are you’ll need your body weight in the process, so it’s a good idea to do this while the flatten tire is still on the ground.
Step #4: Raise the Car and Ensure the Tire Doesn’t Touch the Ground
You can’t just place the jack anywhere you feel comfortable. Refer to the owner’s manual to figure out where the jack goes.
Every car has jack points, indicated by a notch in the vehicle’s frame. Placing the jack at that location is important as it decreases the chances of damaging the car and ensures its stability.
To raise the car, turn the jack handle clockwise, and don’t forget to leave enough space for the inflated spare tire.
Step #5: Remove the Lug Nuts and the Flat Tire
Remove the lug nuts and place them somewhere safe—a good hack is to put them in your upturned hubcap to stop them from rolling around. Ensure the car is sitting comfortably on the jack, and the tire is not touching the ground.
Now remove the flat tire by giving it a nice pull.
Step #6: Mount the Spare Tire
Always make sure you line up the spare tire with the wheel studs. What are the wheel studs, you ask? They are the threaded fasteners that you see when putting the lug nuts on while securing the wheel.
Step #7: Tighten the Lug Nuts
The one costly mistake that most drivers make whenever they’re changing their flat tires is using the lug wrench to tighten the lug nuts before removing the jack. And that’s why more often than not, the car usually falls off the jack.
Tighten them by hand, and use the lug wrench thereafter.
Step #8: Lower the Car
To bring the vehicle down, all you have to do is turn the jack handle counter-clockwise. Only remove the jack after all the tire is touching the ground.
Step #9: Tighten the Nuts, Again
Give the lug nuts a final tighten using your lug wrench. Not securing them could lead to an accident, so make sure you do so in a crisscross pattern as directed by the owner’s manual.
What’s the Right Tire Pressure?
Besides getting good gas mileage, having the right tire pressure will ensure you get the most life out of the tires. Every car has a recommended tire pressure from the manufacturer. If it’s a passenger car, you should target 32–35 psi while they’re still cold.
The friction created once the tire touches the road is the reason why the check happens before driving and not after. Also, the pressure that you see listed on the tire is the maximum pressure—so don’t inflate them to that point. Overinflation is just as dangerous as underinflation.
If you have to drive on a flat tire, ensure you drive slowly and try not to go above 20 miles per hour. It’s the only way to guarantee your safety and avoid damaging your car tires or suspension components. Also, always check your air pressure before leaving the house or office.
Remember, any type of vehicle can run on flat tire, but the damage will be costly. There are several gas stations along every highway that offer quick tire patch service for drivers who don’t have spare tires.