- Before you get a flat, know whether you have a spare tire and where it and your jack are located.
- Most spare tires cannot be driven at highway speeds and are just designed to get you to a tire shop.
- Make sure your car is safely off the road and on level ground before you begin changing your tire.
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It can happen at any time. You walk out to your car and find yourself with a flat tire or you’re driving down the road and suddenly the car starts wobbling or bouncing.
Flat tires can be caused by many things, including tire age, wear, and of course damage. You might drive over a nail that causes a puncture or hit a pothole or curb. If it happens to you, you should be prepared with both the tools and the knowledge to replace your flat with a spare.
Here is everything you need to know to change a flat tire.
Before you begin
Aside from looking at your tire and seeing it’s flat, you might feel the issue when driving. The car may lean or pull to one side or you might hear a noise coming from the tire. Many cars have a tire pressure indicator light on the dashboard which will alert you to low tire pressure, which can be a sign of a flat (or future flat).
Some cars have “run-flat” tires that can still be driven on after a puncture. Normally they have speed and distance restrictions. Usually, they should be driven no more than 50 miles at speeds of less than 50 mph. To know if you have run-flats, check the markings on the sidewall of the tires.
Some cars have a “donut,” a reduced-size spare tire that also has speed restrictions. Donuts are only meant to get you off the side of the road and to a repair shop. They are not designed for extended driving.
Many new cars do not come with any spare tire or jack. They may include a tire inflation kit, which usually includes a container of liquid tire sealant and a small air compressor. These kits allow you to patch and inflate a flat tire to get you to a repair shop.
What to do after you change your tire
Changing your tire to a spare will get you to a tire shop or mechanic, so you can have the flat tire repaired or replaced.
If you have a donut spare — a smaller tire that exists only for emergency flat tire replacement — do not drive above 50 mph. If you’re driving more than a few miles, pull over after 10 minutes and double-check the tightness of the lug nuts. Use the wrench to tighten each one (if necessary), again going in a star pattern.
Take the flat tire to a tire shop for repair or replacement. They will fix (or replace) the tire and can usually install it back on your car for you. They will also return the donut spare and related hardware to the trunk so it’s ready for the next use. Be sure to check the inflation of the spare tire. You may also want to have all four tires inspected in case the flat was caused by wear or age.
Flat tires can happen to any car, at any time. Be prepared by knowing what your options are before something goes wrong. Know whether you have a donut, a full-size spare, or no spare at all and a tire repair kit. Know how to access the spare tire and changing tools in your trunk and spend some time learning how they work.
Spare tires, run-flat tires, and tire inflation kits are all temporary fixes, designed to get you off the side of the road and to a repair shop for a permanent repair or tire replacement.