Driving on a Flat Tire: Everything You Need to Do to Stay Safe!

Anyone who drives regularly will sooner or later have to deal with a flat tire.

Sometimes it’s very obvious — it pops, takes you by surprise, and you can hear and feel the effect immediately. Other times, it can be punctured and lose pressure slowly, for which you’ll need to check the tire pressure.

The end result is always the same, though — we end up driving on a flat tire. This can be a scary situation to be in, and is very dangerous to our lives, our passenger’s lives, and those of whoever else happens to be on the road around us at the time.

While many of us know how to change a tire, or even treat one with tire sealant if it’s not beyond repair, we aren’t sure what to do if we have to drive on one that has lost its air.

Black car parked at home with a flat tire that's run to the ground

It happened to a friend of mine once on a highway, at night, and it was raining pretty hard as well. He pulled over, checked the damage, and decided to drive very slowly to the nearest gas station. He was lucky.

Besides having to replace a ti, no other damage was done to his car. However, not everyone’s going to be as lucky as he was that time.

So, what should you do when faced with no other option but to drive on a flat tire? We’re here to tell you everything you need to know to stay safe, and be less likely to cause any costly damage to your car.

Hopefully, you’re reading this before you ever experience this yourself, and will be prepared to face it if and when you do.

In the following sections, we’ll explain why driving on a tire that’s run flat or is losing any amount of air can be dangerous, what specific steps you should take whenever your tire goes flat, and what tips to keep in mind on handling specific situations based on where this happens.

What Are the Risks Involved in Driving on a Flat Tire?

Before ever attempting to drive on a flat tire, you should familiarize yourself with the dangers you could face – and those you could subject other people in the car with you (or on the road around you at the time) to.

First things first, the most obvious of those is that it can cause you to lose control of your vehicle. When this happens, it can easily lead to an accident. The consequence can be an injury, or damage to your vehicle or others on the road. Depending on how bad it is, accidents can – of course – also lead to fatalities.

Driving on a deflated tire can also cause internal damage to the tire structure. This means that you’ll have to replace it with a proper tire, not just fix it. If you cover long distances, other parts of your car may also suffer as well.

Generally, when driving on a flat tire, you run the risk of damaging the following parts: brake lines, calipers, rotors, wheels, fenders, or suspension components. While replacing a single tire is not overly costly, these damages may add up to thousands of dollars.

What Can You Do if You are Forced to Drive on a Flat Tire?

Obviously, the best thing would be for you to not drive on a flat tire, but that’s not always possible.

In some situations, you might not have any alternatives but to keep going. For example, if you’re in heavy traffic, or there’s no safe place available to pull over immediately, you’ll have to keep going until you can safely stop somewhere.

And even if you can pull over somewhere, do you know exactly what you need to do? You might know how to change your tire theoretically, but not in practice. So, you don’t want to do this unless you actually know what you’re doing.

Now, let’s take a look at a series of pointers that can help in case your only choice is to keep driving on a flat tire until you get somewhere you can safely stop your car.

  1. Stay calm. Make sure to stay calm and maintain control over your vehicle.
  2. Pull over immediately. As soon as it is safe for you to stop the car, pull over and check the car. Assess the damage, then decide whether to keep going or not.
  3. Drive slowly. If you decide to keep on driving to get help, proceed slowly and cautiously. The maximum speed you should reach is 20 mph. Driving fast can cause further damage to many of your car parts.
  4. Turn on your car’s hazard lights (only if it’s legal). This signals you’re having car trouble to other drivers. If you’re driving much slower than other vehicles, hazard lights will make you more visible. Make sure it’s allowed in the state you’re driving in. In many States, it’s illegal to drive with hazard lights on.
  5. Avoid turning. Try to drive straight ahead if possible. Making turns while driving on a flat can cause damage to the rims.
  6. Drive on a flat surface. Hills, potholes or rough roads are to be avoided as much as possible.
  7. Do not drive excessive distances. The sooner you can pull over to put on the spare tire if you’re able, the better. If it’s only a very short distance you’re driving, you’ll be safer than you would running on a flat tire for long distances. As a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t drive for any distance that exceeds 70 miles.
  8. Know your tires. Check your tire specifications. Some manufacturers will specify how far and at what speed you can drive on a flat tire.
  9. Get to a service station. Let’s say you don’t have a spare tire, you don’t know how to change one, or you can’t drive on your spare for any longer. In such a case, the best thing you can do is finding the nearest gas station.
  10. Call for help. If you’re too far from a gas station, and you have a charged phone, call for help. Emergency vehicles will come to tow your car. Some of these services will even offer tire replacing for you on the spot.
  11. Consider purchasing run-flat-tires. These are specially designed to allow safe, continuous driving even on a flat tire. They act as a cushion even if completely flat, preventing damage to the rims and other parts of your car. They do wear out sooner than regular tires, though.

Extra Tips for Different Scenarios

The general tips mentioned above are great to follow if your car tire is flat.

Now, we’ll take a look at different scenarios that might require some further advice. These include country and city driving, roads and highways, as well as adverse weather, visibility and safety conditions.

Country Roads

Let’s say you’re driving down a country road when you get a flat tire.

Traffic will probably not be an issue, so it’s better to pull over on the side of the road immediately. Remember to turn on your car’s hazard lights to be visible to passing vehicles.

At this point, either change the tire yourself or ask for someone’s help. If it’s an isolated place, the nearest gas station might be too far to reach.

Highways

In this case, traffic and speed will most likely be your biggest challenges and safety concerns.

Slow down and safely reach the emergency lane to stop, and make sure you use your turn signals.

The positive thing about this is that you’ll likely be close to a gas station, and possibly a call box. If there is no emergency lane, follow the tips above until you reach an exit.

City Roads

Again, city roads might be very busy, but at least traffic will be slower.

Pull over, and make sure your car is not in the way of other vehicles. In a city, getting help should not be all that much difficult.

Poor Weather Conditions

If it’s raining, snowing, or foggy, visibility will not be optimal. This can be very dangerous, as other drivers might not see your car until it’s too late to avoid it.

If you must stop, make sure you pull over in a safe place and turn your hazard lights on.

If a safe spot isn’t available for you to pull your car over in, get yourself and any passengers out of the vehicle immediately as soon as you have a safe opportunity to do so. Move away from the car and find a safe place to wait for help.

In the unlikely event of a collision, it’s better to think of people’s safety before the vehicle’s.

Night Time

Visibility will be your biggest obstacle at night, especially if you’re not on a well-lit road.

The same tips mentioned above for poor weather conditions apply for night-time driving. People’s safety is always the top priority!

Unsafe Areas

If you get a flat tire in an unsafe area, stopping in dangerous territory is usually not the best solution.

For example, if you are driving in a high-crime neighborhood in a big city, it might be better for you to keep driving slowly until you reach a safer area where you can get help – while keeping yourself (and your passengers) safe.

Final Thoughts

In any emergency, the most important thing is to remain calm. Common sense will go a long way in helping you decide what steps to take to make the best out of a difficult situation.

A flat tire is usually not a dire situation, but it does require a well-thought-out plan of action.

If you’re not well prepared beforehand and don’t know what to do if ever faced with having to drive on a flat tire, you can get yourself (and others) into some serious trouble.

We’ve gone through all the general steps, and have also mentioned some important tips for specific situations. Now that you made it this far into reading this article, if you ever do get a flat tire and have to continue driving, you know exactly what you need to do!

Have you ever had to drive on a flat tire? Got any interesting stories to tell, or lessons you’ve learned that could possibly prove very beneficial for other readers? Let us know what happened in the comments!

Also, feel free to ask us about anything we might have not covered if you have any additional questions – we’ll be sure to answer as many of your questions as we possibly can.

Till then, drive safely!

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

Leave a Comment