Flat tires are no joke. When a tire goes flat while a car is traveling at high speed, it can lead to a serious accident. If you manage to safely make your way to the shoulder, putting on a spare by the side of the road can be a dirty job. At the very least, a flat tire can leave you scrambling to find local tire shops to get you back on the road as quickly as possible.
Any auto mechanic will tell you the key to staying safe on the road is regular maintenance, and that applies to the tires on your car as much as any other component. We've compiled a short list of top tips from tire shops on how to avoid flat tires, and what to do if you get one.
Know Your Enemy
In general, there are two types of flat tires: Leaks and blowouts:
A blowout is when your tire loses all its air all at once. This can happen for a number of reasons. If the seal between the wheel and the tire fails, you'll hear and feel a dramatic noise and big changes in the way the car handles. In some cases, you might be driving on the metal rim as the rubber tire collapses. You'll feel a lot of vibration very suddenly, and the car will pull towards the side of the blowout. This pull is often severe enough to yank the steering wheel out of your hand.
A number of factors can cause slow leaks. No matter how well you take care of your car tires, a small amount of air will slowly leak out over time. If you pick up debris from the road, like a nail or a piece of glass, it can slowly work its way into the tread and cause an air leak. The seal between the wheel and tire is a common place for air to slowly escape. The valve stem is another likely spot to look for slow leaks.
If your tire goes flat while you're driving, you'll notice that something isn't right, but it won't be nearly as severe as a blowout. The car might pull slightly to one side, like it does when it needs a front-end alignment. The car will begin to sway or shimmy, increasing as the air keeps escaping.
How To Handle a Flat Tire
You're a lucky motorist if you have a flat tire in your driveway. Tire shops will come to you to repair the flat, or you can remove the tire and bring the wheel to them. In either case, it's a lot safer and easier than dealing with a flat by the side of the road.
Whatever happens, it pays to stay calm. After the initial shock of a blowout, pull the car straight again and slowly make your way to the side of the road. Tire shops usually can't save tires that suffer blowouts. It's not worth it to try to get off the road abruptly to save a few dollars. Your first and only mission is to avoid an accident and get out of the travel lanes.
Once you're safely off to the side of the road, you should assess the safety of changing the tire. On busy highways, it's almost always better to call road services like AAA or call local tire shops that offer mobile tire repair. Turn on your hazard lights and open your car's hood to alert other drivers to your predicament.
How To Prevent Flat Tires
Not all flat tires are avoidable. Tire shops advise that there are many things you can do to keep them to a minimum:
- Rotate your tires regularly
- Check for embedded debris
- Replace tires with worn tread
- Look out for splits in the sidewall
- Don't drive on tires more than ten years old
- Wheel alignment is crucial to keep tread wear even
The Number One Way To Avoid Blowouts
Keeping your tires properly inflated is the single most important way to avoid flat tires. Underinflated tires lead to many problems, including uneven tread wear. Underinflated tires also produce more heat due to increased rolling resistance. More heat means shorter tire life. So to get the longest life from your tires, buy and use a tire pressure gauge regularly.