What to do if you get a flat tire

January 31, 2022 by PEMCO Insurance

Maintaining your tires through regular tread-depth checks, keeping them inflated to the recommended air pressure and having them professionally balanced and rotated are all important ways to keep your tires safe. A flat tire can happen to anyone, however, especially if you drive through pothole-strewn streets or construction zones with small debris like dropped nails . Fortunately, you have options for dealing with a flat-tire emergency, whether you know how to change tires yourself or not:

GettyImages-1150732527.jpg Safety first with flat tires 

  • Know the signs of a flat.  Often the first sign of a low or flat is your Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) warning light. It kicks on if a tire’s pressure falls below 25% of manufacturer’s recommendations. You also may notice a groaning noise, a feeling like the tires  wobble and difficulty steering or maintaining your speed. If you notice any of those issues, turn on your emergency flashers and look for a safe place to pull over. Driving longer than necessary on a flat tire is dangerous and can damage your car. 

  • Avoid stopping on the shoulder of the road unless it’s your only choice. You could be hit if an oncoming vehicle strays out of its lane. An exit lane or wide turnout off a freeway or a parking off a city street are much safer options. 

  • Set your parking brake and keep your emergency flashers on. Emergency flashers are designed to make you more visible. They also help alert passing vehicles (including police) that your car is disabled. 

  • Insist children stay in the car. It’s hard to keep an eye on curious kids when you’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with your tire. Your children will be safest if they stay belted in their car seats.  

  • Check tire pressure. If you don’t see a visibly flat tire, check your tires’ pressure with a pressure gauge. If you find one that’s just low, you’re probably safe to continue driving to a nearby service station for help. If it’s truly flat and unsafe to continue, you need to deal with the tire immediately – deciding whether to call for help or changing the flat tire yourself. 

Options when you’re on your own 

If you get a flat tire in a location without great cell phone coverage, it is possible to make a temporary fix that will enable you to drive to a tire shop for a permanent repair or replacement. You can also change the tire yourself if you know the steps and have the right tools and safety equipment. Before deciding to repair or change the tire yourself, consider weather conditions and your personal safety and physical fitness. 

Seal the hole with a short-term fix 

  • Carry a product like Fix-a-Flat®. With an aerosol puncture sealant, you can temporarily seal a hole and partially inflate your tire without having to jack up your vehicle or remove the tire. While it likely won’t re-inflate your tire to normal pressure, it can make it operable enough that you can reach a service station, allowing you to inflate the tire to its recommended level. When buying a puncture sealant, look for one that’s tire-sensor safe and non-flammable (older products and lesser known brands may contain butane). Also make sure that you buy the right-size can for your tires. And carry gloves and paper towels to avoid getting the substance on your hands if you ever need to use it.  We like this quick video from O’Reilly Auto Parts that shows how to use Fix-a-Flat

  • Determine if sealant can work for you. If your tire isn’t completely flat, doesn’t have damage to the sidewall, and has a puncture of less than ¼-inch, using an aerosol puncture sealant is an option. 

  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions. Recommended steps may vary between products – it's important to read and follow instructions exactly. After  using the sealant, drive to the nearest service station where you can inflate the tire to recommended levels. And schedule an appointment with a tire shop within the next three days or 100 miles for a permanent fix. Be sure to tell your tire specialist that you’ve used a puncture sealant.  

Re-inflate with a portable air compressor 

  • If you don’t like the idea of putting a sealant inside your tire, consider carrying a portable air compressor specifically made to inflate flat tires. Designs vary – some run off your car’s accessory port, while others connect directly to the battery. This option won’t seal a puncture, but it can buy time for a slow air leak and allow you to get to a service station. compares several models. 

Change the tire yourself 

If you have a spare tire plus a jack, lug wrench and wheel wedges to prevent your car from rolling, you can change the tire yourself. Follow instructions in your owner’s manual.  We also like this short video from Home Depot that shows the following steps: 

  • For safety, place wheel wedges by the tires (in front if you’re changing a back tire; in back if you’re changing a front tire). 

  • Remove the hub cap on the flat tire and loosen lug nuts, turning counterclockwise by about a half-turn. Don’t completely remove them. 

  • Use your jack as instructed in your owner’s manual to raise the car, lifting the flat tire about six inches. You’ll need to make sure the jack is placed on exposed metal (rather than molded plastic) next to the flat tire on the car’s frame. 

  • Remove the loosened lug nuts by hand. Carefully put them aside so they can’t roll away. Remove the tire.  

  • Replace the punctured tire with the spare tire, aligning the rim with the lug bolts. 

  • Replace the lug nuts in a star pattern. You can do this with your wrench, but don’t tighten completely.   

  • Lower the jack so the tire just touches the ground, but doesn’t bear the car’s full weight. 

  • Fully tighten the lug nuts with your wrench. 

  • Lower the car completely and remove the jack. 

  • Check the pressure in the spare tire and remove the wheel wedges. 

Unless you carry a full-size spare, the narrower spare tire you’ve just installed is intended for emergency use only and is good for about 70 miles of driving at speeds no greater than 50 miles per hour. You’ll want to get to a tire shop as soon as possible to have your original tire repaired or to have a new tire installed. 

Get help if you can 

Some people choose to deal with flat tires themselves.  Most, however, choose to call a roadside assistance service.   

PEMCO can help with basic, low-cost towing and emergency road service. You can add that to your policy if you have bodily injury and comprehensive coverage on your vehicle.  

Once enrolled in roadside service, you can call 1-800-GO-PEMCO around the clock for emergency towing and flat-tire changes, a jumpstart, and gas.  All for about $10 per year, per vehicle, if you opt for $100 in towing reimbursement.  

Before adding PEMCO’s service to your policy, we recommend checking if you already have complimentary roadside assistance.  Similar plans are often offered through your credit card, a paid membership to an automobile club like AAA or your vehicle’s manufacturer. 

To learn more about PEMCO’s emergency road service, call your local PEMCO agent or talk with a licensed representative at 1-800-GO-PEMCO. 


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