Flat tires never happen at a convenient time; it’s just one of those things in life. Whether you’re dashing off to work or parked with a carload of groceries, seeing that deflated tire will deflate your mood. With this in mind, knowing how to fix a flat tire is an essential part of car ownership.
For some drivers, tires are an afterthought that only gets attention when something is wrong. Yet, tires are the most important part of your car. They are literally where the rubber meets the road and affect the ride quality of your vehicle. Tires also play a significant role in fuel economy and the safe operation of the car. So, dealing with a faulty tire is worthy of your full attention.
Before we dive in with steps on how to fix a flat, remember this. If you are uncertain or uncomfortable about working on your car, including the simplest tasks, then seek the help of a qualified professional such as a mechanic or roadside assistance service.
How To Fix A Flat Tire
Step 1: Assess the Situation
The first step in figuring out how to fix a flat tire is determining your situation. Is your car in a secure spot away from dangers like passing traffic? Can you safely access the affected tire? Consider these factors before attempting any work on a flat. If in doubt, get help from a roadside assistance provider.
Also, unless you travel a very short distance to avoid roadway hazards, don’t drive on a flat. Doing so may cause damage to the wheel and other components on the car.
If it’s safe to do so, you’ll also want to see if you can locate what’s causing the flat. Is it a nail or other object puncturing the tread area? Or, is it damage to the sidewall or shoulder area? In the case of sidewall or shoulder damage, the tire needs to be replaced. The shoulder of a tire is the tread area adjacent to the sidewall.
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Step 2: Try A Quick Fix
Even if you have a spare tire, you may want first to consider a short-term fix for a flat. This involves using a pressurized can of tire sealant or a more robust tire sealant kit with a portable inflator. None of these solutions offer a permanent repair but are designed to get you back on the road long enough to get to a tire store. In some situations, this might be an easier fix than attempting to use a spare tire.
A can of tire sealant, like Fix-A-Flat, may be able to help when it comes to more minor punctures. However, according to a recent Consumer Reports review, a pressured can of sealant is ineffective with larger holes.
Instead, consider a complete tire sealant kit that includes a liquid sealant (which is injected into the flat tire) and a portable inflator that restores the tires to normal pressure. If your car did not include a spare from the manufacturer, then you may already have one of the kits. If not, expect to pay $50-$80 for a kit.
Step 3: Change the Tire
When it comes to how to fix a flat tire, another solution is changing the damaged tire for a spare–if your car has one. To save weight and money, many car manufacturers are skipping spares (or making them an extra-cost option) in favor of inflation kits (like we talked about earlier).
If you go the spare tire route, thoroughly review the vehicle’s owner manual for instructions on using and installing the spare. Unless you have an older car, the spare will be a temporary tire (sometimes called a “donut”) that can only be used for a limited distance (up to 50 miles) and at reduced speeds (no more than 50 mph). In general, only change the tire yourself if:
- You have read and understood the manufacturer’s instructions
- The car is in a safe area free from passing traffic and other dangers
- The vehicle is on a stable, level surface and is secured by the parking brake
- You have the ability to perform the tire change safely
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Step 4: Head to the Tire Shop
Whether you’ve been able to use a temporary fix for a flat tire or have swapped out the damaged rubber for a spare, always bring your car to a tire shop for a permanent fix or to check your work. This isn’t to sound like a commercial for your local tire store, but to emphasize the importance of getting help from a professional.
A tire technician can assess the damage and provide repair services. Significantly, a reputable tire shop will use the correct tools (namely a torque wrench) to reattach a repaired tire to your car. It’s money well spent for such an essential part of the vehicle.
Repairing a Flat Tire
When the time comes to actually repair a flat, there are two ways to go. One is to buy a tire plug kit that involves identifying the tire’s leaking area, using a special tool to clean out the leak, plug the leak, refill the air, and then remount the tire.
But, unless you’ve got experience handling and fixing tires, we really recommend method number two: take the bad tire to a tire shop. A professional technician will inspect and repair the tire for about $25 (not much more than the cost of a repair kit). Not only will this save time, but you can also rest assured that the repair will be correctly performed. A reputable shop will also tell you when a tire can’t be repaired.
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What About Run Flat Tires?
Run flat tires are a newer tire technology found on numerous cars, usually premium brand vehicles. Through the use of reinforced sidewalls, a run flat tire will stay rigid enough to be driven on, even with a puncture.
The good news is that run flats don’t go flat, so a stray nail or damaged tread usually means you can still drive home or to a tire shop. The bad news is that cars with run flat tires don’t come with any spare and that once damaged, a run flat cannot usually be repaired; it must be replaced. And, replacing a run flat costs more than a conventional tire.
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