What Happens if You Drive on a Flat Tire?

driving on a flat tireFive. That’s how many flat tires car owners will encounter throughout their lives. That’s why, to protect themselves and their vehicles, all drivers should know the basics about dealing with a flat tire.

But only half of Americans do.

For example, do you know what happens if you drive on a flat tire? Surely, it can’t be that bad. You should be able to make it to the repair shop in one piece, right?

If you can’t answer these questions with confidence, then it’s time to brush up on the danger of flat tires. Here’s what happens if you drive on a flat tire, as well as how to handle one.

What Happens If You Drive on a Flat Tire?

Four wheels of rubber are the only barrier between your vehicle and the asphalt below. And a single flat is all it takes to send the security of you and your car into disarray.

Initial damage will concentrate on the flat tire itself. Without an air buffer, there is less space between the rim and the asphalt. More of the tire’s surface area sags against the floor, resulting in additional friction and wear.

As you continue to drive, the damage spreads to other sections of the vehicle. Some of this occurs as the tire shreds apart, damaging callipers, brakes, and suspension mechanisms. The extra stress on the wheels — what the tires wrap around — will warp, dent, and damage these components, too.

In short: Driving on a flat tire leads to moderate-to-severe damage to the surrounding area.

What kind of timeframe are we talking? An average vehicle, when driven at a low speed, may survive a few miles before irreversible damage occurs. If you continue to drive, unaware of the flat tire, you may be able to drive far longer — but not without causing permanent damage to the car.

Worst of all, you’ll experience poor handling, steering drift, and reduced traction. Combined, these elements put you at high risk of losing control of the vehicle and causing an accident.

What Causes a Flat Tire?

Terrible road conditions and debris are common culprits. At high speeds, a screwdriver sitting on the shoulder is a serious hazard to your rubber tires. Potholes are just as dangerous, capable of tearing the rubber and allowing air to escape.

But it’s important to mention immediate deflation is not always the cause of a flat tire. Old or worn tires can develop microfractures over time. Air trickles from these cracks, and over a span of days the tire will gradually lose air pressure.

It’s important to regularly examine the condition and air pressure in your tires. For a common tread test, take a penny from your pocket and slip it head-first into a grove. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, you should replace your tires immediately.

Think You Have a Flat Tire?

We’ve established that driving on a flat tire can cause serious damage to your vehicle in a few short moments. Some signs of a flat tire include a lack of speed, unusual vibrations, and steering drift. In most situations, you’ll have a good idea that something is wrong as soon as your tire goes flat.

So what should you do? The first order of business is to find a safe spot to stop the vehicle. While a flat tire is dangerous to drive on, it’s even more dangerous to come to a dead stop in the middle of a busy street.

Allow your vehicle to drift to a slower speed and enable your hazard lights. Drive no faster than 20 mph to minimize the risk to your vehicle and others around you. Once you come to a shoulder or parking lot, pull over and come to a stop.

Keep the hazard lights on.

How to Change a Flat Tire

Since most flat tires happen suddenly and while you’re away from home, every car owner should know how to change one. Whether you know it or not, everything you need is in your trunk. Just pull the mat out of the way to access the spare tire compartment, along with the jack and lug wrench.

Put the parking brake on even if you’re on a flat surface. This reduces the chance your car will roll off the jack. If you have wheel wedges, put these behind or in front of the other tires, depending on which has become punctured.

Remove the hubcap if your vehicle has one. You’ll find the lug nuts underneath.

Use the lug wrench found in the back of the vehicle to loosen each lug nut. It’s easiest to work in a star pattern, loosening nuts across from each other, rather than working in a circle. As soon as the lug nut becomes workable, move on to the next.

Use your car manual to locate the jack placement for your vehicle. Lifting from the wrong section can damage the frame. Set it in place and raise the tire about half a foot off the ground.

Now you’re in the clear. Remove the lug nuts and flat tire and mount the spare in place. Use the same lug nuts and tighten them as much as possible to set the spare.

For a more in-depth explanation, refer to our tire change walkthrough.

Avoid Flat Tires With Excellent Maintenance

What happens if you drive on a flat tire? Severe damage in a short amount of time.

Although the statistics suggest everyone will deal with flat tires from time to time, there are ways to reduce the odds. Refer to your owner’s manual to ensure your tires are filled to the correct PSI. The manual will also inform you of the recommended OEM tires if you ever need a replacement.

Don’t have your car manual? Then keep a digital version handy in case of emergencies. Download your owner’s manual from our extensive database.