Here’s Why You Really Shouldn’t Drive on a Flat Tire


Updated September 2019

Getting a flat tire on the road can be a scary experience, but what you do in the moments after a tire loses pressure is very important. Here’s why you really shouldn’t drive on a flat tire.

When a tire loses a significant amount of air pressure, it’s what is referred to as flat. This can occur for many different reasons, such as a defect, improper air pressure, a puncture, or over use.

Although it is rare, some tires do have built-in defects that may be visible as bumps or bulges on the sidewall of the tire. If you ever see these types of abnormalities, do not drive on the tire and have a certified tire mechanic inspect it right away. Another sign that your tire may soon fail are cracks in the surface. If you spot cracks in the surface of your tire, it’s very likely the tire is too old and should not be driven on.

SEE ALSO: How Far Can You Drive on a Spare Tire?

A tire that is at the end of its life cycle can also show signs it may rupture if it’s not replaced. Any tire under 2/32nds of tread depth should be replaced as soon as possible and any tire with the steel belts showing through the tread should not be driven at all. It’s important to always check your air pressure as well to ensure it’s at the correct level. Driving on under-inflated tires causes increased wear, damage and heat that can lead to a tire prematurely failing. Remember that fluctuations in temperature can also affect your tire pressures.

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A puncture is much harder to prevent and can occur on a seemingly clear stretch of roadway. Regardless of what causes a tire to go flat, when it does happen, it’s imperative to minimize the amount of time spent driving on it.

Pull Over Immediately

We’ve all seen it before; some of you may have even done it. A vehicle has had a tire go flat and the driver is slowly driving on the shoulder on of the road. Instead of waiting on a tow truck or taking the time to install the spare tire, drivers sometimes try to ‘limp’ their cars to a nearby service center. This is not the right response to a flat tire. As Goodyear states:

“Maintaining proper air pressure is an important factor in tire safety and performance. If a driver experiences a flat tire or loss of air pressure, they should slow the vehicle gradually and carefully pull off to the side of the road as soon as possible. Driving on a flat tire can cause internal structural damage to the tire, may lead to wheel and vehicle damage and may result in poor vehicle handling and control — which could lead to an accident, injury or death.”

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Cooper Tire reiterates this point, pointing out that “Flat or underinflated tires can do harm very quickly. According to Cooper, tires driven even a short distance while under-inflated may be damaged beyond repair. Running a tire under inflated is like running the vehicle’s engine without enough oil or coolant. It may seem to work fine for a time, but serious permanent damage has occurred. Adding oil or coolant won’t repair engine damage, and adding inflation pressure won’t fix tire damage.”


A Flat Doesn’t Always Mean a New Tire

This all may sound a bit extreme, but it’s true. Let’s start with the reasons why driving on a flat tire is not a good idea for the tire itself. A lot of flats occur because the tire gets punctured. Most things that create the puncture are small, like nails and screws. As John Carpenter, field service manager for Toyo Tire Canada states, “Industry guidelines allow repair of punctures of up to 1/4″ in diameter in a tire’s tread area.”

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This means a simple tire puncture can be fixed with a tire plug. But, if a tire is driven on after the initial deflation occurs, more damage can occur to the tire, as the sidewalls can rupture and the initial puncture can expand. As Carpenter says, “Repair of any punctures in the shoulder and sidewall areas are not permitted. Repair of larger tread punctures, long straight cuts and irregular gashes are not permitted.”


Not Just the Tire is at Risk

And if a tire degrades enough when being driven while flat, it can start to break apart and cause damage to several important components on a car. Brake lines, rotors, calipers, suspension components, wheels and fenders can get serious damage from a flat tire that begins to flail around in the tire well. What starts off as a simple $30 tire patch can end up costing thousands of dollars if a flat tire is driven on for an extended period of time.

ALSO SEE: The Pros and Cons of Run Flat Tires and the Best Run Flat Tires You Can Buy

But more of a concern is occupant safety. If any of the braking or suspension components do get damaged, the car may behave unexpectedly, that could result in a crashing injury or, in a worst case scenario, death.

Photo Mar 02, 15 58 53

What to Do When You Do Have a Flat?

If a flat does occur, it best not to panic and DO NOT drive on it. Safely maneuver to the side of the road and either installed the spare tire (if one is supplied) or get a tow to a local tire shop. Although this means a minor inconvenience and/or cost in the short term, it’s worth it in the long run. You can do massive damage to your vehicle if you continue to drive and more importantly, you will be putting you and other motorists at risk.

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How to Avoid a Flat

The best way to deal with a flat tire is to never have one in the first place. Cooper Tire has tips and advice regarding the most important factors when it comes to tire care:

  • Proper tire size, type and load capacity (or load range)
  • Proper inflation pressure
  • Proper vehicle loading
  • Regular tire rotation
  • Regular inspection
  • Proper tire repair
  • Vehicle condition, alignment and maintenance
  • Good driving habits

Be sure to inspect your tires frequently – especially if you commute far distances often. Tires can become damaged quite easily while out on the road. Potholes and other rough bits of road and asphalt can cause your tire to bubble or cause the sidewall to tear. Extreme heat or extreme cold temperatures can also cause the tire pressures to fluctuate, so you will want to keep an eye on your tire pressures year-round as well.

In short, you should always keep a close eye on your tire tread wear and tire condition, as this is critical to your safety when out on the road.

When you Can’t Plug a Tire

As mentioned above, plugging a punctured tire is often a simple and affordable alternative to buying an entirely new tire. But it’s not always possible.

As a general rule, if you have a nail or other object stuck in your tire, it can be patched if it’s closer to the center of the tire (either in the tread or in the void between the tread). If the nail or other object is near the outside of the tire, in the “shoulder” tread block or in the actual sidewall of the tire, it cannot be plugged.

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the Jabberwachy says:

i had a terrible experience less than an hour ago where i was taking a night drive to calm my nerves (4:00 AM just about) and ended up rolling up onto a curb head on, bursting my left front tire. i checked for a spare but, for reasons unknown to me, i didn’t have one in my car. i spent the next 10 minutes diving at 15 MPH max to get home (as it was memorial day weekend and i didn’t have any cash or card on me) and park it, during which time the tire only further degraded. i’m very concerned with any damage that could have occurred in the process of driving home.

Justin says:

Bent tie rod end causing a tire to roll in or out when turning and a really bad alignment issue…also, you could likely end up with a broken wheel speed sensor that will stop your abs/cruise control/other fancy shit from working

Loius Fremont says:

The advice here could not be worse in many instances. If you are on a busy freeway or highway, drive until you can get off the freeway or highway. Even if there is ample should on the highway. Stopping along a freeway or highway is extremely hazardous, and I have known two people killed from pulling over on freeways following a flat tire. The reason is, drivers approaching your car could easily confuse it for being in a lane of travel, and then can’t stop before it is too late. It sounds unlikely, but, it happens every single day. So, just drive to an exit, get to a surface street and stop at the nearest parking lot. Most likely, you will only destroy the tire and the wheel, which are not as expensive as this article suggests. In many cases you can get a basic replacement steel wheel and a new tire for less than $150. Not worth seriously risking your like for.

Shaun Michalak says:

Wow.. You want someone to drive a car, with a flat tire, until the next exit?? So what speed to you think is safe to drive on a flat tire?? 60mph?? Nope.. Slower?? how about 30?? Wait.. the speed limit on the highway is over 40mph.. anything lower, is against the law.. Plus, at that slow of speed, you are likely to get rear-ended by someone not knowing you are going slow, until it is too late.. So, you want someone to drive on a tire, at higher speeds, where you will have limited control, and possibly loose control due to damaging a rim from a bump/pothole?? and that is safer?? But the next exit is 40 miles away.. Oh, but that does not matter.. Just drive a car, with limited speed, limited control, for the next hour, because that is safer?? Sorry.. I think I am missing how this is safer..

Tiny Timmy says:

breakdown lane, bud

Shaun Michalak says:

Yea.. But not all highway areas have breakdown lanes.. A lot of them, where there are bridges, cliffs, etc drop the breakdown lane during that area.. Fine if you are going one city block, but I have had plenty of times that I wanted to pull off the road for something (like checking something on my phone) and there was not enough room to fully pull of the road, because of where the guard rails were.. Or what about if there are cars already in the breakdown lane.. This will force you onto the main part of the highway. Plus, if a cop sees you going that slow, even in the breakdown lane, they can stop you right there, and make you get a tow truck. I have personally been pulled over for doing 50mph by state police.. The high gear in my trany went out in my car, and I kept it between 45 and 55 mph, and they pulled me over for doing those speeds. Luckily, when I explained what happened, they let me finish driving home, since I was keeping it above 50 most of the time.. But they did pull me over for going too slow.. I can only imagine what they would do at 30,, even in the breakdown lane..

15 year old replies... says:

Dude I’m sure anyone would be understanding to your situation if you had a flat tyre. People driving up behind you will be able to see your slow speed and move or slow down accordingly, we’re not idiots. Maybe just shove on your hazard lights and you’ll be sweet…til your next exit. If you get pulled up or beeped it, who cares, it’s better safe than sorry, and some motorways don’t have places you can pull over on.

Shaun Michalak says:

true, there is some places that do not have safe places to pull over.. But, at the same time, you are forgetting one very important law.. On most state highways, it is illegal to drive slower then 45mph on the highway, due to safety concerns. You can say, people can see your slower speeds, but I can guarantee you that is not always the case. I have been behind larger trucks, that I could not see around, and they would swerve at the last second because of someone going slow.. What happens when that person with the flat tire, is doing 30mph, to be safe, on the actual highway, and you are doing 70, and then then person in front of you swerves suddenly? Do you think you could slow down 40mph in 3 seconds?? Or what about at night?? That would make it even harder to see someone.. I remember about a year ago, this same situation happened, on a state highway, and that person died because a semi could not see them in time. I am sure that those girls in that car that died because of slow speeds, would completely disagree with your statement that it was “safer” to drive to the next exit.

15 year old replies... says:

As I said, some places (ie a highway and motorway in my city) don’t have places you can pull over on. So would you rather slow down to 45 in 3 seconds, or to 0 in 3 seconds? It’s just about safety man, and our road rule is stay left as far as possible. And people should not pass on the left for danger of the car making a last ditch turn, and to pass on the right as that is the passing lanes, so such an event is almost impossible to happen here. You would see the truck slowing down or speeding up to pass right, which is by general knowledge a warning sign that a car in front of him is going slow, so your brain just ticks you off to it here and that is enough time to react. I don’t know the roads you drive on, but here it is fine to make it to the next exit.

monstercolorfun co says:

I did 40 meters away from a busy road on a flat, with an alloy. doooodgy 🙂 tyre was worn though.