Car Maintenance 101: What to Do When You Get a Flat

If you’ve never gotten a flat tire – lucky you! And if you have, maybe you wish you had been a little more prepared to deal with this all-too-common yet extremely frustrating situation. While most cars typically come equipped with a spare, there’s more to fixing a flat than simply calling a tow truck or learning how to change your tire. Follow these tips to ensure that you don’t lose steam the next time your tire loses air.

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Take preemptive measures.
Underinflated tires are one of the most common causes of flats because they create more friction, potentially leading to excessive heating. Overinflated tires are concerning as well because they can cause uneven wear on the treads and blowout if they get too hot. To avoid both of these scenarios, use a tire gauge to ensure your tires are inflated to the recommended PSI level, which you can find in your car owner’s manual or door jamb. And since you never know when you will encounter a bump in the road (both hypothetically and realistically speaking), make sure your spare tire is properly inflated as well.

You should also keep an eye on your tires to check for anything that looks off. While it’s pretty difficult to eyeball the ideal PSI level, you’ll be able to notice if your tire pressure seems super low or if there are any weird bulges. It’s also important to keep an eye on your tire treads to see if they start to look worn out. Try this quick trick: stick a penny in the treads with Lincoln’s head upside down, and if you can see all of his head, it’s time to replace your tires. Head to your local mechanic to check things out before it’s too late (cue the scary music).

You’ve got a flat – now what?
Where there’s smoke, there’s sometimes fire… or a flat tire. When your tire is so flat that the rim is grinding against the road, the friction will cause smoke. As if we needed to tell you this, smoke coming from your car is a strong indicator that you should pull over as soon as possible. Ideally, you should get off the highway, but if that isn’t an option you should stop where the shoulder is wide enough. Mechanic Matt has some good roadside safety tips, including the importance of setting out flares even in broad daylight. Once you are safely pulled over, go ahead and put on your spare if you know how to change your tire. If you don’t, just call a local towing company. If you are far from home, Yelp is a great way to find the most reliable services in the area.

If repair shops are open, the tow truck can likely bring you straight in to get your tire fixed. If you are driving yourself, or if it’s late at night, you will need to drive for a bit on your spare. Since your spare is not as robust as your primary tires, you will have to drive more cautiously. Tire manufacturers typically suggest that shouldn’t drive more than 50 miles on your spare and never go above 50 mph because it has less traction and is more likely to blow out.

Get back on the road.
Typically your mechanic will be able to patch your flat and get you back on the road without putting a big dent in your pockets. However, if the damage wears through the tire wall, you will need to purchase an entirely new tire. No need to worry – your mechanic can usually sell this to you – or you can visit a site like Tire Rack. It is important to note that not all tires are created equal, so make sure you are purchasing the right model and for the right location (sometimes front tires can be different than rear tires). Buying online is often less expensive, and you can even have the tire shipped directly to the installer so you don’t have to lug it around.

We hope that these tips will ensure a smooth road in the unfortunate event that you do get a flat. If you are a Metromile insurance customer and elected to have roadside assistance in your plan, you will be covered 24/7. And if you aren’t currently a per-mile insurance customer, you could really save some money if you are a low-mileage driver. Get started at metromile.com/insurance.

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