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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.


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.

Ask a Customer Experience Expert: Car Ownership 101


The following is a post from Isabel Siragusa, a Customer Experience Expert at Metromile.

Dealing with car trouble is never easy. It’s costly, inconvenient, and hard to know who to trust with fixing your car. As a Customer Experience Expert at Metromile and a car owner in a busy city like San Francisco, I feel your pain. I may talk car insurance every day, but when I first started, I realized I knew very little about how my own car works. Since Metromile is all about making car ownership as simple and affordable as possible, I’ve compiled a list of things that I think every car owner should know.

car maintenance


Do your homework. Every car works a little differently. Whether you are trying to figure out how much air to put in your tires or where to check your oil, it’s worth doing a little research before calling for help. Many answers can be found with a quick internet search or in your owner’s manual. You might even save some money because mechanics sometimes charge extra if you don’t know what you are talking about. And if you have the Metromile driving app, you can diagnose car troubles right from your smartphone.

Geography matters. According to my mechanic, if you’re living in San Francisco, the hills are going to cut the lifespan of your brakes in half. And if you are in Chicago, cold weather could put a lot of pressure on your car which means your tires and battery won’t last as long. If you can, park the front of your car near to a building to keep it warm.

Know the basics. There are a few car maintenance tips that all owners should know:

Dealing with flat tires. Don’t freak out if your tire looks like it might be losing air, but definitely deal with it or you’ll end up spending more on gas. If you can drive, go to the nearest gas station. Note that tire pressure readers at gas stations are generally inaccurate, so bring your own gauge (Metromile will even send you one for free). And if you’ve driven more than a few miles, the reading might be high because driving increases air pressure. After filling up the tire, check it again in a few hours. If it’s decreasing slowly, find a local tire store. If it’s in the 20s or lower, call a tow truck.

Even if you don’t have a flat, it’s good to still your tires properly inflated. Most cars have an optimal PSI between 30 and 40. If you look on the side of your tire, you’ll find the maximum PSI. Don’t go over that number and ideally stay somewhere slightly below. Make sure all four tires have the same amount of air in them. If you need to let air out, push the pin on the air valve in towards the tire.

Changing your oil on a regular basis. I’ll be perfectly honest. I’ve never done this myself, but you can easily have this done by a mechanic. Changing your oil keeps your car running smoothly and extends the life of the vehicle. Try to get it changed every 5,000 miles, and if you live in a cold climate then you should do it more often. If you want to check your oil level before it gets changed, locate the oil in the front of the engine and pull out the dipstick, wiping it clean. Dip and pull it out again, and you should see two lines. If you don’t, you can buy more oil at the gas station. When you are checking your oil level you can also see if it’s time for the oil to be changed altogether. If you see dirt when you rub the oil between your fingers then its probably time.

Fixing your brakes. Squeaky brakes are never a good sign because they mean the brake lining is starting to wear thin. But how long can you go until you need to get them repaired? The longer you wait, the more expensive it’ll be. If you notice squeaky brakes or your brake light comes on, you don’t need to stop your car on the side of the ride, but you should get them serviced soon. According to my mechanic, you still have 20% of the pad left which could be up to 2000 miles. However, if your brakes start to grind or grumble it means you’ve worn through the pad and it’s definitely time to see a mechanic!

Hope this helps! If you want more tips, send us a tweet @Metromile .