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How Far Can You Really Drive On a Flat Tire?

If you drive long enough, you’ll likely experience a flat tire. They almost always occur at the least convenient times. The worst circumstances could force you to call a tow truck or test your roadside assistance. But can you drive on a flat tire?

Unfortunately, we’ve experienced a flat tire or two during our adventures. Luckily, we knew how to respond and got back on the road as quickly as possible.

Today, we’re taking the time to help those of you asking, “Can I drive on a flat tire?” So pay attention; you never know when life will give you a pop quiz!

Let’s dive in!

Don't Do That! Why Driving on A Flat Tire Is Dangerous, And Could Cause More Damage!

What Causes Flat Tires?

Flat tires can occur for various reasons. However, objects on the road are some of the most common culprits. Nails, pieces of glass, and other sharp objects can puncture the tire and cause air to escape. Depending on the leak’s size, you likely won’t catch it immediately.

Another common cause of flat tires is damage to the tire’s structure. This could be from running over objects or hitting curbs and potholes. The force could be enough to damage the tire, which could cause it to explode while you travel. These can occur in the blink of an eye. They can potentially cause severe damage or an accident.

Another common reason for tire failure is age. The rubber compounds in tires begin to deteriorate immediately after they are made and will eventually fail even if they are not used. Tires beyond about 7 years old are much more likely to go flat due to age because the rubber compounds wear out.

Another common way tires can go flat is the valve stem. This is not actually part of the tire but in the rim. The valve stem is how you fill air into the tire and they are known to slowly leak. We have had to replace a few over the years due to leaks.

Lastly, the wheel or rim can actually fail or leak. If you hit a large pothole its possible to bend or crack the wheel itself and let air escape.

Pro Tip: Do you know how you can plug a tire with a hole in it?

Flat tire
See the cracks in this rubber, this tire is way too old.

Is Driving on a Flat Tire Dangerous?

Driving on a flat tire at higher speeds is extremely dangerous. It can cause a lack of control, increased stopping distance, and severely damage the wheel and suspension of your vehicle. At slower speeds, you may be able to control the vehicle, but it will still cause damage. If you want to repair it and stay safe, address it immediately.

If you notice a tire going flat, we recommend finding a safe parking place as soon as possible. This could be a rest stop, store parking lot, or another safe location. Trust us; you don’t want to change a tire on the side of the road unless there’s no other option.

How Far Can You Drive on a Flat Tire?

We will first say you should not drive on a flat tire. Driving on a flat or underinflated tire can cause further damage. If you attempt to drive on a flat tire, you can expect wheel rim damage, suspension and alignment problems, and an increased risk of accidents.

However, if you have no other option you can usually roll slowly for a little while on a flat. Go very slow (under 5 miles per hour) and you may be able to go a few miles. However, get out and check the tire every so often to make sure the rubber is still under the rim. Driving this way has a significant likelihood of doing irreparable damage to the wheel. You are guaranteed to destroy the tire as well if you drive any distance on it being flat.

The further you go, the more likely the situation will worsen. Find the nearest safe place to park so you can assess and resolve the problem.

Pro Tip: Before you get a flat tire, find out What Your Tire Pressure Light Is Really Trying to Tell You.

Fixing flat tire
Pull over to repair your tire as soon as possible.

How Far Can You Drive on an Emergency Repair?

Sometimes you need an emergency repair to return to the road. However, these are temporary repairs and not permanent solutions. They’re typically enough to help you reach your destination or a tire shop.

Temporary flat tire sealant products like Fix-A-Flat usually require reduced speeds and are good for driving up to 50 miles. However, you’ll want to check the instructions and manufacturer recommendations. If you’re using these products for your repair, find a tire shop as soon as possible. 

Another common emergency repair is to install a spare tire. Spare tires come in either temporary tires or full-size spares. Full-size spares are just like the rest of your tires and can be used for as long as you need. Generally, the spare will be a slightly different size, however (because it won’t be worn) and it’s still a good idea to get your original tire repaired or replaced.

Temporary spares (sometimes called donuts) typically have a short life and last between 50 to 70 miles. These tires are also designed for much slower speed driving, usually below 50 Mph. Higher speeds could cause your spare to blow out, leaving you stranded. Unless you get a flat in a remote area, there should be plenty of mileage to get you to the nearest tire repair shop.

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How Fast Can You Drive On a Repair Or Spare Tire?

All vehicle tires come with speed ratings, including a spare tire. If you’ve had to repair a flat tire or install your temporary spare, you should avoid exceeding 50 mph when you drive. Doing so could generate enough heat to break down the rubber compounds and cause another flat. If you get a flat with your spare, you’ll need to call a tow truck.

Full-size spare tires are generally just like the rest of your tires and are rated for highway speeds.

If your tire was able to be repaired professionally then you can resume driving at normal speeds on the tire.

spare tire on overland truck
Some vehicles with specialty tires must carry a full-size spare or two because if they have a problem a tire shop may not be able to get a replacement tire quickly. This is our overland truck running special military tires that would take months to get if we needed, so we always carry a full size spare.

What to Do if You Have a Flat Tire

It’s not typically a matter of if you’ll experience a flat tire, but when. As a result, it’s best to plan what to do when it happens. Let’s walk through what you should do to return to the road as quickly as possible.

Find a Safe Place to Park

The first thing you need to do is find a safe place to park to assess the situation. Look for a parking lot, an emergency pull-off, or the nearest rest stop. These can provide plenty of space without worrying about traffic keeping their distance.

Unfortunately, not all drivers are considerate of those experiencing an emergency. Finding a safe place to park helps you avoid worrying about these individuals. Your day will go from bad to worse if a vehicle strikes or sideswipes you.

Close up of flat tire
Driving on a flat tire is never a safe or wise idea.

Use Hazard Lights and Emergency Kit

Hazard lights alert others that you’re experiencing an issue. However, they’re only effective if you use them. You should activate them as soon as you experience an emergency. Ideally, they’ll keep their driving distance and give you space to resolve the flat tire.

This is why it’s crucial to always carry an emergency roadside kit. You never know when you’ll need to use it. Choose a kit with rechargeable roadside flares that make it easier for others to see you, especially at night.

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Repairing flat tire
If you don’t have a spare tire to install, call roadside assistance to get you back on the road as soon as possible.

Install a Spare Tire or Call Roadside Assistance

Once you find a safe place to park and make yourself visible, it’s time to install the spare or repair the tire. However, if you’re not physically able to complete this task safely, call your roadside assistance. Unfortunately, you’re at their mercy regarding how long it will take. We’ve heard horror stories of it taking two to three hours or more.

When you do it correctly, installing a spare tire shouldn’t take more than 15 to 20 minutes. Chock your wheels to prevent movement and loosen the lug nuts before using a jack to lift the vehicle. Please keep your hands and feet away from the tire. If things don’t go to plan, the car could slip off the jack and crush anything. Use a torque wrench to ensure everything is secure.

Pro Tip: If something goes wrong on your road trip, you’ll be glad you can rely on the Best RV Roadside Assistance for Peace of Mind on the Road.

Get Back to a Tire Shop

Once you’ve made the repair to your flat tire or installed your spare, drive to the nearest tire shop. Unfortunately, it may not be your favorite location or cheapest option, but you may have little choice. You need a trained professional to assess the situation and help you make an informed decision.

If your tires are nearing the end of their usable life, replace them all. Many of these shops offer discounts for purchasing four tires instead of a single tire. You can save money and avoid another failure in the future.

Does Fix-a-Flat Really Work? (How Fix a Flat Tire)

Always Have a Plan to Address a Flat Tire

Have a general plan to address a flat tire before hitting the road. Be flexible because no two situations are the same. Remember that you’re not the first to experience the inconvenience of a flat tire, and you won’t be the last. Check with your roadside assistance to confirm coverage and understand the process. This is one time when you want to avoid surprises.

Do you have a plan for potential tire issues on the road? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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