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Flat Tire on Highway: What to Do to Save Your Road Trip

Flat Tire on Highway: What to Do to Save Your Road Trip

There’s never an ideal time for mechanical issues on a cross-country road trip. However, a flat tire on the highway can delay your travels, leave you stranded on the side of the road, and even cause damage to your vehicle. Once you experience a flat tire, you need to know what to do to save your road trip and get back on the road.

Today, we’ll share with you everything you need to know and do to save your road trip when you have a flat tire on the highway. Let’s dive in!

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

Is a Flat Tire on the Highway Dangerous?

Experiencing a flat tire on the highway can be very dangerous, especially if it is one of the front ones. The front tires of a vehicle control steering. If traveling at high speeds, you’ll likely notice a jerking motion in the steering wheel in the direction of the flat tire. This can cause you to lose control and put you and other drivers in a dire situation.

While there’s never an ideal flat tire, one with a slow leak is the least dangerous. Most modern vehicles will alert the driver should a tire experience a loss in tire pressure. This will typically give you enough time to find a safe place to pull over, possibly even a tire repair center, before you experience a dangerous situation.

Close up of a flat tire on the highway.
Getting a flat tire can be dangerous, but does not need to ruin your road trip!

What Causes a Flat Tire on the Highway?

Various things cause a flat tire on the highway. However, the most common cause is objects on the road. You never know what will fall onto the road and into the path of your vehicle. We’ve seen large nails, pieces of metal, and other sharp objects get lodged into tires. If you hit them just right, they can damage your tires enough to cause a major issue.

Another common cause is a lack of maintenance. Regularly inspect your tires to ensure they’re in tip-top shape. Never hit the road with tires in poor condition. If you’re not knowledgeable about tires, drive by a reputable tire dealer to have them look over them. They can spot any potential issues and make recommendations based on their condition.

How Long Can I Drive with a Flat Tire?

You should never drive on a flat tire. Driving even a short distance on a flat tire can cause serious damage to your vehicle and put you in a dangerous situation.

Though tempting, don’t try to limp your way home or to the tire shop. Instead of simply needing to replace a tire, you may end up with thousands of dollars in damage to your vehicle.

Before driving anywhere, replace the flat tire with a spare or have your car towed to a nearby shop. 

Tom from Mortons on the Move putting new tire on truck
Don’t try to drive on a flat tire! Safely pull over and replace your flat or call for help.

What to Do When You Get a Flat Tire on the Highway

If you experience a flat tire on the highway, you need to do some important things. Let’s learn how to get you and your vehicle back on the road.

Hold on Tight to Your Steering Wheel

If you experience a flat tire while driving on the highway, hold tight to your steering wheel. While a flat tire on one of your front tires will cause serious steering issues, you’ll experience a drastic difference in driving no matter which tire goes flat. Keep a firm grip on your steering wheel to maintain control. Your car will behave more predictably after the initial explosion; however, you’ll still have some difficulty.

Slow Down

Once you regain control of your vehicle, you must carefully reduce your speed. Your car and other drivers on the road will appreciate it if you avoid slamming on the brakes. You don’t want to make the situation worse by overreacting. 

Start by removing your foot from the accelerator and then apply the brake firmly to maintain control of your vehicle. As you slow down, use your turn signal to change lanes or to allow other cars to get around you. 

Pull to the Shoulder or an Exit Ramp

You want to find a safe place to pull over and assess the situation. Head to the shoulder of the highway or an exit ramp if there is one nearby. Keep plenty of room between your vehicle and any passing traffic. You’ll need space to move around and change your tire, especially if it’s on the driver’s side. 

While all 50 states have move-over laws, they typically only apply to vehicles used for emergencies, recovery, solid waste, or utility services. Most drivers who have experienced a roadside issue will typically try to make room for those on the side of the road. However, do yourself a favor and create as much space and distance between your vehicle and passing traffic.

Use Your Hazard Lights

Once you experience a flat tire on the highway, turn on your hazard lights. This can help alert other drivers of some mechanical issues. They’ll likely make any necessary adjustments to give you space to get to the side of the road safely.

Continue to use your hazard lights once you reach the shoulder. Doing so lets approaching drivers know that your vehicle isn’t abandoned. Your hazards can alert them that someone is in or around the car so they can give you room.

Call for Help

Furthermore, you’ll need some assistance if you cannot fix the issue yourself. Once you and your vehicle have reached a safe location, call for help. This could mean calling your insurance company, a roadside assistance company, or a nearby friend or family member.

You’ll need to know your exact location for anyone to find you and your vehicle. Note any landmarks or mile markers along the road to communicate with them.

Pro Tip: Want to invest in roadside assistance for your RV? We found the Best RV Roadside Assistance for Peace of Mind on the Road.

Change Your Tire

Depending on where your flat tire occurs, it could take hours for help to arrive. If you have a spare and are physically able to, you can change your tire in a matter of minutes.

However, it can be a physically demanding job and very dangerous if you don’t know how. When in doubt, wait for help to arrive to avoid causing a serious and potentially hazardous situation for you and other drivers.

Close up of a flat tire
Take some time to learn how to change a flat tire before you hit the road for your adventure just to be safe.

How to Change a Tire

Knowing how to change a flat tire you got on the highway is an important life skill every driver should learn. While you hope never to need to use the knowledge, you’ll likely experience a flat tire while driving at some point. 

Park in a Safe Place

When possible, find the safest place to park. Unfortunately, in some situations, this could mean changing your tire on the shoulder of a busy highway.

Is it ideal? Absolutely not. Will the passing traffic be loud? You bet.

However, sometimes there isn’t another option, and you must make the best of a difficult situation. Keep plenty of space between your car and passing traffic so you can work and move around while changing your tire. It’s a good idea to have another individual keep an eye on approaching traffic to avoid a catastrophic situation.

Gather Materials

You will need to gather a few materials to change your tire. You typically need a jack to lift the tire off the ground, a four-way tire iron to loosen the lug nuts and any necessary tools for removing your spare tire. Some trucks mount the spares under them and use a special socket attachment for security purposes typically stored in a vehicle’s glove box. 

Loosen Lug Nuts

Once you have all the necessary materials, remove any hubcaps and use the four-way tire iron to loosen each lug nut. Use the vehicle’s weight on the tire as leverage to help you loosen the lug nuts. Don’t remove them entirely; simply give them a solid crank to allow you to turn them a couple of times.

Use a Jack to Lift Your Vehicle

Now that you’ve loosened your lug nuts slightly, you can place the jack under the vehicle. However, before lifting your vehicle, set the emergency brake and put a block or rock in front of your front tire to prevent any movement. With everything ready to go, slide your jack under the appropriate place on your vehicle’s frame and start cranking. 

This can take some muscle, but eventually, you’ll notice the tire begin to come up off the ground. Don’t get carried away with trying to lift the vehicle excessively high. You simply need enough room to remove the damaged tire and slide your spare in its place. An inch or two off the ground is more than enough room.

Remove Lug Nuts

With the tire lifted off the ground, you can now use your four-way tire iron to finish removing the lug nuts. Place the lug nuts in a hubcap or other place where they won’t roll away or get lost.

Don’t lose these because you will need them again to secure the spare tire. You’ll have a much bigger problem if you lose any of these.

Person removing lug nuts from tire.
Be careful not to lose your lug nuts after you remove them from your flat tire.

Repair Tire or Install Spare Tire

Next, remove the flat tire you got on the highway. You may need to wiggle it a little to loosen it up, but it’ll pop off with little effort. Be careful not to rock or shake your vehicle while it is on the jack. You don’t want the jack to slip under and have your car come crashing down.

Look at the tire and inspect it for the cause of the damage. Various reasons cause a tire to go flat, but finding the cause can help determine whether it’s fixable. You can get tire repair kits for patching a hole under certain circumstances.

This involves using tools to remove the object, clean the hole, and apply filler and sealant to the tire. However, this can’t solve every problem, and it can be unsafe to attempt to patch holes in certain circumstances. 

If you have a smaller object in your tire that’s causing a leak, such as a nail, you can use fix-a-flat products to stop the leak. While this won’t remove the nail from your tire, it can prevent air from leaking out of it, replace any air that leaked, and buy you time until you can get it repaired correctly. 

However, the safest bet is to install a spare tire if you have one. First, line the holes in the center of the spare tire’s rim with the wheel studs, then slide it onto them. Ensure you slide the tire completely onto the studs.

Replace Lug Nuts

Now with your tire completely resting on the wheel studs, begin screwing the lug nuts back onto the wheel studs. You can start by screwing them in by hand to get them started and eventually use the four-way tire iron to speed up the process. Ensure you’ve pushed the tire entirely onto the wheel studs and tighten the lug nuts as firmly as possible without straining too much.

Lower Vehicle and Tighten

With the spare tire securely in place, lower the jack until you can remove it from under the vehicle. With the four-way tire iron, use the vehicle’s weight to increase your leverage to completely tighten the lug nuts on your tire. You want to ensure they’re snug and won’t create any issues once you hit the road.

Schedule a Visit to the Tire Shop

Once you reach your destination, schedule a visit to a tire shop to have them inspect the issue. You don’t want to delay making this appointment. It can be easy to avoid having it checked out for fear of the costs. However, tires do not fix themselves and only put you and other drivers at risk if you continue to drive on them.

If the shop can repair the tire, they’ll typically complete the repair for a nominal fee. Some tire repair shops will patch tires for free in hopes of winning your business down the road. Depending on where the damage occurs, you may not have an option to repair it. 

Woman looking at flat tire while driving on road trip.
A flat tire may not ruin your road trip, but it can get you behind on your travel schedule and lose you money you could otherwise spend on adventures.

How to Avoid a Flat Tire on the Highway

Most drivers want to do everything they can to avoid getting a flat tire on the highway. Here are some tips to help you avoid a flat tire ruining your road trip.

Check Your Tires

If you want to avoid a flat tire, regularly check them. Doing so will allow you to spot any potential issues that might occur. Look for uneven wearing in the tread, cracks in the sidewalls, or any deformities in the rubber.

These are all significant indications that something is wrong. When in doubt, take your vehicle to a trusted professional to inspect them and make a recommendation.

Pro Tip: While inspecting your RV tires, make sure to use one of these RV Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems to ensure your tires are optimally operating.

Avoid Objects on the Road

To avoid a flat tire on the highway, avoid objects on the road. However, this is often much easier said than done. You can’t always spot nails and other tiny objects that can easily penetrate your tires and cause a leak.

Even some larger objects are hard to spot in time to react when traveling at high speeds. Keep your eyes on the road and avoid following other vehicles too closely that it obstructs your vision. Give yourself time to react to anything that might lie on the road.

Don’t Overload Your Vehicle

Avoid adding too much weight to your vehicle, even if you have a big truck. The tires carry the weight of it as you drive. The more weight you add, the more friction you create between the tires and the road.

Overloading your vehicle can cause enough friction to generate heat in your tires and increase the wear. If you do this regularly, you weaken the rubber compounds and drastically reduce the life of your tires.

Rotate Your Tires Regularly

You should rotate your tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles, which typically means every other oil change for most drivers. If you have the space, tools, and abilities, this is an easy project you can handle yourself. However, you can also have it done relatively inexpensively during your regular oil change.

Rotating your tires helps the tires wear evenly. This is especially important in front-wheel drive vehicles, where the front tires are responsible for steering and traction when accelerating. If you don’t rotate them regularly, the front tires will wear down more rapidly than the rear ones.

Rotating your tires regularly also helps keep an eye on their overall condition, as they don’t last forever. Many factors determine how long tires last, so checking them frequently can help avoid a ruined road trip.

Slow Down

Many tires, especially trailer tires, have tire speed ratings. These ratings indicate the maximum speed at which the tire is designed to perform. Above that speed, tire components can break down and fail.

Watch for Potholes

It seems lately that no matter which highway or interstate you drive on, it’s littered with potholes. Some of these are only minor inconveniences, but others could cause severe damage to your vehicle.

Hitting a large enough pothole can bend your rim and destroy your tire. You don’t want to have a flat tire on the highway because you didn’t see the hole. If that’s the case, you would need to purchase a new tire and a new rim.

Some GPS navigation apps, like Waze, warn you when approaching a pothole. However, these often occur on multi-lane roads where you won’t know which lane has a pothole. So even if you use these apps, stay alert and avoid them as much as possible.

Rotating Tires on a Dually Truck - How to? When? Why?

Don’t Let a Flat Tire Ruin your Road Trip

If you experience a flat tire on the highway, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll lose some money to replace the tire and spend some time on the side of the road. But you’ll eventually get back on the road for your trip.

With these tips and tire-changing guidance, you can handle any problem the highway throws at you. Try to maintain a positive attitude and take the whole experience in stride. It can make for a great story at the end of your trip!

Have you ever gotten a flat tire while on a road trip? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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Skip Clements

Saturday 15th of October 2022

We carry a tire "plugging" kit and a 12V compressor. If safety allows, I never even remove the tire. Just pull forward or backward to allow access to the screw or nail. Pull it out with vice grips and use the roughing tool to plug and prep the hole. When the plug is properly positioned in the plugging tool, remove the roughing tool and force the plug into the hole, then quickly remove the tool. Trim off any long pieces of the plug and using the compressor bring the tire back up to the proper pressure. I try to check the fix after 20 or 30 miles and occasionally there after. No jack! No lug nuts. I can almost guarantee that I can fix a flat on the vehicle faster than you can change tires. The most time consuming part is bringing the tire up to pressure.

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