As a vehicle owner, getting a flat tire is one of the biggest headaches you can face. But while flats are extremely common, getting a flat tire can actually be very dangerous, depending on the situation, like the road you are driving on and your speed. For example, if you blow out a tire in the middle of a busy highway going 75mph, it can affect your car’s handling and increase the risk of a serious accident.
Flat tires are not always unavoidable, but there are ways to reduce the risk of getting a flat while you are driving. In this article, we’ll discuss some key facts and statistics about flat tires, explain what to do in the event of a flat and share some tips for avoiding flat tires in the first place.
Many drivers will experience a flat tire at some point during their lifetime. Even the most durable tires wear down and weaken. Not to mention, roads often contain potholes, sharp nails, debris and other objects that can easily puncture a tire and cause a flat. Here are some statistics about flat tires in the United States:
- In 2020, there were 664 traffic fatalities caused by a tire-related crash. (NHTSA)
- Only about 15% of new vehicles are equipped with run-flat tires, which allow you to drive on a flat tire for roughly 50 miles. (Edmunds)
- In the United States, one tire puncture occurs every seven seconds, which results in roughly 220 million flat tires each year. (Torque News)
- In a survey of 2,000 drivers, about 50% of respondents over the age of 36 said they could confidently change a flat tire. However, just 27% of drivers between the ages of 18 and 23 said they could do the same. (Town Fair Tire)
- According to a 2017 study from AAA, it was found that 28% of 2017 model year vehicles did not come equipped with a spare tire as a standard feature. (AAA)
What causes a flat tire?
You might assume that flat tires are only caused by punctures from road debris or sharp objects. But in reality, there are many variables that can cause a flat tire. Here are some of the most common causes of flat tires:
- Old tires: If you have old tires on your car, there’s an increased likelihood of a flat, due to small cracks that form in the rubber and make the tire more susceptible to damage. It’s important to replace your tires once they start to wear out, even if the tires look like they are in good condition on the exterior.
- Road debris: Road debris is one of the biggest causes of tire flats and blow outs. If you accidentally drive over a nail, a sharp piece of glass or scrap metal, it can puncture your tire. You may not realize that you’ve driven over debris until the tire eventually goes flat days or weeks in the future.
- Temperature: Extreme temperatures have the ability to cause flat tires. In cold weather, the rubber contracts and can cause leaks. On the other hand, tire pressure increases in very hot weather, which can cause your tires to expand and potentially leak or burst.
- Vandalism: Flat tires can be the result of vandalism. For example, if someone slashes your tires or purposely punctures a hole in the tire, it will likely result in a flat.
- Valve damage: Leaking valve systems can cause a flat tire, especially if you don’t see any physical signs of damage to the outside of the tire. Valve systems can get damaged when installed incorrectly, or the wrong tape is used.
- Overinflated tires: When you put air in your times, be careful not to over-inflate them. Having too much air in your tires can cause internal damage and cause a flat. Using a tire pressure gauge can help you avoid overinflating.
What to do if I get a flat tire?
If you aren’t sure what to do after getting a flat tire, you are not alone. Many people are not equipped to change a flat tire on their own. However, you typically have a few options after getting a flat, depending on the supplies you have available. Here’s what to do if you get a flat tire.
Changing a flat tire
You can change a flat tire yourself if you have a spare and are prepared with the necessary tools. Below are some things you should keep in your emergency kit in your vehicle:
- Safety road reflectors: If you are going to change a flat tire yourself on the side of the road, safety is crucial. Keep road reflectors or flares in your car in case you need to change a tire on the highway or in another high-traffic area where you might not be easily visible.
- Spare or donut tire: Many cars come with a full-sized spare tire or a temporary donut tire, which is often located underneath a compartment in the trunk or on the underside of the vehicle. Check to see if your car includes a spare. If not, consider purchasing one to keep in your car in case of a flat.
- Car jack: To change a spare tire yourself, you will need a car jack. Many vehicles have a plastic piece on the bottom of the car where the jack can be placed for maximum leverage and to avoid damage to other parts of the undercarriage.
- Lug wrench: A lug wrench is used to remove the lug bolts that hold the tire in place. You must remove the lug nuts in order to take off the flat tire and install the new one.
- Pressure gauge: Once the new tire is on and the lug bolts have been replaced, it’s a good idea to use a pressure gauge to check the tire pressure. You can find the recommended psi on the side of the spare tire.
What if I don’t have a spare tire?
If you don’t have a spare tire in your vehicle and you get a flat, there are some ways to fix a flat until the tire can be replaced. This typically involves plugging the hole where the air is leaking out. Here are a few methods for temporarily fixing your flat tire:
- Fix-a-flat spray: Fix-a-flat spray can help you plug a tire leak quickly. After identifying the leak, move your car so the leaking spot is in the 6 o’clock position, then dispense the entire can of sealant on the leak. Keep in mind that this is a temporary repair and you should only use it to safely drive to an auto body shop.
- Car tire repair kit: Having a car tire repair kit in your car can come in handy if you get a flat. These kits often include a patch that can be adhered to the leak, but don’t provide a permanent fix.
- Tire plug kit: With a tire plug kit, you can stick a plug in the hole that is leaking. However, you might have to remove the tire in order to use the plug, depending on where the leak is located. Plugged tires can be driven on for roughly 10 miles, so you still need to get the tire replaced as soon as possible.
- Switch to run-flat tires: If you don’t feel comfortable changing a flat tire yourself or don’t have the tools, consider upgrading your tires to run-flats. As the name suggests, these tires are designed to allow you to continue driving for a short distance after getting a flat. It’s not a permanent solution, but it does not require any work on your end.
Call roadside assistance
Ultimately, many drivers who get flat tires choose to call roadside assistance to help them get back on the road. Roadside assistance can provide basic vehicle repairs and towing, including flat tire changes, battery replacement, fuel delivery, extrication and sometimes locksmith services.
There are a few ways to get roadside assistance. One option is to purchase a plan through an organization like AAA, which has an annual membership fee and offers several tiers of coverage. You can also get roadside assistance through most car insurance companies for a small increase in your monthly premium.
If you’re interested in purchasing a roadside assistance plan, it’s a good idea to compare a few options and get quotes to see which one is the cheapest one. You should also pay attention to the benefits you receive with each plan, as every roadside assistance package offers different services, maximum towing mileages and availability.
Does car insurance cover a flat tire?
Car insurance will cover a flat tire, but it depends on the specific situation. For example, if your car gets vandalized and someone slashed the tires, the comprehensive portion of your car insurance policy would pay to replace the tires (minus your deductible). However, car insurance companies would not pay for new tires if you got a flat due to road debris, temperatures or general wear and tear.
If you get a flat tire, whether it’s caused by vandalism or a random act, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to replace the tire. Depending on the type of damage and the severity of the leak, you may be able to patch the tire instead, which could help you save a significant amount of money. The cost of a brand new tire can range anywhere from $100 to $300 on average, whereas a patch only costs $15 to $30 on average.
Flat tire accident statistics
You might assume that a flat tire is just an inconvenience, but in reality, tire blowouts can cause accidents, including both multi- and single-vehicle crashes. For instance, if you get a flat tire on a busy roadway, you might lose control of the vehicle and swerve into oncoming traffic. Or, you might run into a stationary object, like a telephone pole or fence.
- On an annual basis, an estimated 11,000 accidents are caused by bad tires. (NHTSA)
- Vehicles with underinflated tires are up to three times more likely to be involved in a tire-related crash than vehicles with properly inflated tires. (Consumer Reports)
- Between 2005 and 2007, half of all tire-related crashes involved a single vehicle. (NHTSA)
- In a study of 5,470 car accidents, it was determined that 45% of SUVs that rolled over had tire-related issues before the crash occurred. (United Tires)
- The states with the highest reported number of tire-related crashes include Texas, Kansas and Pennsylvania. (United Tires)
How to prevent a flat tire
Flat tires are not entirely preventable, but there are easy ways to lower your risk of getting a flat or blowing a tire while driving. Here are a few tips:
- Check tire pressure: Keeping an eye on your tire pressure is an excellent way to avoid flats. If you notice a tire that is looking low, use a tire pressure gauge to check the pressure. In general, it’s a good idea to check your tire pressure every few weeks, and always before going on a long road trip.
- Avoid construction areas: You might be more likely to get a flat tire when driving through a construction area, as nails, metal, staples and other sharp objects can get left on the road and puncture tires. When you can, avoid driving through construction zones, and if it’s unavoidable, proceed with caution and try to look out for obvious hazards.
- Park in a garage: To avoid flat tires, opt for parking garages rather than street parking when possible. It can reduce the risk of vandalism where your tires could get slashed.
- Replace tires as needed: Although tires can be expensive, it’s important to replace your tires as needed to avoid flats. You should get a new set of tires every six to 10 years, or more frequently, depending on how often you drive. If you avoid replacing your tires, it can increase the likelihood of a flat and a tire-related accident.