A flat tire is one of the most common issues that can leave drivers stranded on the road. When a tire goes flat, your first reaction may be to want to immediately drive to the nearest service station. But is it safe to drive on a flat tire, and if so, how far can you reasonably drive?
This article provides a comprehensive guide on what to do when you get a flat, how far you can drive, tips for driving on a flat, and how to prevent flats in the future.
1. Only drive 1-2 miles max on a completely flat tire. Up to 5 miles is possible on a mostly flat tire and 10 miles on a half flat.
2. Driving further than 50 miles on a flat risks damaging the wheel along with other components. Slow speeds under 50mph are safest.
3. A spare tire allows you to resume normal driving temporarily. Compact spares permit 50-70 miles typically before replacement.
4. Temporary fixes like plugs, sealants and refilling with air can get you to a shop but have limitations.
5. Prevent flats by checking pressures often, rotating tires, avoiding hazards, and servicing suspension/alignments.
How Long Can You Drive on a Flat Tire?
Most experts recommend driving no more than 50 miles on a flat tire, at a maximum speed of 50mph. The actual distance depends on several factors:
- Type of Tire – Performance tires have less durability compared to all-season or all-terrain tires when driving on a flat.
- Tire Position – Front tires typically fail faster than rear tires if driven on when flat.
- Road Conditions – Driving on a flat is more stressful on rough roads versus smooth highways.
- Vehicle Weight – Heavier vehicles put more strain on a flat tire.
- Driving Speed – The faster you drive, the quicker a flat tire will fail.
However, even at 50 miles, a flat tire risks further damaging the wheel the longer you drive on it. Most experts recommend driving less than 10 miles on a flat when possible.
Can You Drive on a Flat Tire Long Distances?
It is never advisable to drive long distances of 100 miles or more on a flat tire. Though possible, it risks irreparable wheel damage and dangerous handling issues. The excessive heat generated from driving long distances on a flat can cause the steel belts in the tread to break apart.
What’s the Limit for Driving on a Flat?
Here are some general guidelines on driving limits for a flat tire:
- Completely flat (no air) – Avoid driving more than 1-2 miles if possible
- Mostly flat (25% air left) – Drive no more than 5 miles
- Half flat (50% air left) – Drive no more than 10 miles
- Low tire (75% air left) – Drive fewer than 20 miles
Keep in mind these distances are maximums in ideal conditions. You should still have the tire repaired or replaced as soon as possible.
Dangers of Driving on a Flat Tire
There are significant risks associated with driving any distance on a deflated tire:
- Blowout – Additional stress on an already damaged tire increases the chance of blowout, especially at highway speeds.
- Wheel Damage – Riding on a flat tire can warp, crack, or bend the wheel the longer you drive.
- Vehicle Control Issues – Flat tires reduce traction, braking performance, and handling.
- Secondary Damage – Driving on a flat can damage other components like bearings, shocks, suspension parts.
- Injury & Accidents – Flat tires increase the risk of crashes, breakdowns, and stranded vehicles.
Overall, you compromise your safety and that of passengers whenever you drive a vehicle with one or more flat tires. Changing the flat for a spare or calling roadside assistance is always the safest option if available.
Is it OK to Drive on a Flat Tire Slowly?
Driving slowly on a flat tire reduces some of the risks, but does not make it entirely safe. At speeds under 50mph, you have better control and put less dynamic stress on the wheel. However, you still risk damaging components the longer you drive.
If you must drive short distances on a flat, follow these tips:
- Keep speeds under 50mph
- Drive on the flattest, smoothest roads possible
- Accelerate, brake, and turn gently to avoid wheel stress
- Pull over immediately if abnormal noises or vibrations occur
- Inflate tire if low air pressure is cause of flat
The bottom line is you should have a professional inspect the tire and wheel for damage before resuming normal driving, even if you went slow. Slow driving on a flat buys you some time and distance, but does not eliminate the risks entirely.
How to Drive on a Flat Tire Safely
While the only way to drive fully safely on a flat is to not drive on one at all, you can minimize risks if you have no choice but to drive short distances:
Reduce your speed to well below the posted speed limits, around 30-40mph on straight roads. Go even slower around turns, over railroad tracks, speed bumps or potholes. The goal is keeping stress on the flat tire to a minimum.
Avoid Sudden Movements
Drive smoothly, avoiding hard braking, acceleration, and steering inputs. Pretend there is a cup of coffee on your dashboard that you don’t want to spill. Gentle driving preserves the flat tire and wheel.
Focus on Control
Keep both hands on the wheel and give driving your full attention. Turn off any music or distractions in the vehicle. Having total control and awareness reduces the chance of an accident if the tire gives out.
Pull Over if Needed
If you hear odd noises or feel pronounced vibrations, carefully pull over and inspect the vehicle before proceeding. Any signs of damage or deterioration mean you should call for help rather than continue driving.
Inflate Low Tire
If you have a tire pressure gauge and portable inflator or spare can of sealant, use them to partially reinflate a low but not fully flat tire. This may provide enough air to limp to a service station for a proper repair.
How Far Can You Drive on a Spare Tire?
A spare tire is the ideal replacement for a flat since it allows you to resume driving safely. Most compact temporary spares allow driving 50-70 miles on passenger vehicles. Follow the guidelines for your vehicle regarding using a spare on which wheels and any speed restrictions.
The main limitation with compact spare tires is they are not rated for sustained highway speeds or hauling/towing heavy loads. Maintain speeds under 50mph when possible and avoid driving long distances until you can have a full-sized tire put back on the vehicle.
Some SUVs and trucks have a full-sized spare that lets you drive as you normally would. If in doubt, check your owner’s manual for spare tire instructions specific to your vehicle.
Tips for Driving on a Spare Tire
When driving on a spare tire:
- Follow any speed limits and distance restrictions in your manual
- Avoid heavily loading the vehicle
- Drive carefully to prevent damage to the spare
- Replace with a full-sized tire as soon as possible
- Check spare tire air pressure periodically
Take it easy on a spare and have the regular tire repaired or replaced promptly for safety. Never drive on a spare that shows signs of damage or wear.
How to Change a Flat Tire
Being able to change a flat yourself gets you back on the road quickly and safely. Follow these steps:
1. Position Vehicle Properly
Pull over on level, solid ground completely off the road, and turn on hazard lights. For added safety, position wheels so if the car rolls, it heads away from traffic.
2. Secure Vehicle
Engage the parking brake and put the transmission in park (auto) or first gear (manual). Use wheel chocks if available, and place a wedge in front of and behind the tire diagonal from the flat.
3. Loosen Lug Nuts
Use the lug wrench to slightly loosen the nuts on the flat wheel before jacking up the car. Don’t remove them fully yet.
4. Position Jack
Place the jack under a proper jacking point on the frame or pinch weld per your manual. Never jack just from the bumper or suspension parts.
5. Jack up Vehicle
Use the jack to raise the tire fully off the ground. Go slowly and make sure the vehicle is stable.
6. Remove Lug Nuts & Tire
Finish unscrewing the lug nuts and pull the wheel off. Avoid laying it flat, which can damage the flat tire further.
7. Mount Spare Tire
Put the spare tire on the lug bolts, placing the valves stem facing outwards. Hand tighten lug nuts in a star pattern.
8. Lower Vehicle
Slowly crank the jack to lower the vehicle onto the spare until it’s just touching the ground.
9. Tighten Lug Nuts
Use the lug wrench to tighten the lug nuts in a star pattern, typically around 90-120 ft-lbs torque.
10. Stow Flat Tire Properly
Store the flat tire, tools, and jack properly in the vehicle. Have the flat tire repaired or replaced as soon as you can.
11. Maintain Spare Tire
Check the spare’s air pressure at least monthly to keep it properly inflated in case of another flat tire emergency.
Practice changing a tire beforehand so you can do it with confidence roadside. While getting a flat is never convenient, knowing what to do helps get you back on the road quickly.
How to Temporarily Fix a Flat Tire
If you get a flat tire while out on the road, you have a few options for quick fixes to get you to a tire shop for a proper repair. While these are temporary solutions, they can get you back up and running to avoid being stranded.
Use an Aerosol Sealant
One of the easiest emergency fixes is to inject a special aerosol tire sealant, such as Fix-A-Flat, through the tire’s valve stem. These sealants contain latex or rubber particles that can plug small puncture holes up to 1/4″ in diameter caused by nails, screws, or similar objects. The sealant coats the inside of the tire and fills the puncture, allowing you to reinflate the tire and drive up to a few hundred miles.
Always follow the directions for proper application. After using a sealant, you still need to get the tire fully repaired or replaced since sealants are only a temporary fix. Driving long distances or at high speeds with just sealant can risk a failure. Replace the sealant every few years if not used, as it can dry out over time.
Plug the Puncture
Tire plug kits are another popular emergency fix and more permanent than sealants. They involve inserting a rubber plug into the puncture from the outside of the tread using a special tool. Plugs work well for punctures from nails, screws, thorns, or other objects embedded in the tire.
The plug seals the hole and lets you reinflate the tire to resume driving. Plug kits are inexpensive and easy to use roadside. However, you still need to get the tire properly patched from the inside, as plugs alone are not considered a permanent repair. Avoid plugging the tire sidewall, only the tread.
Inflate with Air
If you have a slow air leak or low tire pressure, adding more air may allow you to drive a short distance to get it fixed. You can use a portable inflator, a tire repair shop’s air compressor, or even a can of fix-a-flat liquid sealant to reinflate a low tire in a pinch. This lets you limp the short distance to a tire shop safely.
Monitor the pressure closely and be prepared to add more air as needed if it’s a slow leak. Refilling the tire avoids having to change to a spare but is still only temporary until you can get the puncture fully sealed. Don’t exceed the maximum pressure listed on the tire sidewall.
Use the Spare
The safest and often easiest temporary fix for a flat tire is to put on your spare tire, if equipped. This allows you to resume driving normally without the risks of driving on a flat or partially inflated tire. Just be sure to follow the guidelines in your owner’s manual for use of the spare, including maximum speeds and mileage limits.
Having a spare ready in good shape is a great way to avoid being stranded by a flat. Just be sure to have the flat tire properly repaired so you have a spare again in case of another flat down the road.
The bottom line is all temporary fixes come with restrictions on how far and fast you can drive. Get the flat tire fully inspected and repaired as soon as you can. Avoid any DIY permanent fixes.
FAQs: Driving on a Flat Tire
How far can you drive on a completely flat tire?
No more than 2 miles is recommended on a completely flat tire with no air pressure. The tire can overheat or fail catastrophically at highway speeds.
Should you drive with a nail in your tire?
No, you should not drive any further with a nail or other object embedded in the tire. The puncture needs to be plugged from the inside by a tire shop to prevent air leakage and internal damage.
Is it safe to drive with a slow leak?
A very slow leak or low tire may be driven short distances of under 20 miles provided you monitor pressures and refill air as needed. The tire should still be inspected ASAP for repairs.
Can you damage rims by driving on a flat tire?
Yes, wheel rims can become bent, cracked, or warped from driving any significant distance on a completely flat tire. Even driving short distances risks cosmetic scrapes or gouges to the wheel.
How do you fix a flat tire on the side of the road?
The best temporary fix is changing to your spare tire if you have one. Other options are reinflating with an aerosol sealant or air compressor, or plugging the puncture long enough to reach a tire shop.
How far can you drive on a donut spare tire?
Small donut spares should not be driven more than 50-70 miles before replacing with a full-sized tire. Maintain speeds under 50mph and avoid towing or heavy loads on compact spares.
Preventing Flat Tires
While flats sometimes can’t be avoided, you can take actions to reduce the chances:
- Check tire pressures monthly – Keep tires inflated to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended pressures.
- Rotate tires regularly – Rotating every 6,000-8,000 miles promotes even wear.
- Inspect tires periodically – Look for cuts, bulges, knots, and irregular wear that indicate a tire may need replacing.
- Align wheels properly – Improper alignment can cause accelerated tire wear and make them more prone to flats.
- Balance tires – Balancing reduces vibration that can damage wheels and tires over time.
- Don’t overload vehicle – Overloading causes excessive tire stress and heat that degrades them faster.
- Avoid potholes/curbs – Hitting potholes, curbs and other objects can damage tires and wheels. Slow down and steer clear of hazards in the road.
Routine tire maintenance combined with safe driving habits significantly reduces your chances of getting a flat tire. But even if you take all precautions, flats happen occasionally. Knowing what to do keeps you safe in a tire emergency.