How Far Can You Drive on A Flat Tire? On the Brink

flat tire

I’ve seen my fair share of flat tires and the havoc they can wreak on a vehicle. It’s a common scenario that can turn a routine drive into a stressful ordeal.

The question of how far you can drive on a flat tire is one that comes with many caveats, and the answer is not as straightforward as one might hope. In this blog post, I’ll share insights from my experience and provide you with a comprehensive guide on what to do when you find yourself driving on a flat tire.

The Immediate Aftermath of a Flat Tire

How to change tire of Honda Civic

The moment you realize your tire is flat, a clock starts ticking. From personal experience, I can tell you that the distance you can cover on a flat tire is not just about mileage—it’s about understanding the risks and knowing how to minimize damage to your vehicle.

  • Assess the Situation: If your tire goes flat while driving, you’ll feel a sudden change in handling. The car may pull to one side, and you’ll hear the dreaded flapping sound of the deflated tire.
  • Safety First: Your first priority should be to get to a safe location. If you’re on a busy road, signal, and move to the shoulder as carefully as possible.

Immediate Actions to Take

Once you’re safely parked, it’s time to consider your options. Driving on a flat tire is not advisable, but sometimes it’s necessary to move to a safer location or to get out of traffic.

  • Short Distances: If you must drive, keep it under 50 miles, as that’s the maximum distance most experts agree on before significant damage occurs.
  • Speed Matters: Maintain a slow speed. High speeds increase the risk of further damaging the tire, wheel, and vehicle.

The moment you realize your tire is flat, a clock starts ticking. From personal experience, I can tell you that the distance you can cover on a flat tire is not just about mileage—it’s about understanding the risks and knowing how to minimize damage to your vehicle. For those unexpected moments when you’re faced with a puncture, knowing the proper steps to fix a flat tire swiftly can save you from a heap of trouble. Assess the Situation: If your tire goes flat while driving, you’ll feel a sudden change in handling. The car may pull to one side, and you’ll hear the dreaded flapping sound of the deflated tire.

Not Recommended Driving On A Flat Tire

In my days turning wrenches, I’d often caution against driving on a flat tire. It’s a risky endeavor that can have some serious repercussions for your vehicle’s health and your wallet.

While a flat tire can stop you in your tracks, it’s not the only silent adversary your car might face; even when parked, your battery can fall victim to silent energy thieves.

Damage to the Wheel

Damage to the Wheel

  • Rim Damage: If you drive on a flat, the rim will bear the brunt of the road’s harshness, leading to potential warping or cracking. Replacing a rim can cost anywhere from $100 to over $500 depending on your vehicle’s make and model.
  • Tire Damage: A flat tire that’s driven on is often beyond repair, necessitating a replacement which can range from $50 to $200 for standard vehicles, and much more for high-end or specialty tires.

Loss of Vehicle Control

  • Handling Issues: With a flat tire, your car’s handling takes a nosedive. This can lead to dangerous situations, especially at higher speeds where control is paramount.

The Cost of Ignoring Advice

When you decide to drive on a flat tire, you’re not just risking further damage to the tire and wheel—you’re potentially looking at a cascade of mechanical woes.

Potential for Higher Repair Bills

  • Suspension Damage: The suspension system, designed to absorb shocks, can be compromised when driving on a flat tire. Repairs can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
  • Brake Damage: If the flat tire is left unchecked, it can lead to uneven wear or damage to the brakes. Brake repairs can vary widely, from $150 for basic repairs to $700 or more for extensive work.
  • Alignment Issues: Driving on a flat tire can throw off your car’s alignment, leading to uneven tire wear and poor handling. A standard wheel alignment can cost between $75 and $200.

Safety Costs

  • Accidents: The ultimate cost could come in the form of an accident, which can have both financial and, more importantly, personal health implications.
  • Insurance Premiums: Even if you’re unharmed, your insurance premiums could rise after an accident, costing you more in the long run.

How Long Can I Drive on a Spare Tire?

In my years of service, I’ve always stressed the importance of a good spare tire. A spare, whether it’s a full-size match or a temporary “donut,” is designed to get you to a repair shop, not for extended travel.

  • Limitations of a Donut Spare: These tires are typically rated for speeds of no more than 50 mph and are recommended for distances under 70 miles.
  • Full-Size Spare: If you have a full-size spare, you’re in better shape, but it’s still a temporary solution until you can get the original tire repaired or replaced.

Personal Experience with Spare Tires

I’ve seen many drivers breathe a sigh of relief when they find their spare tire in the trunk. However, it’s crucial to remember that this is a stopgap.

  • Check Your Spare Regularly: Make sure it’s properly inflated and in good condition. There’s nothing worse than discovering your spare is flat too.
  • Know Your Vehicle: Some vehicles handle differently with a spare tire, especially if it’s not a full-size replacement.

How to Replace a Flat Tire

Replacing a flat tire is a skill every driver should possess. It’s not just about saving money on a tow truck; it’s about being self-reliant in an emergency.

  • Safety Precautions: Always make sure you’re in a safe location away from traffic before attempting to change a tire.
  • Proper Equipment: Ensure you have all the necessary tools: a jack, lug wrench, and of course, the spare tire.

Step-by-Step Guide to Replace

Changing a flat tire is a fundamental skill that can save you from being stranded. Here’s a detailed guide based on my years of experience in the field:

Before You Begin

  • Safety First: Ensure your vehicle is parked on a flat, stable surface away from traffic. Turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers.
  • Handbrake: Engage the handbrake to prevent the vehicle from rolling.
  • Wheel Wedges: Place wheel wedges behind or in front of the tires to further ensure the vehicle doesn’t roll.

Step 1: Loosening Lug Nuts

  • Lug Wrench: Take the lug wrench and fit it onto a lug nut.
  • Turn Counterclockwise: Apply firm pressure on the wrench in a counterclockwise direction. You may need to use your foot or all your body weight.
  • Loosen Slightly: Loosen the lug nuts about ¼ to ½ of a turn, but do not remove them completely.

Step 2: Lifting the Vehicle

  • Find the Jack Point: Locate the jack point under your vehicle; this is usually a reinforced area near the tire that’s flat.
  • Position the Jack: Place the jack under the jack point and ensure it’s properly seated.
  • Raise the Vehicle: Pump or crank the jack to lift the vehicle until the flat tire is about six inches off the ground.

Step 3: Removing the Lug Nuts and Tire

Remove Lug Nuts and Tire

  • Remove Lug Nuts: Now that the car is lifted, finish removing the lug nuts. Keep them in a safe place—you’ll need them to secure the spare tire.
  • Remove the Tire: Grip the tire by the treads and gently pull it toward you until it’s free from the hub. Set it aside, lying flat to prevent it from rolling away.

Step 4: Mounting the Spare Tire

Spare tire Mounting

  • Align the Spare: Lift the spare tire and align it with the wheel bolts.
  • Secure the Tire: Place the spare on the hub by lining up the rim with the lug bolts. Push gently until the lug bolts show through the rim.
  • Tighten Lug Nuts by Hand: Put the lug nuts back on the lug bolts and tighten them all the way by hand.

Step 5: Lowering the Vehicle and Tightening Lug Nuts

Tighten Lug Nuts

  • Lower the Vehicle: Use the jack to lower the vehicle so that the spare tire is just touching the ground but not bearing the full weight of the car.
  • Tighten Lug Nuts: With the tire on the ground, use the lug wrench to tighten the nuts as much as possible in a star pattern to ensure even pressure.

Step 6: Lowering the Vehicle Completely

Lowering Vehicle

  • Fully Lower the Vehicle: Bring the car all the way down and remove the jack.
  • Final Tightening: Give the lug nuts a final tighten with the wrench to ensure they’re as tight as possible.

Step 7: Stowing Equipment and Checking Pressure

  • Stow Your Tools: Put all your tools and the flat tire back in your vehicle.
  • Check Tire Pressure: If possible, check the pressure of the spare tire to ensure it’s safe to drive on.

Step 8: Visit a Mechanic

Repair Flat Tire

  • Professional Inspection: As soon as possible, visit a mechanic to have the spare tire checked and to replace or repair the flat tire.

Personal Tips

From my experience, here are a few additional tips:

  • Keep a Mat in Your Trunk: It makes the process cleaner and more comfortable if you need to kneel on the ground.
  • Practice at Home: Familiarize yourself with the process in a controlled environment, so you’re prepared when it happens on the road.

How Can I Prevent it?

Tire Pressure

Preventing a flat tire starts with regular maintenance. Here are some bullet points to keep in mind:

  • Tire Pressure: Check it monthly. Proper inflation is crucial for tire longevity and safety.
  • Visual Inspections: Look for signs of wear, cracks, or objects that may have punctured the tire.

Weight and Rotation

Understanding your vehicle’s limits and maintaining tire health can prevent many flat tire scenarios.

  • Vehicle Load: Don’t exceed your vehicle’s weight capacity, as this can put undue stress on your tires.
  • Tire Rotation: This helps tires wear evenly, extending their life and preventing flats.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I repair a tire that has been driven on while flat?

It’s unlikely. Driving on a flat tire usually damages it beyond repair, but a professional can provide a definitive answer.

How do I know if my rim is damaged after driving on a flat tire?

Look for visible signs of bending, cracks, or scrapes on the metal. Any damage may require a replacement.

Is it safe to install the spare tire myself?

Yes, if you follow the proper steps and take safety precautions, you can install the spare tire yourself.

How often should I check my spare tire’s condition?

It’s a good practice to check your spare tire’s condition and pressure every time you perform regular maintenance on your vehicle.

Can driving on a flat tire once cause permanent damage to my vehicle?

Even a short distance can cause damage to the wheel, brakes, and suspension, so it’s best to avoid it if possible.

What should I do if I don’t feel confident changing a tire?

If you’re unsure, it’s safest to call for roadside assistance or a tow service.

Will my fuel efficiency be affected after driving on a flat tire?

Driving on a flat tire won’t affect future fuel efficiency once it’s replaced, but it’s less efficient during the incident.


Driving on a flat tire is a risk, and while there are guidelines for how far you can go, the real answer is: not far. The potential for damage to your vehicle and the risk to your safety should make you think twice about driving on a flat. Always aim to replace the tire as soon as possible, and remember, regular maintenance can prevent many of these situations from occurring in the first place. Stay safe, and keep those tires in check!

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