There is nothing like coming out of your house or your work and you’re getting ready to leave and you notice there is a slight tilt to your vehicle. “ What is this?” you ask yourself, so you get out and find a horrible scenario…you have a flat tire.
What do you do now?
Well, this has happened to me…at least twice since I have been living in Florida. Each time I picked up a nail and within a few hours had a flat tire! I drive a pickup truck, which amazingly still comes with a spare tire. So in my case, I was able to replace my poor flat tire and get back on the road.
PLEASE READ: What to Do When You Have A Flat Tire for a complete guide on what to do if you indeed get a flat tire.
But what do you do if you don’t have a spare tire?!?
Many newer cars have no spare is included! Or perhaps you haven’t maintained your spare tire and it too is flat and /or is dry rotted and not fit for road use…
If you are facing this situation and your spare is unfit for use, you will need to call someone to fix your tire. Or call a tow truck and have your car brought to a tire repair shop near your location. Don’t try to drive on the flat, you will just ruin the tire and most likely the rim as well. It’s cheaper to have your car towed than to replace a rim on most vehicles.
So now you’re thinking “Great, what do I do now?”…
Don’t fret…there is still hope and other options
Before you attempt the following suggestions, please keep in mind a couple of things:
- Make sure you are in a safe place. The side of the road can be very dangerous, especially at night, you will have bigger problems than a flat tire if you get hit by a car. Also, consider the neighborhood you are in. Use a little common sense and be aware of your surroundings. If you don’t feel safe, call someone.
- If you decide to proceed…Make sure you are on level ground. Trying to take your tire your tire off while on an incline (even a small one) will not result in good things.
When you believe you are all set you can proceed with the repair method of your choice…
Have a Donut or Temporary Spare Tire? Check out our FAQ article on compact spare tires, for more information.
The Tire Repair Kit
Newer vehicles come with a tire repair kit. If you are at your home or office now is the perfect time to become familiar with the contents of the repair kit. Most of them come with
- Some sort of tire sealant (think Fix-a-Flat)
- Small Air Compressor to re-inflate the tire
These units are fairly straight forward and easy to use. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended method to fix the tire. But in most cases following the process below will get you up and running again.
- You want to check the tire for the puncture and using a pair of pliers remove the offending item (nail, screw, etc.) if it’s necessary. You may not have a puncture. A bad valve stem will cause a tire to go flat, too.
- If you are in a position to do so, soapy water will help you find where the leak is. Mixing dish soap in water and rubbing the soapy water over the surface of the tire will expose the air leak. It’s like your tire is blowing bubbles! Above the leak, you will see a concentration of bubble and voila you have found where the air is escaping.
- If it is at all possible get the valve stem to the top of the tire rotation. The valve stem is the rubber apparatus that is protruding from the rim. This is how you get air or sealant back into your tire. Having it at the top allows the sealant to flow down and evenly cover the interior surface area of the tire…
- Remove the valve stem cap, attach the sealant tube to the valve stem and inject the sealant into the tire. Discharge the contents of the can into the tire. At this point you will see your tire start to inflate a little, this is good.
- Next, drive the car back and forth to spread the sealant around the inside of the tire.
- Finally, get to an air source. If your tire repair kit comes with a small compressor now is the time to use it. If not, get to a gas station or a tire repair shop and have them fill the tire to the recommended amount.
- Don’t forget to replace the cap to the valve stem and you should be golden…temporarily.
This method is fantastic is you are away from home and you have a flat. It’s quick, fairly easy and it will get you up and running again.
Bear in mind, that this is a temporary solution, meant to last only two or three days tops. The purpose of this is to get you someplace to have the tire properly repaired.
As I mentioned, you will want to follow the instructions that are on the manufacturer specifies; these are just general steps that are common for using a tire repair kit.
Using the Tire Puncture Kit
This is a little more advanced method of repairing your tires and not something I would recommend if you don’t have any experience with tire repair; because you can make it worse. I have done this a few times from the comfort of my home and in my garage.
So if you are on the road somewhere, you probably don’t have a tire plug kit with you, ( I don’t carry one when I travel), so this may not be the ideal method of repairing your tire, but I will give you a quick list of the steps involved…if you are the adventurous type.
- Loosen the lug nuts on your car
- Using a jack, find the proper lift point on your vehicle and jack the car up.
- Finish removing the lug nuts so you can remove the tire.
- Remove the item that has punctured your tire.
- ‘Clean’ the puncture with the rasp tool supplied by your plug kit. This is done by inserting the tool in-and-out of the puncture hole.
- Take the tire plug (it looks like a piece of beef jerky) and insert it through the insertion tool. ( This is the tool with the “T” shaped handle). Also, most tire plug kits come with rubber cement or something similar. Apply this to the plug before you push it through the puncture hole. This will lubricate the plug and also provide a better seal.
- Insert the plug until about half of it is sticking out of the puncture hole in the tire. It’s going to take some work to push it through the hole. I have had to stand over the tire and push down very hard on the insertion tool to make the plug go through. Just be careful that you don’t push it all the way through the hole. That won’t do anything to help you out.
- Cut the remaining ends of the plug off with a utility knife. (Before you cut, if you applied any adhesive, let it dry for a minute or two).
- Finally, re-inflate the tire to recommended P.S.I. (pounds per square inch).
Use the soapy water trick mentioned above to check to make sure there is no air leaking from your new seal.
If all looks good, you can reinstall the tire and lower the car.
While this method is more solid than using the tire repair kit, it is not a permanent solution. I usually take my car (that I can now drive) to the tire repair shop and have them professionally plug the hole from the inside.
So like I said, this method is more involved than the tire repair kit, but also involves a lot more work. I would do (and have done) this kind of repair close to home. It is not ideal in an emergency situation.
Oh yes, a side note. A tire repair kit and a tire puncture kit cannot be used on the sidewall of the tire. If you rip the sidewall or have a puncture in the side of the tire, you are done. The tire is compromised and you will need to replace the tire immediately.
I know there is a great debate on whether or not to use Fix-a-flat. However, if you are stranded on the side of the road, then using a can of fix a flat may be a good option.
Using a can of fix-a-flat to seal a small hole is easy and only takes a few minutes. The instructions are on the side of the can. As I said using a can of Fix-A-Flat is easy and can be basically summed up in five steps:
- Basically using Fix-A-Flat comes down to three steps:
- Shake the can of Fix-a-flat vigorously
- Unscrew the valve stem cap
- Place the applicator nozzle on top of the valve stem
- Push the button on the can of Fix-A-Flat; empty the contents of the can
- Get to a gas station and fill your tires to the proper pressure
Of course, read the directions and take all proper safety precautions. Fix-A-Flat will not seal every hole you get in your tires. But if it works you will be happy that you have a can and can get going again. One last thing. Fix-A-Flat is not a permanent solution. You still need to get the tire properly serviced at a mechanic.
What are some other options?
Perhaps you are not really interested in doing automotive patchwork yourself…it’s not for everyone. There are other alternatives. These do require some pre-planning and may cost a bit more than the tire repair kit and the tire puncture kit.
What are run-flat tires? They are just as their name sounds they are designed to run at a reduced speed for a limited time. They are designed to support the weight of the car after the tire has been punctured, this will enable you to avoid making an emergency stop on the side of the highway.
Obviously, this needs to be addressed beforehand. If you are buying a brand new car you may be able to upgrade to run-flat tires at the dealership. Or you can buy them aftermarket from most tire shops.
So if you want peace of mind when you are going on a trip, or you just have a long commute in the morning, or you are not comfortable with changing your own tire. This may be an option for you.
Run-flat tires are usually more expensive than your standard tire, but what is the price of your peace of mind?
While I do not use run-flat tires, they are a good option for someone who doesn’t think they can do the automotive repair.
There are pros and cons to everything. So do your research before you go out and invest in a new set of tires.
Roadside Service or your Car Insurance Company
Finally, one of the last options that you have is a roadside service plan, like Triple-A, or your insurance company. They will provide you with emergency roadside assistance, provided you pay for it, of course. When we were traveling we had a subscription for AAA. For the cost, it was a comfort to have it. Besides, you received discounts on certain hotels and such.
What to do??
Well, there you have it. A few options to fix a flat tire without a spare. The days of a new car coming with a full-size spare or a donut spare are by and large over. In an effort to reduce the weight of vehicles and increase fuel efficiency manufacturers have eliminated the spare tire. These vehicles now carry the tire repair kits in place of the spare.
If you have a new vehicle that comes equipped with a tire repair kit, familiarize yourself with the contents of the package and the directions. This way if you happen to get a flat when you are away from home, at least you will be familiar with the product and you may be able to take care of yourself.
Regardless of which method you choose, please remember that it is only temporary. Especially if you choose the tire repair kit. The do-it-yourself methods described above are meant to get you to a location that can properly repair your tire.
Safe travels everyone…