You’re driving along, just minding your own business when suddenly, something’s wrong.
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Your car starts to bounce and shake. You pull over to the side of the road and get out of the car. Sure enough, one of your tires looks sad and mushy. It’s gone flat.
Sometimes flat tires happen while driving, or sometimes they seem to go flat overnight while the car is just standing around. Whatever the situation, a flat isn’t something any of us want to get stuck with.
So how do we avoid them?
Here’s a quick guide to the common causes of flat tires, how to avoid them and how to insure your wheels and tires against common problems.
Weather and driving conditions
As drivers, it’s always important for us to be aware of the season and the weather, as different conditions require different responses and have real effects on our vehicles.
- Heat increases tire pressure
Heat during the summer months causes air inside your tires to expand, increasing tire pressure. In fact, for every change in temperature of 10 degrees Farenheit, tires gain or lose 1 PSI (pound per square inch).
This is enough to make a significant difference as the season change, or even in the course of a single summer day. Heat can cause tires to become over-inflated, even if they had the correct amount of air when it was cooler. This makes a leak or even sudden blowout more likely.
Over-inflated tires wear out faster and unevenly. The car also brakes and handles less predictably, since less of the tire comes into contact with the road.
You can’t control the weather, but you can avoid trouble by keeping a close eye on your tire pressure. Check it with a tire pressure gauge before you start driving in the morning. It should be around 35 PSI, though this varies from car to car. You can find the recommended pressure for your vehicle in the owner’s manual.
- Flat tires from driving
Rough conditions on the road can also make a tire go flat
Potholes, uneven surfaces, ruts, and especially debris are common culprits. Small sharp objects on the road are not always easily visible while driving, but they can puncture your tire in an instant.
Rain or water on the road can act as a lubricant for small objects to penetrate your tires that maybe wouldn’t have in dry weather, which is why more people report flat tires when it rains.
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Do what you can by always watching the road and driving slowly around potholes and rough spots whenever possible.
And be careful when you pull up next to the curb! Hitting or rubbing against the sidewalk can separate the tire from the rim, causing a slow loss of air over time.
Protect your cars with good maintenance
Proper tire maintenance will help your tires last longer and prevent them going flat.
As mentioned before, correct tire pressure is essential. Never over-inflate your tires, especially in warm weather.
Low tire pressure is also a danger. Under-inflation results in uneven tread wear, as too much of the tire comes in contact with the road.
Check your tire pressure whenever you get gas, and adjust as necessary.
Normal wear and tear takes its toll over time. Tires don’t last forever, so do what you can to preserve yours and replace them when needed.
Rotate your tires regularly. A rule of thumb is to have it done at every other oil change. Rotation allows them to wear evenly, so you don’t end up with excessive wear on one tire that can lead to a flat.
If you go back to the shop where you bought your tires, they will probably rotate the tires for free and inspect them for damages. This shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes if you call to set an appointment in advance.
You should also have your car’s alignment checked regularly, as poor alignment is another cause of uneven wear.
- Do I need new tires?
There’s no simple answer to how long tires last and when you will need to replace them, as it depends so much on the type of tire, driving or storage conditions, and how well you care for them.
The most clear signs you need new tires is if you notice cracks or other signs of wear on the tires, if the tread wear indicator bars become visible, or if the tires fail the penny test.
This is an easy DIY test where you insert a penny into the tread of your tire and see how much of the President’s head is hidden by the tread. If you can see Lincoln’s entire head, the tread has worn down to unsafe levels and it’s time for new tires.
Old tires are more prone to leaks, sudden flats and blowouts: not only inconvenient but potentially dangerous!
Problems with the valve stem inside the tire or the tire bead (the tire’s sealing surface) can cause it to go flat.
If the valve stem gets blocked, dirty or corroded, as can happen when it gets old, it may start to leak air. Replacing the valve stem is a fast, easy job for any local mechanic or tire shop.
The tire bead can also get worn out in older tires. Check it by spraying soapy water on the surface of the tire. If bubbles pop up, you have a bead leak on your hands, which will eventually end in a flat.
What tires do you use?
That spare “donut” tire that you use when a tire goes flat is meant to be temporary, not a replacement for normal tires.
They are skinnier than normal tires, not reinforced and with little tread. The purpose of a temporary tire is just to get you to a garage so you can replace it.
As a rule, you shouldn’t drive more than 70 miles on a spare tire and don’t exceed 50 mph. These tires don’t handle well and are likely to blow out or even cause mechanical damage to your car if overused.
On the other hand, some tires are specially designed to avoid flats. Self-sealing tires contain a special lining that (as the name implies) seals itself when the tire is pierced by something. These tires can hold in their air when normal tires would go flat.
Self-sealing tires are more expensive than standard tires, but they might be worth the investment.
Wheel and tire insurance
When you lease a car, the dealership may offer insurance to protect you in case of a flat or other damage to your tires.
For example, Capital Motor Cars offers a wheel and tire insurance package on new and used vehicles, with coverage up to 5 years and no mileage limitations.
This covers damage from road hazards including glass, potholes, debris or sudden blowouts, and wheel replacement in case of structural damage.
Before you sign your next lease contract, ask for insurance to protect your new car’s wheels, rims and tires.
Flat tires are annoying, inconvenient and time-consuming at best.
At worst, they can be downright dangerous, if the tire goes flat suddenly while you’re driving at speed, or if you end up stranded in the middle of nowhere.
No-one can guarantee that a tire won’t go flat, but you can do a lot to reduce the risk.
Proper maintenance, regular inspection and rotation, proper inflation and replacing the tires as needed will all help your tires get you where you want to go.