Change a Flat with Car Talk

Car Talk

#1: Find your jack and try it out.

Why? Because when the time comes to change your tire, you can bet your steel-belted radials you'll find yourself on a lonely stretch of highway, in the middle of the night... with a raging blizzard in progress. (Did we mention the hungry wolves?)

Wouldn't you rather have a little familiarity with all the tools you'll need to change a tire and know where they're located - before you find yourself in that situation?


#2: So, you've got a flat. Don't worry about your tire. Get to a safe location.

Get off the road as soon as it's safe to do so. Since some states allow driving in the breakdown lane, you need to get entirely off the roadway - including the breakdown lane. Even with a flat tire, you can drive about 20 mph and still be able to keep your car under control.

You can drive several hundred yards before you irreparably destroy the tire. The tire acts as a cushion, protecting the rim - so you can drive a lot farther before your ruin the rim, though your tire may no longer be any good.

#3: There are some times when you just shouldn't change a tire.

Time #1: When you can't get safely off the road - and we don't mean just getting into the breakdown lane. Don't believe us? Try jacking up one corner of your car, and see what it's like when a sewage tanker whizzes by at 80 mph. The draft alone will give you a wedgie and toss your car around. That's a lousy time to be crouching next to it.

Time #2: When driving in the breakdown lane is allowed, which it is - in some of the more moronic states in our nation. (Why is this moronic? Because it's the breakdown lane.)

Time #3: Any other time it doesn't feel safe to you, for any reason.


#4: If you're not up for it, why bother?

Know whether you're the kind of person who's willing to try changing a tire. If you're not, consider changing your tires to the new, run-flat design. Run-flat tires are available in a number of sizes, but not all.

If you'd rather not deal with the hassle of changing a tire and don't have run-flat tires, just grab the nearest cell phone and have your travel club card ready!

#5: "Low-aspect-ratio" wheels are more prone to damage than regular wheels.

A number of sportier, high-end cars are now coming with low-aspect-ratio wheels. (The aspect is the ratio of the tire wall height to the width of the tire.)

Here's the catch: They're also very prone to damage from potholes, curbs and other roadside hazards. To make matters worse, many low-aspect-ratio wheels are also aluminum. So what? Well, that could involve several boat payments! Speaking of which...


#6: Got aluminum alloy wheels? Start saving for a boat payment.

Aluminum alloy wheels look great, but they often cost two to four times the price of traditional, steel wheels - and sometimes even more.

So, if you're looking to minimize the bad news if you do get a flat, we'd recommend sticking with conventional, steel rims. That way, in addition to that flat tire you're staring at, you won't also have a tire guy tapping your shoulder asking for a quick boat payment.

#7: Ask your shop to please not overtighten your nuts.

Who cares? Well, when the time comes for you to remove the lug nuts... you may not be able to. (No kidding - it's possible to make them that tight.) Of course, too tight is better than too loose. But just right is best.

Ask your shop to be careful when they're changing or rotating your tires. Some shops use a "torque stick" to stop themselves from overly tightening the lug nuts.


#8: Don't bother with a full-sized spare.

Unless you regularly drive through Death Valley or down the Alcan highway, we don't think it's worth lugging around a full-sized spare. Space saver spares are convenient, stow easily and are significantly lighter. Over many years of driving, they'll save you a fair bit of cash on gas. They're usually good for fifty miles or so, enough to get you to a gas station in most civilized parts of the country.

#9: Consider replacing the lug wrench that came with your car.

We've seen a number of lug wrenches that are, in our humble opinion, complete junk. Get the right sized socket for your wheel's nuts. For foreign cars, and some domestics too, it'll be a metric wrench. While you're there, buy a nice two-foot breaker bar, which will give you a lot of leverage to loosen those overtightened nuts.


#10: Do everyone a favor and skip the wheel locks.

Car dealers love selling wheel locks, which protect against the theft of expensive alloy wheels. They require a specially patterned socket to remove which, by the way, is very easy to lose. (Many of them have been lost right at our shop!)

It's impossible to remove the wheel nuts on a wheel with locks when you're using a regular lug wrench. It's also very easy to strip the specially patterned wheel lock.

Besides, you're just as likely to ruin the fancy wheels by hitting a pot hole or a curb, or when you get a flat tire and drive on the rims. Then you'll have a ruined wheel AND you won't be able to get it off.

#11: Fix-A-Flat is not a permanent solution.

A can of Fix-A-Flat is a great temporary solution for a flat tire. How does Fix-A-Flat work? It injects a compound that temporarily seals your tire's leak. At the same time, it reinflates the tire. Fix-A-Flat will only work on tires that still have some amount of air pressure in them, and whose bead has not separated from the wheel.

Fix-A-Flat is most definitely not a permanent solution, however, and you'll still need to drive right to a garage.


#12: Run-flat tires work.

Run-flat tires are designed to do just that. They allow you to drive your car safely for many hundreds of miles after your tire has lost air pressure. They're a great choice if you live in fear of dealing with a flat.

How do run-flat tires work? They have a much stiffer sidewall than conventional tires, and as a result they won't collapse when they lose their air pressure. There is a price to pay, however: run-flats are about 60% more expensive than a regular tire and provide a stiffer ride.

Another benefit to run-flat tires is that there's no spare tire in your car - which will improve your gas mileage, and leave extra room for smuggling biscotti and cannoli over state borders.