Owners Tips

Experts Answer Your Most Common Questions About Getting a Flat Tire

The other day, I couldn’t figure out how to work a feature on a car I was test driving so I whipped out my phone and Googled it with no thought of touching the owner’s manual sitting right next to me in the glovebox.

It’s 2022, and this makes me a totally normal human being. We’re used to Googling for answers big and small, especially when it comes to cars.

Below, we’ll answer the your most Googled questions about flat tires: Where they come from, what to expect, how to deal with them, and plenty more.

Can I leave a flat tire overnight?

Yes, but deal with the problem in the morning. Extended periods of sitting on a flat tire can cause further damage, which some experts recommend avoiding by jacking up the car to relieve the weight sitting on the flat tire.

In general, you’ll want to deal with a flat tire as quickly as you can, with as little driving on the flat tire as possible.

How do I tell if my tires are too old?

“There are multiple factors that will let an owner know their tires have reached the end of the life cycle,” says Neil Webster, Manager of OK Tire Dartmouth, N.S.

“The most obvious is tread wear. Vehicle owners should always be aware of tire wear, as this poses a significant risk in the handling and braking capabilities of the vehicle. The best way to measure your tire tread is with the use of a verified tread measuring tool to accurately verify the tread depth,” he says.

“Other symptoms of aging tires are the appearance of cracks in either the tread area or on the sidewall of the tire. This occurrence is known as weather cracking or ozone cracking, an effect caused by the sun. From time to time, air pressures may decrease due to a common occurrence of a leak around the circumference of the wheel otherwise known as a rim leak.” Webster also notes to look out for “issues such as discomfort or vibrations and, of course, the actual age of the tires, which are recommended to last three to four years.”

Can I call 911 for a flat tire?

No, 911 is for emergencies.

If you get a flat tire while driving, check your surroundings, signal, and pull over. You should exit the roadway somewhere safe and park as far away as possible from traffic while leaving room to work around your vehicle.

Put your hazards on then call a friend, a loved one, or your local towing operator or roadside assistance number, but do not call 911.

Can potholes cause flat tires?

Yes, and they’re really good at it, too. Hit a good pothole, and you could blow a tire to kingdom-come, opening its sidewall like a can of soup.

Potholes can cause damage to your tires that may result in a flat immediately or make that tire more vulnerable to suffering a flat later. That’s why it’s important to inspect your tires regularly for signs of damage like lumps, rips, and tears.

Is it bad if my tire has a bubble?

“Bubbles in tires are always bad news,” explains one expert at GM Canada. “These typically result from an impact to the tire that has damaged the internal structure of the tire, most commonly the polyester cords or inner liner. Driving on a tire with a damaged structure is not safe and it should be replaced as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it is not possible to repair this type of damage.”

Are flat tires covered by insurance?

Tires are considered a wear-and-tear item, and insurance doesn’t cover those. If you get a flat tire from driving over a sheet-metal screw or roofing nail, you’re on the hook for the cost to repair or replace it.

Exceptions may apply, though. For instance, if the flat tire was the result of improper installation or workmanship, the tire warranty or installer guarantee has your back.

Some tires include road hazard protection, which helps with replacement costs if a tire is damaged by road hazards and can’t be repaired.

In short, flat tires are not covered by insurance, though they may be covered by other means.

Are flat tires covered under the Toyota warranty?

“Experiencing a flat tire is one of life’s most frustrating inconveniences. Toyota understands this completely and is here to assist,” explains a representative from Toyota Canada.

In short, the tires that come equipped on your new Toyota do have warranty coverage, but it’s through the tire manufacturer. So, what is Toyota able to assist with?

“Every new Toyota vehicle comes with Toyota Roadside Assistance, which is a suite of services available to protect customers in certain situations. An owner may use this service in the event of a flat tire and either have the spare tire installed or have the vehicle transported safely to the nearest Toyota dealer. Once the vehicle arrives at the dealership, trained Toyota experts can then inspect the flat tire and liaise with the appropriate tire manufacturer to determine and provide warranty coverage, all done in-house,” the representative explains.

Remember – flat tires have numerous causes, and your results will vary.

Are flat tires repairable?

That depends on several factors about the cause of the flat itself.

For instance, heavy damage from a pothole strike may split the tire sidewall open, spelling instant, unrepairable tire death. A nail or screw can often be removed and fixed, and certain types of tires are even designed to self-seal small punctures to keep you moving.

To find out if your flat tire is repairable, you’ll need to visit a tire expert.

What are the common causes of flat tires?

“Road hazards are the biggest cause of flat tires,” says Steve Bourassa, Director of Products and Pricing at Nokian Tyres. “Nails, potholes, and other obstacles on the road pose a risk to a tire’s integrity. But drivers also have a role to play. Blowouts are more likely when tires are not inflated to the recommended level. And some manufacturers infuse their tires with materials that make them more puncture-resistant, like Aramid fibres that are also used in bulletproof vests.”

Should all my tires have the same pressure?

“All four tires should typically be inflated to the recommended pressure level, which drivers can find in their owner’s manual and driver’s side wheel well – but there are exceptions to this rule,” explains Bourassa.

“Generally, if tires are inflated to different levels, they’re more likely to wear unevenly and cause suboptimal handling plus increased blowout risk. Tire pressure also falls as temperatures drop, so drivers should check their tires’ inflation more frequently during seasons when weather fluctuates.”

Is it better to repair or replace a flat tire?

“Whenever possible, it is better to repair a tire in order to avoid unnecessary waste,” says Bourassa.

“When performed by a professional, a tire repair can return the tire to its original state. Only tires with a puncture in the middle of the tread area can be repaired and must be done with a plug and patch kit that will be installed from the inside of the tire in order to prevent any moisture from reaching the structural steel belts. Vehicles driving at the highest possible speeds would be the exception and would benefit from replacing a flat tire, as a tire repair could impact vehicle handling and vibration characteristics on the track.”

Which Mercedes have run-flat tires?

I asked a representative from Mercedes-Benz Canada to help readers understand which models are equipped with run-flat tires and which are not.

“Mercedes-Benz is pleased to equip the majority of its product lineup with run-flats, including most Mercedes-Benz vehicles as well Mercedes-AMG entry models (including 35s, 43s and 53s). The higher-level AMGs (45s and 63s) are not equipped with run-flats in order to minimize unsprung weight and maximize driving dynamics (due to the fact that run-flats tend to be heavier). Where space allows in the cargo area, a spare tire will also typically be offered instead of a run-flat (think GLC, GLE, GLS, and G-Class). The only other general exception would be if a customer chooses the top tire size for a particular model, it will most likely be a non-run-flat tire.”

Before purchasing a vehicle, always familiarize yourself with the equipped spare/temporary tire and mobility solution it comes with and how to use it.

Why do I keep getting flat tires?

“The main cause of a flat tire is the age of the tire itself. Indeed, older or worn tires are prone to cracks, which can be hard to spot and can cause slow leaks that will consistently deflate your tire,” says OK Tire’s Neil Webster.

“If that is the case, new tires are urgently needed. Other factors could be a faulty valve system. If a driver has recently changed their tires and is still having tire pressure issues, valve systems might be worth looking into, as tire age should not be a factor here. Be sure to check the valves in a vehicle equipped with tire pressure monitoring as these valves are prone to corrosion,” he says.

“Finally, where you live and drive can have an impact on your tire’s longevity. Potholes and road construction are a major cause of punctures as well as rim and suspension damage.”

What happens when a tire goes flat?

“With modern vehicles equipped with tire monitoring systems, flat tires can be easily detected thanks to a warning light that will appear on the vehicle’s dashboard,” explains Webster.

“However, for older vehicles, there are still some signs owners can look for such as excessive vibrations while driving or a visually deflated tire that does not stay inflated. While one might be tempted to try to limp to a garage with a flat tire to get it fixed, doing so compromises the integrity of the tire and will lead to permanent damage to the vehicle’s tire and rim or even suspension components. Driving on a flat tire also poses a threat to the driver’s safety.”

Why do my tires wear out so fast? What makes tires wear faster?

“Tire wear is faster in warm weather and when the rubber compounds are softer (as in performance or winter tires),” explains an expert from GM Canada.

“Softer compounds normally provide better performance – braking, handling, acceleration – but will wear faster especially under aggressive driving conditions or, for example, if a winter tire is left on a car in the warmer fall and spring weather. Front tires tend to wear faster due to the forces exerted when turning, braking, and, on a front wheel drive car, accelerating.”

How do you know if your tires are good?

“Visually inspect your tires on a weekly or monthly basis checking for bulges, irregular tire wear, proper air pressure or other damage,” says Chris Leslie, Manager of OK Tire in Dartmouth-Portland, N.S.

“A properly inflated tire saves you money. Is the tread still at an acceptable level or are the tires going bald? Can you feel significant vibrations when driving? Are there any cracks on the side of the tire? A good rule of thumb here is that if you are unsure, you should get them checked out by a professional who can make sure you remain safe on the road.”