Flat Tire Reboot

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Getting a flat tire is less commonplace than it used to be – mainly because tires are built better today than they used to be. But flats still happen – because no matter how well-built a tire may be, it can still be punctured (and lose air) if you run over a roofing nail, or get a dangerous sidewall bulge after you hit a particularly bad pothole.

What has changed is that changing a tire is often not as easy as it used to be.

Here are a few important things to know – and in particular, things not to do – when you find yourself dealing with a flat:

* Be absolutely certain about your jacking point -

Most new cars are unibody cars, meaning the body and frame are welded together during manufacturer as a single assembly. In the past, the vehicle’s frame – the structural part of the car – was pretty obvious. It’s not as obvious in a modern unibody car. If you’re not careful and place the jack under a non-structural part of the car not capable of supporting the car’s weight as you raise the jack, you could end up causing expensive damage to the car.

Most car owner’s manuals will show you with pictures or diagrams exactly where to place the jack; sometimes there is even a cut-out designed specifically to fit the factory jack, so it’s harder to get it wrong. The important thing is to be sure before you start to jack up the car. If you don’t have an owner’s manual for your vehicle, get one.

Know where it’s ok to jack – and where it’s not ok to jack.

* Be extremely cautious when using the (frequently flimsy) factory jacking equipment -

In the past, most cars came with fairly sturdy jacking equipment. This was back when most cars had huge trunks with plenty of extra room – and no one cared about the weight of the car because gas was cheap. But most late-model cars – especially family-type sedans and so on – have much smaller trunks (or cargo areas) so space is at a premium. Also, the car companies are under tremendous pressure to curb the weight of their vehicles to make them as fuel efficient as possible. Result? Many new cars come from the factory with arguably iffy jacking equipment that’s not easy to use and which can be dangerous to use.

It’s a really good idea to familiarize yourself with the equipment you have by doing a “dry run” in your driveway. Not only will you know ahead of time where the equipment is and how it works, you’ll know whether it’s worth buying some better jacking equipment and keeping that in your trunk for just-in-case. A good quality bottle jack (or similar) can be bought for $30 or so at any auto parts store; ditto a decent lug wrench – one with some leverage. Which the factory lug wrench may have a lot less of.

Of course, you may not have any jacking equipment at all – if your car has an inflator kit (or “run-flat” tires). In that case, just be sure everything you need is actually in the car – especially if you bought the car used – and that it’s all in working order.

* Be careful when driving on a donut -

Another thing about late-model cars is the absence of a full-size spare. Instead – for reasons of space and weight-saving – there may be a mini-spare, designed for temporary use only. Those exact words will probably be right there on the tire. Heed those words. Don’t drive fast (usually, more than about 55 mph) and increase your following distance – because the car may need longer to come to a stop in an emergency and may react weirdly in a panic stop situation. Why? You’re – typically – driving on three normal size (width and diameter) wheels and tires – and one (usually) much skinnier one. This unbalances the car and will make it respond differently to your inputs.

If you have a pick-up truck or SUV, you may still have a proper (full-size) spare, in which case, once it’s on, you can resume driving normally. However, be aware – ahead of time – that sometimes they don’t make it easy for you to get at the spare. It might be mounted underneath the vehicle – and you may have to crawl around in the mud to get it down or off. In that case, it’s a good thing to keep an old blanket under the backseat  or someplace like that for just-in-case. Something you can lie on while you work . . . instead of the mud.

Also: It’s a really good idea, if you have a vehicle (like a truck or SUV) with a spare tire that’s mounted underneath the vehicle, to spray down the bolt/nut holding it in place  with a product like WD-40 once or twice a year – so that it won’t rust and freeze in place.

* Loosen the lug nuts before you jack up the car -

It’ll be a lot easier to do with the weight of the car preventing the wheel from turning as you attempt to turn out the lug nuts!

Some people – me among them – like to put a little grease on the studs to keep them from seizing up or becoming so difficult to break loose you need to be He Man to get it done. And be careful not to overtighten the lug nuts when you’re finishing up. With late-model cars, it is very easy to cause physical damage to brake rotors (this is the disc looking thing behind the wheel) by over-tightening the lug nuts. This happens all the time at repair shops, which use air guns to get the work done faster. Don’t do it to yourself. Go hand-tight – and then go to a shop where they have a torque wrench and can tighten the nuts to exactly the factory specifications – and no more.

* You might not realize you even have a flat -

Many new/late-model cars come with what are called “low aspect ratio” tires – basically, high-performance or “sport” tires with short, stiff sidewalls designed to limit flex during cornering and so make the car feel more responsive and handle better under load. All to the good. But these stiff-riding, stiff-sidewalled tires also give you less in the way of visual – and audible – cues that they are running flat – or even completely flat. A standard tire that’s lost a lot of air will look flat. And it will give you the thumpa-thumpa-thumpa heads-up that it is flat. But a low aspect ratio sport tire may look ok even if it’s flat (this has happened to me) and the car may even drive seemingly ok – until you load the tire by, for instance, going into a corner at high speed.

It’s especially important, therefore, to periodically verify the inflation pressure of your tires if your car has sport-type or run-flat tires – and doesn’t have an electronic tire pressure monitoring system – as in the case of many later-model cars. (Current-year cars all have tire pressure monitors.)

Throw it in the Woods?

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eric

Author of "Automotive Atrocities" and "Road Hogs" (MBI). Currently living amongst the Edentulites in rural SW Virginia. 

  42 comments for “Flat Tire Reboot

  1. July 17, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Great read. One very important thing to note: Many new GM SUV’s and even some cars do not even come standard with a spare and jack. You will either have a small pump or a can of fix-a-flat type of product. We see many new car owners come in and complain their car does not have a spare. A spare in many cases is an option. Many salesmen do not even tell you this or even know about it, so be SURE to ask. It will save you a lot of problems if you do ever get a flat.

  2. Tinsley Grey Sammons
    July 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    TORQUE

    Whenever I take our cars for service that involves tire removal I always find the Mechtec who will do the work and give him five bucks to apply anti-seize and hand torque the lug nuts to specs. Dealing with the consequences of overtorqed or rusted lug nuts can be much more expensive than a $5.00 tip. It also gives the Mechtech a reminder that real live human beings and not just a machine are involved.

    I even keep a spinner wrench and a torque wrench with socket in my luggage compartment along with a small hydraulic jack.

    • Rob
      July 18, 2012 at 2:52 am

      Many tire shops now do the final tightening with a torque wrench. The guys at America’s Tire even wrote the torque with a felt marker next to the tire pressure plaque on the door sill, for easy reference.

      • methylamine
        July 18, 2012 at 3:50 pm

        I took my wife’s car into Discount Tire last weekend, and told them what torque to use. Five minutes later he came back and quoted me Nissan’s specs–85, not 80 like I’d said.

        I watched from the store, and sure enough he broke out a torque wrench and did them properly in a star pattern.

        Good place. I’ve always loved Discount Tire.

  3. Ben
    July 17, 2012 at 10:20 pm

    When installing a wheel and using a air impact either use a torque stem for the proper torque or set the air impact to a short setting and use a torque wrench. It aso very important to follow the proper sequence when tightneng wheel bolts. Also instead of using grease on lug nuts it’s better to use anti-seeze compound the copper carrier won’t interfere with proper troque and the anti seeze will also help to stop corrosion, very important if you have aluminum wheels

    • Tinsley Grey Sammons
      July 17, 2012 at 10:51 pm

      Whenever one of my customers complained of pulsating brakes, I immediately applied a torque wrench to break the lugs. I’ve found some torqued to as much as 125 ft. lbs. I also checked my records and the vehicle glove box for receipts in an effort to identify the culprit.

      I retired with a sterling reputation.

      • swamprat
        July 18, 2012 at 2:10 am

        Sounds like it. I wish there were more mechanics like yourself.

  4. andy
    July 17, 2012 at 11:10 pm

    I carry a tire plug kit and a portable 12V compressor in my Jeep. I can quickly and safely repair a flat or leak in the tread area of a tire without using a jack. I’ve plugged at least 20 tire leaks over the last few decades with no plug failures. Some of those plug repairs have been on tractors and and off-road vehicles. Anywhere a patch can be used, a plug can be used, with the same safe and long term results. The physical effort to plug a leak in the tread area of a tire is much less than the effort required to change a tire. And a helluva lot safer. You can purchase a tire plug kit at any auto parts store. I’ve owned several 12V portable compressors; the current one I own comes from Harbor Freight. Buy the most expensive one, it’s the best quality.

    • Tinsley Grey Sammons
      July 18, 2012 at 1:12 am

      “I carry a tire plug kit and a portable 12V compressor in my Jeep.”

      Makes sense and they’re cheap. I’ve plugged two on our Corolla and one on our Altima. Hell, even a Geezer like me with a pacemaker can do it.

      • chris
        July 18, 2012 at 12:44 pm

        I second the idea of buying a tire patch kit. I’ve patched numerous tires. It’s a great auto skill to learn and will save you money.

  5. July 18, 2012 at 1:29 am

    I lived in Playa del Carmen, Mexico for a while (just south of Cancun).

    Never in my life have I seen so many flat tires & blowouts as I used to see on Carretera 307.

    Debris on the roads was a common cause, but the number of vehicles driving around with half-flat tires was pretty high. Some with slow leaks from debris I’m sure, others with negligent drivers.

    A tire doesn’t have to go flat to be a problem – too soft tires running at highway speeds WILL disintegrate.

    • methylamine
      July 18, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      @Roy Cobden:

      We’re looking at some properties down there as possible bug-out locations, Roy.

      How would you rate living down there from a freedom/do-as-you-please perspective? If you kept a low profile, would it be a friendly place to bug out?

      We’re actually most interested in the Riviera Maya part near Akumal.

  6. Fabian
    July 18, 2012 at 1:57 am

    Also use these fix-a-flat only as the very last solution because they won’t repair your tire after you used it. It happened to me and they gave me a free tire for a simple nail instead of repairing it.

  7. WayneB
    July 18, 2012 at 4:39 am

    NO NO NO NO NO! No anti-seize, grease or anything else on the threads! Clean them up with a wire brush, apply the anti-seize to the hub area where the center of the wheel maybe, but never the threads, or the nuts. The torque specification is ONLY for clean dry and un-lubricated threads. If you torque to spec. with lubed threads you may either strip the stud or the nut. I do this for a living, and was the first guy in the shop to read the book on this, and when I have been lazy and have not removed the grease, esp. on FWD cars, have stripped the stud. I am an ASE master, and have been doing this for over 27yrs.

    • DD
      July 18, 2012 at 6:12 am

      +1

      Clean and dry them ONLY.

    • John
      July 18, 2012 at 6:30 am

      Beat me to it. I even read this one time in a maintenance article in a Mercedes owners’ magazine. Written by a professional (?) mechanic. It can be a pain in the butt cleaning the corrosion off the studs and lug nuts (or, in the case of Mercedes, lug bolts), but it’s the only way to get the proper tension with torquing. I also bought an ’09 CTS, loaded, and unlike the lower prices packages, it came with only an inflator/tire goo repair kit. Got a real spare as part of the final deal.

      It might be worth noting that, according to manufacturers, any patching or plugging of a tire automatically causes it to lose it’s speed rating. At least for the higher performance tires (Y,W,Z rating).

      • John
        July 18, 2012 at 6:32 am

        That should be “its rating.”

        • methylamine
          July 18, 2012 at 3:56 pm

          Bless you John, and your hopefully numerous progeny!

          For you have SEEN THE LIGHT–correct use of apostrophes.

          “Its”–indicates possession
          “It’s”–contraction of “it is”

          Thank god there are still people who understand the difference. Our civilization might still make it.

          • DD
            July 18, 2012 at 5:26 pm

            Its (It’s?) been my experience that those who are most literate in English language tend to be the most dishonest, statist, and parasitic runts…More illiteracy just might save civilization but intelligent people realize that Dumocrazy is profoundly anti-civilization.

            :)

          • methylamine
            July 18, 2012 at 6:03 pm

            The second one, “It’s”, is more correct than “Its”…but still a stretch, given that “It’s” equals “It is”, not “It has”.

            But I’ll let you pass.

            You may remain in our exalted club.

          • graham
            July 18, 2012 at 10:51 pm

            It’s been a while since I heard that “it’s” is exclusively “it is”.

            It’s been quite a while… LOL.

          • July 18, 2012 at 11:28 pm

            Tell that to HL Menken, DD…
            Easy rule of thumb: His, hers, its all do not have apostrophes. “It’s” is a contraction of “It is” such as “can’t” or “don’t” and all contractions have apostrophes.

          • Mike in Spotsy
            July 19, 2012 at 2:59 am

            @ graham

            It is been a long time for me too. lmao

          • methylamine
            July 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm

            OK I’ll give on the “it has”.
            It’s its uses.

    • Tinsley Grey Sammons
      July 18, 2012 at 11:57 am

      “I do this for a living, and was the first guy in the shop to read the book on this, and when I have been lazy and have not removed the grease, esp. on FWD cars, have stripped the stud.”

      I’ve got a pretty good idea how and why you managed to do that.

      Never had a problem with anti-seize and torque-to-specs. My lug nuts always crack-at-torque and can be run back down with fingers. Rust and corrosion are a problem in some areas near the ocean and I would imagine in areas where they put salt on the roads.

      Having dealt with broken lugs on customer’s vehicles. I will continue using anti-seize and hand torquing until such time as experience proves it to be unwise.

      If you’ve ever had to chisel a splined brake drum off of a VW van you have surely cursed the absence of anti-seize.

      I would never use grease where anti-seize ought to be used.

    • dom
      July 18, 2012 at 4:00 pm

      Doh… I’ve been putting axle grease on all my studs for years! Even have anti-seize on my motorcycle axles. Keeps my studs from corroding and makes it easier to R&R the wheels. Not sure if I’d suggest for others to do it, but I sure as shit ain’t gonna stop.

  8. George
    July 18, 2012 at 5:18 am

    How about this idea, leave the jack and spare at home and have a small pump on board. If the hole is too big to inflate the tire, call for a tow.

    Has anyone noticed a rim sticking to the hub or knuckle? I saw someone trying to get the wheel off and it was rusted on. I did not think to start and stop the car with the lug nuts loose. I am not sure what happened as I left since I would be of no help. But that is the first time I ever encountered a wheel that did not come off. It was a newish car too. Is this problem becoming more prevalent?

    • Michael
      July 18, 2012 at 11:46 am

      Agreed.

      Not much on the road makes me cringe more than seeing a person on the roadside trying to jack up their car with other cars & trucks zooming by only metres away. Unless you can pull completely off the road, either plug it or call your roadside assistance.

    • methylamine
      July 18, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      I smear a very small amount of copper anti-seize between the hub and wheel to prevent this very problem.

      I want to know the truth about the anti-seize on the threads vs. just on the mating surfaces question. It’s my understanding that you NEVER put anti-seize on modern spark plug threads; they come pre-coated with a breakaway layer, and glopping them with goo can cause catastrophic failure when you torque them.

      But what about uncoated lug nuts? I’ve always put a tiny amount of copper anti-seize on them and never broken one. They come off easily.

      I’ve also read in several places that an oiled bolt can be torqued 90%, giving the equivalent of 100% torque on a dry bolt–but it seems there are too many variables (oil viscosity, high-pressure additives, etc) for such an easy rule of thumb.

  9. July 18, 2012 at 6:16 am

    Also, if your car is on a slope, chock the other wheels before jacking the car up.

  10. Ross Nelson
    July 18, 2012 at 7:07 am

    I’ve been told to never run a smaller diameter tire than that of the other side on the driving wheels, but how do you get around that if you have to use the donut tire?

    • July 18, 2012 at 9:28 am

      That’s why it’s a “temporary use only” deal!

      You use it – carefully – to get you back on the road, at reduced speed, for just long enough to get to a tire store.

  11. Douglas
    July 18, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Get familiar with your ride by learning where the jacking and jack stand points are. Take all four wheels off to inspect the brakes and suspension parts. Look the tires over thoroughly for punctures, scuffing, or uneven wear. Clean the stubs and run a thread chaser to remove any burrs. Make needs repairs so your ride is SAFE. Put the wheels back on, tightening in a star pattern until snug. Lower the car and torque to specs (usually about 100 ft-lbs) with a good torque wrench in three steps (With 100 lbs, I’d go 35, 70, and 100 ft-lbs).
    Be familiar with whatever jacking equipment came with the car. Buying a lug wrench, a pair of small plastic wheel chocks, and a 2-ft. length of pipe (personal protection and gives leverage for when the lugs are stuck) is a cheap and effective investment. Also had an old towel, a tube of hand cleaner, and a small plastic sheet. No sense in dirtying up the interior after you’ve changed a flat. After putting on the spare or “doughnut”, take the offending tire to where you got it (if under warranty) or get the flat fixed pronto, provided the tire is worth salvaging.

  12. Tinsley Grey Sammons
    July 18, 2012 at 1:27 pm

    LUG SCORECARD

    (Tinsley Grey Sammons’ 52 year scorecard for lugs)

    Dry: Incidence of seized lugs, too numerous to recall.

    Anti seize: Incidence of seized lugs, zero.

    No incidence of properly torqued lugs coming loose experienced. One was reported but a receipt in the glove box proved that the wheel in question had been subsequently removed and a tire replaced at another shop.

  13. G2
    July 18, 2012 at 5:13 pm

    One thing that I recommend, especially for a front wheel drive vehicle is that if the flat is on the front, replace the rear wheel on the same side with the temporary spare and move the rear wheel to the front. It’s an extra step but dramatically increases the safety of operating the vehicle with a spare in place. Roughly 70% of a vehicles braking comes from the front wheels. That braking ability is dramatically reduced when a spare is put on the front.

  14. Bud
    July 18, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    You guys are all paranoid.

    • methylamine
      July 18, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      LOL no man They really are out to get us!

      Welcome to the Nebuchadnezzar.

    • Scott
      July 18, 2012 at 9:05 pm

      Some of us are just depressed. We’ve been through paranoia, it wears out the adrenals. Now we’re just depressed.

  15. Hugh Mannity
    July 18, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Even Land Rover has succumbed to the weight reduction of the donut. Mind you, their donut is about equivalent to an average sedan’s street tyre.

    But that 10 miles between where I got the flat and the road was pretty interesting…

    Add in the unfixable flat — gash in the sidewall — and that little trip to the woods cost me a new set of tyres. But now I have better all-terrain tyres and 2 good full-size spares as soon as I get rims for them

  16. July 18, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Here is another suggestion. If you get a flat, drive into a parking lot to change it, or at least get as far off the side of the road as possible. Especially if it’s a left side tire. You don’t know how many idiots have done damage to other driver’s cars by getting themselves hit while changing tires….

    • Tinsley Grey Sammons
      July 19, 2012 at 12:45 am

      A flat on a motorcycle is much more exciting than a flat with a four-wheeler. I once had one about half way up the I-10 high rise spanning the Industrial Canal in New Orleans. After ten minutes of terror while hugging the divider, a pair of NOPD Cops let the beautiful redhead* with me ride in their car while they escorted me across the bridge. All that while enduring a gawdawful hangover.

      *Irish-Italian Kim B. resembled beautiful Debora Kerr in her prime. Kim was nineteen and beautiful skin deep, but rotten to the marrow. My kind of woman at the time.

      • July 19, 2012 at 10:09 am

        Oh yeah!

        This is why I’m pretty rigorous about the tires on all my bikes. I’m actually in the process of replacing the tires on the ‘Rex right now. I don’t take the bike in, incidentally. Just the rims! Save hassle this way – no appointments, no waiting for them to get to it. Just leave the rim/old tire – comeback a day later and pick up the rim with the newly mounted tire.

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