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Every vehicle owner knows that no one is immune to flat tires — they can appear anytime and in a matter of seconds. Rideshare drivers should be aware that more time on the road means a higher likelihood for a flat. Knowing how to change a flat tire is a basic necessity for every driver, especially when rideshare passengers are in the car or cell service is unavailable.
Luckily, fixing a flat is a fairly simple process to learn. It’s one of those skills that even the least car-savvy drivers can quickly get the hang of, and can come naturally in the future with a bit of practice.
In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to do when you get a flat tire. Read on to receive our flat tire prevention tips that will help rideshare drivers keep earning without worries.
- What to Do When You Get a Flat Tire
- How to Change a Flat Tire
- Flat Tire Prevention Tips
- Frequently Asked Questions
What to Do When You Get a Flat Tire
The thought of getting a flat tire while driving can be intimidating, but as long as you know what signs to look out for and what to do, you’ll be safe.
A flat tire is something you’ll typically notice immediately. You’ll hear the sound of your tire flapping in addition to your rim grinding against the ground. You’ll suddenly find it difficult to steer and accelerate. Other motorists who notice will also likely flag you down with a honk or wave.
As soon as you notice any warning signs, pull over to a safe place on the side of the road and turn on your hazard lights.
If you’re an Uber or Lyft driver and have a passenger in the vehicle when you get a flat tire, the best thing to do next is to call Uber or Lyft. Both rideshare platforms have unclear policies for dealing with flat tires, but drivers have reported that even if the rider chooses to find a new ride, both companies have reimbursed drivers for the time they spent driving before the flat tire occurred. Riders have also reported being reimbursed for requesting a second ride even before personally submitting a ticket if the driver has already called.
How to Change a Flat Tire
Rideshare drivers who experience a flat tire find they can save time and money just by knowing how to change a flat tire. This is because drivers are always considered independent contractors, and vehicle expenses are their personal responsibility.
There are some cases where drivers qualify for free roadside assistance, but changing your own tire will almost always be more efficient. For example, drivers with the highest Accelerate Rewards status on Lyft or one of the three highest Uber Pro statuses can receive free roadside assistance a few times a year, but they’re not guaranteed immediate assistance. Lyft drivers with other statuses must pay an additional $59 for flat tire changes. On the flip side, changing your own flat can take as little as 15 minutes to half an hour of your time.
First, make sure that you have all of the following emergency items in your trunk. If you don’t have these items packed, you need to call roadside assistance or walk to the nearest call box if you have no cell service:
- Wheel wedges
- Your owner’s manual
- A spare tire
- A lug wrench (also called a tire tool)
- A car jack
- A tire pressure gauge
To change a flat tire, follow these steps:
- Make sure you’re parked on flat ground with your parking brake on.
- Apply your wheel wedges on your vehicle. If changing a back tire, place the wheel wedges in front of your front tires. If changing a front tire, place them behind your rear tires.
- Take a look at your owner’s manual to double-check if there are special considerations for changing a flat tire on your vehicle.
- Grab your spare tire and place it in a safe location, away from the road, so it’s ready to replace the flat. Make sure the tire can’t roll away.
- Use the flat end of your lug wrench to pop off your hubcap or wheel cover if it covers your lug nuts.
- Using the other end of your lug wrench, loosen the lug nuts about half a turn counterclockwise. Do not take them off completely.
- Position the car jack under your vehicle, right next to the flat tire. Your car’s frame should have an indented area fit for the jack, preferably a flat, metal part of the frame so the car can’t slip off the jack. Your owner’s manual will provide further instructions for the exact jack placement.
- Keeping your body parts away from the bottom of the vehicle, use the car jack to raise your flat tire six inches above ground.
- Completely remove your lug nuts.
- Take off your flat tire by grabbing onto its treads and moving it outward. Then, place it securely on the ground.
- Grab your spare tire and place it on the wheel hub. The rim should be aligned with the lug bolts as you do so.
- Place your lug nuts back onto the bolts and use your hands to tighten them as much as possible.
- Lower the jack just enough so that your spare tire is resting on the ground without the vehicle’s full weight on it. Using the lug wrench, finish tightening your lug nuts by turning them clockwise with full force until you cannot tighten anymore. Leaning into the wrench with your body weight can help you ensure everything is secure.
- Completely lower your vehicle with the jack, double-check that your lug nuts are as tight as they can be, and remove the jack.
- Pop your hubcap back on if it fits, or temporarily store it in your vehicle with your flat tire.
- Use your tire pressure gauge to ensure your spare tire meets at least 60 psi. If it doesn’t, drive slowly to a service station to add air. If there’s enough air, drive no more than 50 miles per hour and head to the mechanic to get permanent replacement tires as soon as possible.
Flat Tire Prevention Tips
As you may well know, flat tires can and will happen eventually. However, there are some things you can do to help prevent them.
Keeping up with your vehicle maintenance and driving cautiously can help you avoid common flat tire causes and catch any potential issues before damage occurs. In this section, we’ll go over some specific tips to help you keep your wheels healthy.
Check Your Tire Pressure Routinely
When your tires are overinflated, you become far more susceptible to flat tires and even to dangerous tire blowouts that can make you lose control of your vehicle. This is because it makes your tires inflexible and irregular in shape, leading to faster wear and tear.
To prevent this, use a tire pressure gauge to check your tire pressure at least every two weeks — especially in the summer, since heat frequently causes overinflation. Compare the pressure to what’s recommended in your owner’s manual, and release air if necessary.
You should also look out for low pressure (especially in cold weather) and add air as needed, but most modern vehicles are already equipped with low tire pressure sensors. Low air pressure isn’t as likely to cause a flat tire but can wear down your tire and, in worst-case scenarios, cause a blowout.
Avoid Obstacles in the Road
Sharp objects, potholes, and other debris are common causes of flat tires. While these obstacles can be difficult to evade when you’re already driving, you can avoid them altogether by steering clear of:
- Construction areas
- Back alleyways, especially where trash and scraps are collected
- Poorly maintained roads, especially at high speeds
Using navigation apps like Waze will help warn you of nearby potholes, hazards, and construction when users contribute data to the platform. This will help you select better routes for your vehicle’s well-being. If you’re a rideshare driver, using better routes may also get you better ratings and even improve your tips.
Make Preventative Visits to Your Mechanic
Just as people routinely go to the doctor’s office for checkups, vehicles should be taken into the mechanic on a set schedule to keep tires running longer. Experts recommend:
- Rotating tires every six months. This ensures the wear on your tires is even, so no single tire will take the brunt of the damage.
- Aligning wheels once every two to three years and when new tires are installed. Wheel alignment will keep your vehicle from veering even slightly to one side and putting pressure on specific tires.
- Changing tires every six years, or when tread depth is too low. A quick way to tell if your tread depth is low is to stick a penny (with Lincoln’s head upside down) into your tire’s tread groove. If Lincoln’s head is fully visible, your tread is worn down, and those tires need to be replaced.
When going to the mechanic, it may also be a good idea to ask your mechanic to double-check that your valve stem isn’t leaking, as this can be a cause of flat tires.
Frequently Asked Questions
If rideshare drivers know how to change and prevent flats, they can keep earning without major worries. Here are some frequently asked questions to further help you with flat tires:
1. Do I always need to purchase new tires if I get a flat?
Not necessarily. Depending on the extent of the damage, your mechanic may be able to repair your flat tire. If your wheel can be fixed, you’ll only need to pay around $15. Changing to a spare tire as soon as possible will keep your flat tire in as good as possible condition so your mechanic can best evaluate the issue.
However, if your mechanic deems the wheel unable to be repaired, you will need to purchase four new tires. This is because replacing just one or two wheels will cause your vehicle to drive unevenly, since new tires naturally have more tread.
If on a budget, most drivers can get away with replacing only two tires, as long as the difference in tread depths is within 4/32”. For stability, it’s recommended to place new tires in the rear.
Rideshare drivers need the applicable replacements to pass their annual vehicle inspection.
2. How long can I drive with a spare tire?
Donut spare tires are only created to last about 70 miles at most. This is because there is almost no tread, leaving it susceptible to all sorts of damages. If you have a full-size spare tire, you may be able to get away with more.
Regardless of how long these tires last, we recommend taking your vehicle to the mechanic as soon as possible. If someone reports you drove with one different tire, you could be penalized by rideshare companies. Plus, driving with only three matching tires is generally unsafe and damaging to your wheels.
3. Can I receive a tax deduction for my tire purchases?
Tire purchases are typically eligible for tax deductions since you’re using your vehicle directly for business purposes as an independent contractor. We recommend consulting with your accountant to understand exactly how much of the purchase qualifies, but you’re guaranteed to get at least some money back during tax season.
Get Back on the Road
With our step-by-step guide to changing a tire, you can rest assured that you can address the situation and safely get back on the road again. Make sure to use the above mentioned tips to prevent flat tires from happening in the first place and spare yourself the unnecessary cost and stress. To avoid all forms of vehicle breakdowns, be sure to check out our complete guide to rideshare vehicle maintenance.
Brett Helling is the owner of Ridester.com. He has been a rideshare driver since early 2012, having completed hundreds of trips for companies including Uber, Lyft, and Postmates. In 2014 he acquired Ridester.com to share his experiences with other drivers. His insights are regularly quoted by publications such as Forbes, Vice, CNBC, and more. He is currently working on a book about working in the Gig Economy, expanding his skill set beyond the rideshare niche. Read more about Brett here.