Sat04192014

On The Road

Make sure to be prepared to fix a flat tire

So you’ve just had the disquieting experience of getting a flat tire while driving. With all the construction, potholes and road debris in the area today, the chance is much less remote than it used to be.

Now what?

In most circumstances, on well-traveled highways and streets within cellphone service range, the answer is simple: Drive the vehicle to a safe place to stop, one that’s well-lighted and out of traffic, then telephone for help.

Don’t worry about causing further damage to the car, the wheel or the tire.

Be concerned instead for your own safety. Most major manufacturers offer some form of roadside assistance, as do the major insurance companies, so you may already be protected. If not, now is a good time to sign up for one of these plans; they are an inexpensive way to buy peace of mind.

But what happens if you’re out of cellphone service range? It’s surprising in this high-tech region that there are still lots of places where your cellphone won’t work. You can be within a few miles of help and not be able to reach anyone.

What should you do then?

If you’ve done your homework by reading your owners manual and looking at the equipment in your trunk, then you should be able to cope on your own.

In the past, the situation was pretty simple. If the spare tire on the wheel in your trunk was properly inflated, you just jacked up the car, removed the wheel using the lug wrench, then put on the spare wheel, threw the bad one in the trunk and you’d be on your way.

But today, the odds are that when you look in your trunk, you won’t find a spare wheel with a full-size tire. Instead, you might find a smaller version of the tire and wheel, called a space-saver spare, that will allow you to drive a reasonable distance at a limited speed.

Or you might find a wheel with what looks like a thick rubber band around it, called an inflatable space-saver, that can be inflated with an air compressor in the trunk and used like the space-saver spare.

Or, the worst case, but typical of some energy-conscious new cars, there won’t be any wheel and tire at all. These vehicles are routinely fitted with run-flat tires that will usually, but not always, prevent flats. In the trunk, you’ll just find a gizmo that looks like a tire inflator with a tank attached that is purported to be able to patch the leak and fill up the tire.

You’ll also find the pieces of a jack specially designed for your particular car, some sort of lug wrench and a set of special lug bolts that fit the space-saver spare – that is, if someone hasn’t removed the equipment at some point in the vehicle’s history.

The moral is that you should check this out before you actually have to. Read the manual, inspect the gear in your trunk, and if you’re still confused, visit your dealer or service shop and have someone show you what to do. That’s much better than trying to figure it all out on a dark and stormy night on some remote Bay Area backroad.

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