Monday Rant: How to Tell if You Have a Flat Tire

Rant mode engage!

The other day, I got a call from a mechanic pal who told me he had a doozy of a thing to show me. I asked for the gist of said doozy via text message, and was refused. Apparently, this was something that had to be seen in person, and it was best to stop by the shop.

So I did. Mechanic pal pulls out this busted-looking ‘steelie’ wheel rim with the shredded remnants of a tire somewhat attached to it. This tire was shot. In pieces. Ripped to ribbons. You know when you stuff a bunch of junk-mail into a paper shredder? This tire resembled what comes out the other end.

Mechanic pal told me that the tire was, in all likelihood, flat when the vehicle left the owner’s driveway.

“The vehicle got driven for, probably, forty clicks,” he added.

“On a flat??!”

That’s forty clicks on a tire with no air in it. Maybe it picked up a nail, got blown out on a pothole, or was slashed by an angry ex at 3am. In any case, this tire was flatter than a gluten-free pancake before it even left the driveway. And then, the vehicle’s owner decided to go and run errands.

Another possibly-contributing factor to the catastrophic mangling of the tire was the fact that, apparently, this driver was engaged in the horrific practice of listening to headphones while driving. Is driving with headphones illegal? I hope so. It’s stupid and irresponsible and might even cause the offender to hold up an emergency vehicle they don’t hear coming. Or, you know, not hear the sound of a three-foot strap of rubber smacking at high speed into their fender while they steer with the metal edge of a disintegrating wheel rim. Or the sound of nearby motorists honking and screaming that they have a flat tire.

We both shook our heads. How can a driver not realize they’re driving on a flat? Numerous reasons exist, and guy or girl, young or old, rich or poor, there are clueless motorists out there in masses. The offender in this case may have been a perfectly good driver, but in terms of feeling, hearing or understanding how a healthy car feels (or doesn’t feel), they failed miserably.

Anyhow, for the sake of your safety, your family’s safety, and the safety of those motorists with which you and yours share the road, I’d like to present a list of great ways to tell if your ride has a flat tire.

Your steering feels funny. You have to hold the wheel with force to one side, to keep your car going straight. The steering wheel is pulsating or vibrating in an unusual way. The steering feels like it’s attached to a soggy poutine, not a steering system made of steel and rubber. Any sudden feeling in your steering that you’re not used to is a great reason to pull over, right now.

Your car keeps slowing down for no reason. You shouldn’t need a physics professor to explain that driving on a flat tire will cause your ride to slow down, and require drastically more throttle to keep moving at a given speed. If your car suddenly has trouble keeping its speed up, visit the shoulder or parking lot and investigate.

You hear a weird noise. A groaning. A grinding sound. The sound of your engine straining. The sound of a wheel-rim chewing into asphalt. The telltale  ‘whapwhapwhapwhapwhap’ sound often present when a tire has been evacuated of air and is slapping around. Weird noises from under your car are another great reason to pull over and investigate.

People are yelling at you that you have a flat tire. When other motorists honk, flash their lights, point, and yell at you, and shout things like “YOUR TIRE IS FLAT!! PULL OVER!!!” you probably have a flat tire. Of course, attentive driving is required to see and hear the warning signs, and if you’re wearing headphones, there’s little chance you’ll hear people trying to advise you of the danger you’re posing to yourself, and everyone nearby.

Your tire appears flat. You know, deflated. Pancake like. Gooey. Of course, determining this before you set off for a day’s errands may require a circle check of your ride, which does take about nine seconds. In our case above, the tire was on the front passenger side, and the driver didn’t make a circle check, so they never saw the issue.