flat tire without spare
June 15, 2010 7:40 AM   Subscribe

No spare tire in car!! Need advice on good 12 V (plug into cigarette lighter socket) tire inflater and fix-a-flat

Seems many new cars are not including spare tires, to save money, space and weight. I asked how are we supposed to change a flat tire? The answer was, "You don't." You buy "fix-a-flat" and a 12 volt tire inflator that you always keep in your trunk. Those should work to get you to a service station or tire store, unless:
1. You're out in the boondocks or on a lonely stretch of freeway, where the fix a flat may not last until you get to a station.
2. The puncture is so large that the fix a flat won't plug it.
In either of these 2 scenarios, your solution is a cell phone.

Have any of you purchased a good tire inflator that isn't a piece of junk? Also, is one brand of fix-a-flat just as good as another?
I thank you all in advance
posted by luvmywife to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total)
Couldn't you just put a spare in the trunk yourself?
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:45 AM on June 15, 2010

Not trying to be contrary here, but you can always buy a spare tire and keep it in the car. Maybe I'm just a dinosaur, but I'd feel better having a real spare. Though are you saying the car doesn't have a jack either? I have a 12-volt tire inflator and it works fine if you've just run over a nail or something or especially have a slow leak which was what was always happening to me. Mine's practically an antique, but it looks a lot like this one.
posted by jessamyn at 7:48 AM on June 15, 2010

Most 12V inflators aren't really designed for demanding usage. That said, they're probably pretty much the same in the fact that they will take FOREVER to inflate your tire fully. But, it is certainly better than nothing. Grab the Fix-A-Flat brand inflator/patch in an aerosol can, it's never let me down before. I have both a doughnut spare and a 12v inflator/Fix-A-Flat in my hatch... You never know when you might need both.

If you're worried about the disaster scenario where you'd have a large puncture or sidewall blowout, you should really consider getting a spare tire, a small jack, and a tire iron (the cross, while much larger, gives you 4 of the most common sizes to fit practically all lug nut sizes).

You can find out what the lug pattern is on your car by searching for wheels for your car on tirerack.com. Common five bolt patterns are 5x100, 5x114.3, 5x115. Once you have that information you can either buy a steel rim and tire directly from tirerack or anywhere else that sells tires, or you can try your luck at a salvage yard. I've had good luck finding salvage alloy wheels that match what is on my car at car-part.com. Of course, if your car is brand new, it might be a little more difficult to find a matching salvage wheel there, but there's always eBay or CraigsList. Good luck!

Another option, although it will most likely prove to be costly is to get the spare right from the dealership. Odds are it's something they can order, be it a full-size or a "doughnut." But it will certainly cost you dealership prices, AKA big $$.
posted by ganzhimself at 8:03 AM on June 15, 2010

O.K. folks. My wife and daugheter will often be driving the car and from past experience, they can't even get the lug nuts off, so I kind of like the idea--for their sakes-- of just inflating the tire and driving home or to a local outfit that can fix it. Thus, I don't want a spare tire.
posted by luvmywife at 8:11 AM on June 15, 2010

If you're willing to consider having a can of fix-a-flat, how about bringing along a tire plug kit. I used one of these once on a flat caused by a nail and it worked great.
posted by jaimev at 8:11 AM on June 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husband as a 12-volt tire inflator, just one he picked up at the local Auto Parts store for not too much money. (That is, it's no special brand or fancy deal.) It works great, actually; we use it to pump up tires that are low, to get a car with a flat and a slow leak to wherever it has to go for fixing, even to pump up bike tires.

It's noisy as all get out and pretty slow compared to going and using the air at the gas station, but it does the job!

My husband carries fix-a-flat; I don't because of the terrifying warnings about exploding all over the can. But both our cars have spares.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:13 AM on June 15, 2010

Totally nthing to buy a spare. The fix-a-flat and tire inflater won't do a lick of good if its a larger blowout. Don't bother with a solution that only fixes half the problems.
posted by ish__ at 8:13 AM on June 15, 2010

Fix-a-flat is hated by tire repair folks. I used it once, and got the wrath of a mechanic who worked on the tire after the stuff sprayed out everywhere. YMMV, pun intended ;)
posted by kuppajava at 8:22 AM on June 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have yet to have a problem on the road that would be fixed by fix-a-flat. Most road problems ruin the tire to the point you couldn't just add it and fill it up.

Also, even if your wife and daughter can't change the tire, it doesn't mean a road side service couldn't change it for them. It's the same reason everybody should carry jumper cables. Even if you don't know how to use them. The likelihood of someone else knowing, who just doesn't have them with are pretty high.
posted by Climber at 8:22 AM on June 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

Friendly stranger can change a flat, even if your women folk can't. No spare means that possibility is out. Not trying to be contrary here, but how about a cell phone and AAA?
posted by fixedgear at 8:24 AM on June 15, 2010

It's worth mentioning that larger blow outs are extremely rare, and easily avoided by either not buying reconditioned tyres and/or proper maintenance checking of your tyres. The vast, overwhelming, majority of tyre issues in cars are due to small punctures or valve malfunctions. Tyres ripping apart is something that only really happens with any frequency on truck re-tread tyres - these are the things you see on the side of the highway.

Ignoring re-treaded tyres - which are a terrible idea at the best of times and no-one should ever buy them - Sidewall blow outs are usually caused by a tyre that has been mistreated. If you drive on a flat tyre, the sidewall is compressed and driven on (rather than the tread) and it is not designed for loads in that direction. It will tend to distort the tyre structure and overheat the tyre (due to extreme compression and recovery) and lead to failures such as blow outs. These are often splits in the sidewall rather than exploding bits of rubber, but these won't be fixed by anything other than a spare tyre.

If you keep you tyres properly inflated (within about 5-8 psi should you get a slow puncture for a reference as to what won't cause an issue) and check them regularly it is very unlikely you will get a blow out. These are rare failure modes and almost always have a root cause - tyre production control methods mean that structural integrity is almost guaranteed with a reputable tyre brand, so loss of this integrity is most common by abuse of the tyre itself - using it in a way that it was not designed for (ie running flat for any period beyond very low speed for a very short distance).

Tyre foam and run flat tyres are designed to remove the loads that come from these issues. They do have a decent reputation, but the foam does mean that the tyre is junk after being used. This is not that big a deal, but people do need to remember that the tyre is compromised once they have installed the foam and drive accordingly. They are only good for a slow drive straight to the tyre repair business, not as a means of continuing your journey. If you are truly stuck in the boondocks, then they should only be used to get you to somewhere safe to wait for a repair truck to get to you. The limits on mileage and speeds should be on the can and should be respected.

So tyre foam is good for emergencies, and having a compressor in your boot to use to keep your tyres topped up with regular checking (buy a small pressure gauge and be aware of the correct pressures for your car) will mean that your tyre foam is likely to be enough to get you out out of any likely issue. So, for the OP:

1: As mentioned, following the limitations of the foam will make it unlikely that you can't go far enough to either get to safety or a repair place.

2: Don't buy the cheapest budget foam, but any that is recommended/endorsed by a car manufacturer (ie supplied as standard equipment) or has established credentials should be fine.

So in summary, for 99% of issues, you should be able to get away with the fix a flat + compressor as long as it is combined with decent tyre monitoring.
posted by Brockles at 8:42 AM on June 15, 2010

If a AAA-dispatched repair vehicle comes and you don't have a spare, they will tow, which may or may not be covered under your particular membership category [US - no idea what roadside assistance is like in other countries]. My metro area has HERO, which are repair trucks run through the Dept. of Transportation. If you don't have a spare, they will recommend you call a tow truck and leave the scene. This happened to me last winter in a driving rainstorm when the HERO truck found that my spare, on a swing-out under my truck, couldn't be gotten off the mount.

Also, if the tire's flat enough to necessitate pulling off the road, I'm not sure a 12V pump or fix-a-flat would do it. They wouldn't have been enough oomph for any of the tire damage I've had.
posted by catlet at 9:16 AM on June 15, 2010

I can't speak to whether it's a good idea to have just an inflator and a fix-a-flat rather than a spare. But I have a Black and Decker 12V inflator (this one or one much like it; I think mine was cheaper) that plugs into the cigarette lighter. It's noisy and a bit slow, but it works really well. You can set the pressure you want and it will stop automatically when it reaches the right pressure. This is great for me as I don't have a garage and all the gas stations nearby charge $1 to use the air pump--if my tires are a little soft, I can pump them up right in the driveway.

But then, I've also got a spare in the trunk. I think this would be good for tire maintenance, or a quick reinflation on the way to a nearby repair shop, but in the case of a real blowout (or a big nail, etc.) you'd still be stuck. How about a membership to AAA? Seriously. Even with a spare, there are times when it's better not to change your own tires--like on the side of a busy highway where a truck can swerve.
posted by Ms. Informed at 9:20 AM on June 15, 2010

You should get a spare, and a full size spare (not a hide a spare) if you can fit it in the car. Most people have a hard time taking off lug nuts put on by a air gun, and most shops tighten them way too much. For a lug wrench get a 1/2" drive breaker bar and the correct size impact socket from sears. BTW you want quality tool here-not a harbor freight special as they will break when you jump up and down on them to break the lug nuts loose. These things are about 3' long and provide enough leverage to get any lug nut off. But before they leave you should loosen all the lug nuts then retighten them by hand (pretty tight though and in the correct star pattern) then make sure the people dirving the car can loosen them and retighten them adequately. A decent 12v compressor in the car is a good idea as a backup or too nurse a slow leak to the repair shop. DO NOT use a do it yourself plug kit. It can ruin the tire and most reputable shops will not repair a plugged tire. The insertion of the plug can seperate the plies and otherwise make the tire irrepairable. In my experience it rarely works anyway. The fix a flat stuff is a back up for the back up but better than a do it yourself repair. It rarely works and if it stays in more than a day or two it also makes the tire irrepairable. Also make sure you tell the person repairing/changing the tire off the rim that you have put it in-the stuff can explode when you break the bead using the maching they have at tire shops. Repairing a tire takes some skill and the right equipment and taking the tire off the rim.

The best thing to do is too keep the tires inflated right and get in the habit of checking them evertime you get gas-it will help fuel mileage, handling, tires will last longer and are more resistant to punctures. The biggest reasons tires fail is underinflation-they get hot and seperate. In the US it is illegal to retred anything but tractor-trailer tires on a non driving axle-but do avoid used tires. They are the only thing keeping you car attached to the road everything it does depends on the tires. Buy the best you can afford.
posted by bartonlong at 9:33 AM on June 15, 2010

So do what motorcyclists do - carry a patch kit and 12V pump. The two most common patches are 'mushroom' and 'sticky string' patches. If you're confused by terminology, pick a kit that's listed for tubeless tires, since you won't be patching an inner tube.

Mushroom plugs are very reliable, and came out top in my old BMW Club's Whack Pack ('If it ain't broke, fix it 'til it is, or until you are!') test of tire pluggers. The Stop & Go kit I linked to with the green pistol-type inserter was used successfully by the smallest Club members. Sticky strings are more common and have the benefit that you can use more than one of them in larger punctures. Neither plug type will help if you cut a sidewall or have a big blowout.

As for 12V pumps, by far the most popular in the motorcycle world is sold by Slime. It comes with battery clips and a cigarette outlet adapter. The pump gets hot as you use it (Boyle's law in action!) so reinflate in sessions, allowing the pump to cool occasionally.

You might also want to do what you can to prevent flats in the first place. Slime's product is better known, but it doesn't always play well with aluminum alloys. Instead, look into this stuff. It's a liquid you put inside your tire before you get a flat that plugs many smaller punctures without you ever knowing about them.

I also suggest carrying roadside assistance coverage through AAA or your insurance company. There are many foreseeable types of tire damage that can't be prevented or repaired by the roadside.

Disclaimer: I own a motorcycle accessories shop, so I've tried a lot of flat kits and 12V pumps.
posted by workerant at 9:37 AM on June 15, 2010

Fix-a-flat got me to the tire store not long ago. (Tire mechanic thanked me for telling him about it before he pulled the tire.)

Tires are vastly more reliable than they were not long ago. I'm not sure you can buy anything but a steel belted radial tire, these days. Flat tires are pretty rare; I didn't take care of my tires - don't do that. Make sure there's a mobile phone charger in the car. I'm approaching little old lady-hood, and this is very low on my list of worries. Make sure there's a tire iron, though, in case of zombies (kidding).
posted by theora55 at 9:44 AM on June 15, 2010

ANYONE can loosen the tightest lugnuts if they have a long enough cheater bar. Your favorite big box home improvement store will sell you a 3 foot length of pipe that will fit over the end of your lug wrench.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:21 AM on June 15, 2010

O.K. folks. My wife and daugheter will often be driving the car and from past experience, they can't even get the lug nuts off, so I kind of like the idea--for their sakes-- of just inflating the tire and driving home or to a local outfit that can fix it.

You know, this is easily solved by making sure that the nuts aren't stripped, and that you've loosened and tightened them by hand. Then carry a longer pipe to slip over the lug wrench for more leverage.

I'm a woman, and I've changed many tires. I would hate to have a car that didn't carry one. (It annoys me that my car just has a Mickey Mouse tire, and not a proper spare.) The AAA driver can change a tire if need be, and it means that you don't have to sit at the tire shop while your bad one is being plugged.

Some places will make you purchase an entirely new tire if you've used Fix-a-Flat.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:28 AM on June 15, 2010

I have a jumpstarter that inflates tires as well as does emergency jumpstarts, like so. It requires more maintenance than a 12V air compressor--needs to be plugged in overnight from time to time--but it works much better on inflating tires. It's really come in handy from time to time (not just for us, but for helping to rescue people who called us wanting a jump, and so on). Nice handy tool. Some of them even have plugs you can use to recharge electrical equipment without having to plug into the cigarette lighter.

I've owned 4 vehicles in 15-ish years; all with good tires, well-maintained, etc. The only time I've ever had a tire problem, I totally blew out a tire on something previously invisible in the road. (I heard it clunk after I rolled over it, but never did see it.) The guy from my auto insurance's roadside service came and changed my tire for me, and I barely made it where I was trying to go (would not have, if I'd had to wait, be towed, have the tire fixed, etc). It is also a scary prospect to have to ride with someone who's towing your vehicle. All the towers I've met have been pleasant helpful guys, but I'd still hesitate to get into a truck alone with one, just on general principles.

All in all it was much less hassle to just HAVE a spare tire, even if I can't physically change it myself--and I would have been able to change it myself before I was injured.
posted by galadriel at 5:18 PM on June 15, 2010

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