Car tire puncture scam

If you’re visiting Barcelona by car, whether your own or a rental car, you need to be aware of one more scam targeting tourists driving out of the city: puncturing their tires and robbing them when they pull over to check what’s happening.

Barcelona-flat_tire_scam-tourist-ripoffsThis is actually a pretty clever scam, and I’ve never heard of it from anywhere else but Barcelona, where this happens a few times a day according to police reports. The scammers target tourists alone in their car or as a couple, and heading out of the city. They usually strike at the last traffic light before entering the motorway, so you’ll notice something wrong with your tire when you’re already on the on ramp. You’ll then try to pull up at the first safe spot you can find, which they’ve already anticipated.

As soon as you’ve discovered that you have a flat rear tire, a motorbike (most likely the same who also punctured your tire at the traffic light) pulls up behind you and offers to help replacing it. Even when you refuse, it’s enough to distract you while his accomplice, who was hiding somewhere near, can steal your wallet, phone, purse or whichever valuables you’ve left inside your unlocked car. Sometimes they don’t even bother to use a distraction and just use a knife to threaten you while they steal your belongings.

That’s why they target cars exiting the city, because there would be too many witnesses and too many people who could warn you about this scam. But once you’re on the on ramp or on the motorway, you’re isolated. However, that doesn’t mean it only happens there, we’ve also heard stories of tourists falling for the same scam right on the Via Diagonal, one of the busiest streets of Barcelona.

Barcelona-tire_puncture_scam-tourist-ripoffsMost rental cars (and most car owners too) have roadside assistance which you could call in case of a puncture, so when you notice something strange with your tires, pull over and keep your car locked. Just call the assistance and wait for them to arrive. Don’t open your doors or windows to strangers. And if you don’t have roadside assistance and need to change your wheel yourself, stow your luggage on the back seat and lock the car when you need to clear the boot to get to the spare wheel. Don’t just set your bags on the side of the road to be grabbed when you’re distracted.

If you’re traveling as a couple, never get out of the car together and always make sure one of you stays in the car, preferably with the doors locked (a handbag on the rear seat can be gone before you realize what’s happening). Actually, always lock your doors locked when you exit the car. If a friendly seeming biker or other local approaches you offering his help, thank him for this offer but always keep an eye on your car and your belongings.


  1. Harry Walker says:

    We have heard a variant of this scam that happened to two groups that we know of five years apart. The first; a couple and the other two couples. They both had rental cars and had stopped at services centres N.W of Barcelona. Both groups later drove out of the centre, getting about 1/2 mile down the highway when they stopped for a flat tire. When they were out trying to see what should be done, ” help” arrived with men in fleurescent safety vests. The marks were distracted from their luggage only to have their luggage and or valuables disappear. This must be a very pervasive problem which police/tourist authorities should be warning about. It seems to be to have been surpressed as “bad for tourism”.

  2. Elaine Gampel says:

    We just experienced this flat tire scam on the Diagonal leaving Barcelona two weeks ago. My husband and I are so cautious but when we were told we had a flat , we were led by the scooter guy off the main road (he then left which made us relax some) … then offered a parking place by a driver pulling out… then told of some help to change the flat by a pedestrian walking by (carrying a neon vest which led us to believe he was a traffic person) … and while we were shown by him where to go someone came out of the bushes and grabbed my pocketbook and carry on- all four working together to scam us in less than a minute! Learned lesson: If you have a flat, stay in the car, call the police or the helpline from your travel person or rental agency and keep your doors locked! We were upset that the police told us this is getting pretty common in Barcelona and when we returned to Avis to replace the car they were aware. Tell us please! ….not just about the pickpockets – but about the local scams. We could have been cautioned by Avis- or the travel folks- or the hotel. Keep your visitors informed!

    • The criminal punctured our rental car tire in the same way, but I suspected that the suddenly sympathetic good samaritan on the motorbike cared too much for our trouble, in a city with a huge awful attitude. Thus we did not get robbed but the day was ruined and we did not renew the rental as we were concerned something else and worse can happen in a place so crime-ridden. Our lesson is – Barcelona never again, I had a premonition based on all the bad publicity regarding the recent negativity for tourists and if we did not have tickets for the opera, I would cancel /change that leg of our trip. I am glad we had a great performance at the opera but it turned very expensive since we have to deal with AMEX insurance, etc hassle with this rental, a waste of time and good mood. Afterwards one asks herself – why Barcelona, when there are a myriad of cities and places welcoming tourists. Never again, Barcelona, you can keep it!

  3. This robbery method has been common in Barcelona for over fifteen years. It’s still happening, unfortunately. It has happened twice to me, I did not fall for for it either time, the first time because a kind (real!) bystander warned us, the second time because I knew what was afoot, but the tire is not repairable and costs a pretty penny (a nail in the tread of the tire can be repaired for <20€, but a hole in the wall of the tire cannot, the tire must be replaced).

  4. Arvind Gupta says:

    October 18, 2017

    Happened to us yesterday in Barcelona. Lost passports and purses to the scammers. Had a busy day getting new tire, passports and driving to Madrid. Very difficult to communicate since very few people speak english. Hope the police will take it seriously.

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