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.

  5. Jay Sing says

    This exact same thing happened with us. We were robbed off of nearly $12,000 worth of goods and the cost to replace these goods now. Happened to us on Av. Diagnol in Barcelona.

    In addition to this, our Passports and PR cards were stolen too. Otherwise amazing tour got ruined due to this. Barcelona never again. Police was not at all helpful.

    If someone wants to get in touch and discuss. Please email me at

  6. Susan Callaghan says

    Yep!!! This just happened to us in Ibiza Spain .
    Just been scammed! We pick up car at airport. Man on scooter spiked our tyre at roundabout then alerted us as we drove . We pull over and he wants to help. We say no and nurse the car to the hotel . When we get there the man has followed us to “see if we r ok” and to help us change tyre. Then his accomplice appears from nowhere on another scooter . We call Hertz and they say we have to change our own tyre. While all this is going on I grab our bags and keep them on me tight. Man offers to carry our luggage into hotel. I let him coz they are heavy. He does this then gets off. I go on internet and it’s a huge scam in Barcelona. Lucky he didn’t bank on us staying in the hotel and his plan was foiled.

  7. Just happened to my friend who is visiting me outside of Barcelona and is moving his family from the US to Valencia. They spiked the tire in a round about in the center of Barcelona and then another came in with a car and was about to attempt to rob them only a pedestrian saw what was going on and chased them away. The tire needs to be ordered so they are now stuck here for a few days and the kids will miss their first day of school in Valencia. The local police don’t seem to care and they just stand around not even trying to look busy.

  8. We have some friends moving to Valencia from the US. We have been helping them here in Barcelona getting their residency etc. They arrived 10 days ago. On their 2nd day here they fell victim to the scam at the rotunda at the Arch. This forced them to rent a second car and leave there’s with us. They had to get to Valencia to register the kids for their school. Of course the govt came up with a lame excuse for them to have to return for their residency and so they did two days ago. This morning was their return to the police station and afterward their tire again was punctured in a rotunda in the city. That’s twice in 10 days to the same car. Not a good look for the city of Barcelona or a vote of confidence for the Catalunya police.

  9. Candy Henderson says

    We just came back from Spain and this happened to us. I wished we read about this before we went. So please be very careful if you are driving and if anyone tries to flag you down to pull over so he can help you, DON’T!!! They took everything in the front of our car, two cell phones, my purse with about $400 cash, camera, my husband’s backpack with a tablet, go pro and his electrically shave. Thankfully, we have our passports. To put salt on the wound, rental car is trying to charge us for the flat tire even we bought the insurance. This is a known issue, the rental car companies should warn the tourists when we rent car. What a nightmare and I do hope these people get their karma!!!

  10. f 72 ·
    Just got back from a one week holiday in Barcelona. We were victims of the “flat tire syndicate” if that was the name most people would call them. We were enroute to San Sebastián on a rental van, my husband was driving. I was with my 8 year old daughter and 2 other friends of ours on the same vehicle. Two hours away from city center, we decided to stop at this gas station/rest area with a restaurant called “AIREA” in Leida along AP-2 Highway. After getting coffee for about 15 minutes we decided to hit the road again. Just after 4kms away from the gas station, we felt our tire was flat and decided to pull over the middle of the highway. Within 3-4 minutes, this white AUDI hatchback comes to the rescue. The driver was alone, wearing a neon yellow vest (like what the highway assistance wears). We were glad he pulled over to offer help. He told us to take all our luggage out because we needed to get the spare tire. And we did. Then he asked us to stay away from the van because it was not safe for us to stay inside due to the oncoming vehicles. Once we were outside he said he needed to place one of the hand carry luggage inside and told us to phone the wrecker via SOS phone booth which was 1km away. Our friend walked towards the booth to call. While the girls stayed on the side. I noticed he reversed his vehicle closer to us and thought, oh he must be thinking of towing us with his car later. Only to find out that was his way of opening his trunk without us noticing and securing all our handbags for him to steal. He fled within 5 minutes after he moved his car. He stole my friends jacket (which he used to cover our handbags) so we will not notice. And we only discovered we were robbed when we saw his trunk open as he fled about 2kms away. It was impossible to go after him with our tire wreck. We lost a total of 3 handbags and 1 laptop bag. Total of €8,000 cash, and credit cards. Later that night he withdrew €800.00 from my friend’s debit card via ATM. Police arrived after 40 minutes. The towing also arrived 30 mins after. It was so traumatic. We never had any pick pocket incident in Barcelona, in the many years we have been going back to this beautiful city. But to be robbed while you are in the middle of nowhere is quite disturbing. We were definitely not prepared and was not on guard. Lesson learned the hard way. Thank God he did not harm us or was violent in any way. But man! To steal that much money at one time?! As per Policia these are Serbians/Kosovans. Our friend can speak Spanish fluently and he noticed that the their was having a hard time communicating with us in Spanish. We did the police reports and all but everything was gone, no cash, credit cards, passports. We had no choice but to cancel our trip to San Sebastián and instead drive back to Barcelona to fix our documentation. Vacation gone bad! Never again Barcelona!

    • Just had flat tire incident near the Porto, Portugal on the way from Spain. We stopped at the gas station and my kids went to the rest room etc., noticed two guys near the door, and some other people standing near the entrance, but didn’t paid attention. Later on saw one car parked near mine. Also one thing is that the cashier tried to overcharge me giving me back 20 euros less. I drove for 5 min and tire pressure monitor showed decreasing air, and as I was driving really fast during the rain, was passing all cars, I think they were way behind. When I saw no car in the mirror I exit the highway and paid at the toll station and parked after it at their parking, and changed tire, I was lucky to speed and also to find exit right before my tires were completely flat. The main thing, I noticed several cars standing on the road side or being evacuated after that gas station.

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