How To Plug a Tire and Quickly Fix Your Flat
Time to do it yourself.
Estimated Time Needed: 1 hour, Skill Level: Beginner, Cost: About $30 (plus the cost of the eventual replacement tire)
Getting a flat sucks. As simple of an inconvenience as it sounds, it’s just another one of those little problems that induce nothing but big headaches. In an instant, your whole schedule is blindsided as you scurry to look up pricing on replacement rubber or to dig up those cumbersome spare tire kits in the trunk.
Your sighs of annoyance are heard across the entire neighborhood as you realize that not even the best of modern tire technology is indestructible. Been there, done that, but fixing a flat tire doesn’t have to be a migraine.
Car Bibles is here to teach you how to plug your tire and fix that flat. Keep in mind that plugging a tire is a temporary fix, and the tire will need to be replaced or properly repaired at a later time. We’ll go over some preparatory steps followed by the nitty-gritty know-how on making that hole disappear, and soon you’ll be prepared for the next time life decides to throw a wrench in your cogs (or perhaps a nail in your tread).
The Safety Brief
Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger.
First and foremost, it’s always recommended that you patch a tire or replace the tire if you can. Plugs are okay as temporary fixes, but those two options are always better and safer.
If you choose to plug the tire, rubber gloves will offer the most dexterity, but true mechanic gloves will definitely yield better protection, especially when yanking out the presumably-sharp object embedded in your tire. Safety glasses will protect from rubber bits you might fling removing the punctured object or fluids you might splash trying to pinpoint the leak.
Additionally, it’s important to note that the center tread portion is the only area where a tire can be repaired. Any damage to the shoulder (outer edge) or the sidewalls is automatically deemed irreparable as they are key structural components in the tire’s construction that have now been compromised.
The Tools You Need
Don’t start a job only to realize you don’t have the right tools. Make sure you’re ready right off the bat. Here’s exactly what you’ll need to get it done.
- Automotive jack
- Jack stands
- Air compressor
- Air chuck
- Valve stem core removal tool
- Tire wrench or breaker bar
- Torque wrench
- Tire plug kit (which should include rubber plug strings, rubber cement, plugging tool, tire reamer)
The Task: Here’s How To Plug a Tire and Fix Your Flat
Let’s do this!
1. Remove the wheel.
Using a breaker bar or even a tire wrench that may be included inside your car’s spare kit, break and loosen the lug nuts just enough to be removed with ease, but leave them on just enough to hold the wheel to the hub. Trying to break the nuts when the vehicle has been raised may simply cause it to rotate in place.
On a flat, level surface, raise the vehicle with an appropriate automotive jack from a proper jacking point and allow it to rest on jack stands. As a safety precaution, leave the jack raised just barely beneath the vehicle to catch it in the unlikely event of jack stand failure.
2. Locate the puncture.
Remove wheel and identify the puncture by eye or with a soap and water solution; remove any embedded objects found. If the hole is hidden with no embedded object, splashing the tire with a dish soap and water solution can reveal it via the resulting bubbling and hissing.
3. Take out the nail, screw, or objects.
If the embedded object is still there, carefully remove it with the proper pliers. If desired, mark the puncture however you’d like via marker, pen, etc.
4. Let some air out.
Deflate most of the air from your tire to reduce resistance to accept the plug. You may manually release air by hand pressing down on the valve or, for added ease, use a core removal tool to disassemble the valve. Reinstall core when enough air has been released.
5. Cut the hole out.
Bore the puncture with the reaming tool by moving it in and out a few times over. This will allow for easier installation of the plug and remove stray bits of rubber that could hinder the seal. Add rubber cement as you ream to lubricate the insides of the puncture and aid in providing the seal when dry.
6. Place the plug into the hole.
Insert plug string halfway through the tip of the plugging tool, lubricate with rubber cement if available, and insert deep into the puncture until it is snug. This may take a bit of force to really get it in. Trim off excess plug string so that it’s flush with the surface of the tire.
7. Put air back in your tire.
Using your own air compressor at home or perhaps one at a gas station parking lot, inflate your tire back to the appropriate pressure as per the informational plaque typically mounted on the driver-side door pillar.
8. Put the wheel back on.
Install the wheel back onto the hub and tighten lug nuts by hand. Do not torque when the vehicle is raised as the wheel may simply spin in place. Once secured, lower the vehicle to the ground.
9. Torque the lugs.
Using a torque wrench, torque your lug nuts back to the appropriate specs. If torque specs cannot be found in any owner’s literature, online forums can provide a quick answer. If a torque wrench is unavailable, use a breaker bar or tire wrench to tighten lug nuts firmly and torque them once you are home.
FAQs About How To Plug a Tire
Car Bibles answers all your burning questions.
Q. How safe are tire plug kits?
A. There is the notion that tire plug kits can be a bit sketchy, which is why it’s important to do the job properly with a quality kit. Again, rubber cement aids with an air-tight seal around the plug, so find a kit that includes some if you can. Even though it’s a repairable puncture, the overall tire structure is still compromised, so refrain from strenuous driving such as off-roading, road racing, or even high freeway speeds. Still, we recommend using a patch or replacing the tire if you can. Plugs are only temporary.
Q. How long can I drive with a plugged tire?
A. While I’ve admittedly seen people drive on plugged tires for extended periods, the intent of a plug is to help the tire hold air so that it may reach a tire shop for proper replacement. Some mechanics may claim that a spot-on job could hold air indefinitely, but a good rule of thumb is to only use the plug for a range of up to eight miles.
Q. Can you plug a tire while it’s still mounted on the car?
A. Absolutely. Jacks and jack stands are not a necessity, and some guides on the internet will showcase the job while the tire is still sitting pretty on the vehicle. Removing the wheel completely simply makes it easier to spot and plug the puncture, as you would be free to manipulate the wheel in whatever way you would need to.
Learn More From This Helpful Video Tutorial
We understand some folks are more visual learners than anything else, myself included. Nothing wrong with that, right? For that specific reason, Car Bibles has included this brilliant tutorial by notable YouTube mechanic, Chris Fix, to accompany you. The no-gimmicks walkthrough features detailed, first-person close-ups of the task at hand including the removal of the tire and how to use the tools in your tire plug kit.
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