When the rubber hits the road, you do not want anything holding you back. Your vehicle is built to last thousands of miles to get you where you need to go and everywhere in between.
However, not all vehicle parts are invincible. If you hit rough terrain or run over an errant nail, your tire can spring a leak and lead to disastrous results.
Air can leak from anywhere on the tire, but finding the location right away will determine if you can fix it on your own or if it will need a complete replacement. If it’s tubeless and the puncture is in the tread area, you can learn how to plug a tire in a few simple steps.
So, just how do you plug a tire? Keep reading for a step-by-step guide.
The Short Answer
You plug a tire by using a tire plugging kit and other tools to widen the hole, cement it, and seal it. Having the right tools for a tread leak is essential if you want to get on the road as fast as possible.
Gather the Tools
Before you can fix anything, you need the right tools and materials. Make sure you have a complete tire plug kit ready before you try to plug a tire:
- Plugging kit
- Spray bottle
- Wire cutters
- Soap and water solution
- Paper towels
- Plug stips
- Sealing cement
Locate the Leak
Once you have everything, you need to find the leak. An easy way to do this is to pump the tire full of air and make it firm.
Lift the car onto carjack, so you can rotate the wheel and examine it closely for the leak. There is no need to remove the wheel at this point!
If the leak location is not obvious, use the soap and water solution to spray the tire. You will spot the location based on where bubbles appear.
If the leak is caused by an obstruction, like a screw, staple, metal, or nail, use the pliers to remove it.
Ream the Hole
From the tire plug kit, take the reaming tool and jam it into the hole. Maneuver it up and down while simultaneously rotating it. You are widening the hole and creating texture on the inner surface to prepare it for plugging.
Remove the tool and inspect the hole to see if it is round and uniform. If it is not, reinsert it and repeat until it is.
If the hole is tiny, the reaming tool might not insert. If this happens, try a hand-held drill that’s smaller than the reaming tool to enlarge the hole. Then you can insert the reamer and roughen the hole.
Prep the Plug
Now, take a plug strip from the tire plugging kit and the plug insertion tool. Thread the strip through the insertion tool with help from the pliers. You want to pull it through the eyelet until it is sticking out equally on both sides.
Next, coat the entire strip with tire sealing cement and do the same thing to the hole in the tire.
Insert the Strip
Slowly slide the plug insertion tool and cement-covered plug into the hole. You will need to exert some pressure to get the plug inside the hole.
Keep sliding it in until about an inch of the plug is left protruding from the tire. Carefully maneuver the plug insertion tool straight up, so it slides free and leaves the plug in place.
Fill the Tire
Use a pump or air compressor to fill the tire to ten percent less than the maximum rated pressure. Grab that soap and water solution to test the hole and ensure no leak around the plug.
Grab a paper towel, remove any excess tire sealing cement around the plug, and then let the tire sit for about five minutes. You can now use wire cutters to remove excess bits while leaving about 1/8 inch protruding from the tire.
How To Know It’s Safe to Plug Your Tire
As noted, the plug repair process is easy, but safety is not as straightforward. There were sadly 738 fatalities due to tire-related vehicle accidents in the US in 2017 alone. You must know how to deal with tire issues safely and know the difference between when it is and isn’t safe to do them yourself.
When assessing the safety of using a plug, look out for these key things:
- How big is the puncture? If the damage is minor, you can fix the hole safely. However, if the hole in your tire is very large, you may need a replacement instead.
- What supplies do you have? There are specialist supplies you need to solve the issue of how you plug a tire. This usually involves both a tire repair patch and a plug. If you don’t have access to the repair equipment needed, you should not attempt to plug the tire with any other tape or items you find.
- Is there debris in the tire? If there is debris that you can’t remove, you should not attempt to plug it yourself. It may damage the tire, later on, causing more severe issues for your vehicle.
If you are unsure whether you can do repairs safely, it’s best to speak to a professional. Although it may cost you more money, your safety should always come first.
Why It’s Not Always Safe To Plug a Tire
For a tire to be safe to use, it needs consistent air pressure with no leaks. If it has a puncture or air is escaping, this can cause your tire to move in ways it shouldn’t, which can cause you to swerve and lead to accidents.
Some issues or punctures are too large or complicated for someone to fix it using DIY methods. If this is the case, you will need to get a professional repair or new tire. Although it can be annoying to have to pay money for the repairs, your safety should be your top priority.
When To Consult a Professional
Even if you think your tire repair has gone well, you should monitor your tire for a short period afterward to make sure there are no issues.
One of the best ways to do this is to regularly check your air pressure and maintain an optimal inflation level. If you have properly sealed the puncture, it should remain stable. However, if the plug has been unsuccessful, it will drop.
If you find that the air pressure is inconsistent, it’s a sign that you need to consult a professional.
Before you hit the road again, do one more leak test for safety. You can use the soap and water solution again at this point. If there is no bubbling, the plug is working!
You can lower the vehicle and remove the jack to get back on track! If the hole was a bad one, contact a mechanic to ensure your car is still safe.
The Bottom Line
Now, do you know how to plug a tire? You will have success if you have a hole in the tread, but not if the leak is coming from where the sidewall and the rim meet or if the sidewall has been punctured. Both of these leaks require an expert’s aid, and you should visit a mechanic if you’re inexperienced.
Tire damage is not something to ignore, considering the dangers of a blowout on the highway or at any speed. Follow these steps carefully for a repair job that will get you safely to your next destination.
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