We’re all been there. Somehow a nail worked its way into our car tire. Maybe you see your tire pressure light go on right away, or maybe you kept having to top off the air in your tire and realized that something was up. However you found the damage, you’ve either gotta replace or repair it. Should you decide to fix it up on your own, here’s what you’ll need.
If you take your car to a professional repair shop, they’ll repair your tire using a patch plug method. This is the most effective and recommended way to repair a tire for long term safety. Greg Kopf, Brand Ambassador at CARiD.com, told me more about this process. “Installing these requires dismounting the tire from the rim feeding the plug portion of the patch through the hole in the tire, and then cementing or adhering the patch to the inside of the tire.”
The plug patch method is quite difficult to accomplish at home because once the tire is dismounted, it needs to be balanced. Dismounting and balancing require professional, bulky equipment. Most DIY enthusiasts turn to a less reliable way of repairing the tire, also known as plugging the tire. Others use the plug as a temporary fix until they are able to get it to the repair shop.
You absolutely can repair the tire yourself with a plug, Paul Brooker, Lead Automotive Specialist for FIXD, told me. “This will come down to having the tools needed to do so along with the knowledge to look and inspect the tire. It is best to remove the tire from the vehicle and locate the leak visually or with a soapy water mixture then assess if it is possible to plug/repair.”
Sometimes, however, the inside of the tire or the inner sidewall may be damaged without your noticing it. If that is the case, the tire would be compromised and need to be replaced entirely. Joe Akers, Director of Operations at Cowles Nissan cautions, “A compromised tire can fail at any time. A tire failure at any speed is dangerous, imaging it happening at 70 MPH. Plug your tires at your own risk.”
To start, you’ll need a jack. This allows you to jack up the car so you can remove the tire safely. Kopf recommends this one from OTC. It comes with two jack stands as well.
You’ll need to remove your wheel from your car for the easiest way to repair it. “This wrench’s long handle design provides the needed leverage to loosen and tighten lug nuts. I really like the fact that it includes two flip sockets with four of the most common sizes for lug nuts so you’re not searching for the right size,” Kopf shares.
Of course, you’ll need a tire repair kit. “[It must] include at least the following: insertion tool, reamer tool, tires plugs, and lubricant. Many kits will also come with pressure gauges and a cutting tool with patches,” Reamer explains.
For easy removal and replacement, and if you plan to be doing many repairs on your car in the future, Kopf recommends this impact wrench from Milwaukee. However, “Do not tighten completely with [the] impact gun,” he tells me. “Torque to spec by hand when tightening.”
During my time working in service centers, I always dreaded finding a tire where an emergency inflator was used. Fix-a-Flat and related emergency tire sealants tend to damage the tire and wheel; Akers confirmed this.
“Tire flat inflation and seal products do work however they are for emergency use only,” Akers told me. “We find they can cause irreparable damage to the rim of the tire you’re repairing.”
So should you use it? The answer is simple. Yes, it works. However, only use it in a true emergency situation, not if you have any other options. It may end up costing you more than an emergency roadside service if it costs you your wheel and/or tire.
Just remember, “When plugging a tire or patching a tire the general rule is not within 1 inch of the sidewall of the tire. Also, a tire should never be plugged or repaired if the damage is on or in the sidewall. After the plug or patch is used to repair the tire, be sure to inflate the tire back up to the recommended pressure,” Brooker reminds.
Bottom line, if in doubt, take it into a pro. If you plug it, take it in as well and get it fixed right. If you don’t, it’s at your own risk.