Don’t you hate it when you start your car in the morning and your commute is delayed thanks to warning lights about a low tire? If this happens every few days, you might feel like pulling out your hair. To help keep your hair in place, I put together this guide.
First, find where the air leak is coming from. This can happen in the tire itself, between the wheel and tire, or at the valves or stems. If you’ve identified an air leak in the tire, you can repair it with a tire plug or a tire patch. A tire plug is done from the outside. Meanwhile, a tire patch requires the wheel to be separated from the tire to apply it from the inside and is usually more durable than a plug. If the wheel rim is bent, this could also cause the tire to go flat slowly. Allow wheels on a vehicle can be refurbished.
I’ll explain how to fix a tire that keeps losing air every few days. I’ll go through some of the major culprits, complete troubleshooting steps, and repair guides for each example. My goal is to help you find out what the issue is and fix it as soon as possible.
The Importance of Air in Your Tires
Having the right pressure in all of your tires is critical. I always get surprised when a friend’s low-pressure alarm is going off and they simply shrug it off.
Why is pressure so important? Tire pressure determines things like how long it takes your car to stop, how quickly you can accelerate, how many miles per gallon your car gets, and your overall performance.
To put it simply, keeping your tire pressure at the recommended level is fast, and easy, and ensures your vehicle is operating at the most efficient level in terms of fuel economy.
The air will determine how inflated your tire is. Overinflation or underinflation will cause the tread of your tire to sit on the road incorrectly.
Another hint that pressure is important is the fact that manufacturers put a sensor in each tire. This checks the pressure and reports if the pressure is too low. If tire pressure didn’t matter, manufacturers wouldn’t waste money on these sensors.
One Refill Might Not Be Enough
When you find out that your tire pressure is low, your first instinct should be to fill them up. Sometimes, a single refill is enough to keep your tires full for a long time.
In this guide, I’ll be talking about tires that keep losing air, regardless of how many times they’re refilled. This is a clear indicator that something is wrong. The good news is that most of the solutions are pretty simple.
Your Tires Need to Be Leak-Proof
The idea behind air pressure is that it only works in a leak-proof environment. Tires are very specifically designed to be fully sealed, trapping the air. When you add new air, you’re not displacing the old stuff, you’re just increasing the pressure of the whole tire.
You’ll notice that a lot of the culprits and troubleshooting involve this idea of leak-proof tires. Even the smallest pinhole can cause your tire to lose air every few days, so keep that in mind as I move forward through this guide.
Why Your Tire Is Losing Air & How To Fix It
Why is your tire losing air in the first place? There are a few major reasons, but all of them revolve around the wheels themselves. This makes troubleshooting easier.
The following are a few major culprits along with the solution for each one.
1. Valve Stem Is Broken
The valve stem is the part that sticks out of your tires. This is the part that you attach the air pump to in order to refill your tires in the first place.
This valve is connected directly to the part of your tires that stores the air. As a result, the valve needs to be leak-proof and fully functional.
These are one-way check valves. There’s a little bit of engineering that goes into them. A spring will keep the valve sealed at all times unless you push enough air into it.
In other words, the valve should always be closed and sealed unless you’re filling up your tires. As you can probably guess, this isn’t always the case.
If the valve has rust, damage, or is worn out, then it won’t seal anymore. If the tire stem has a hole or damage to it, then the whole tire is no longer leak-proof.
In either case, you’ll be losing air.
Luckily, this problem is contained within the small area of your valve stems. If the valve itself is broken, you’ll hear hissing air if you lean close to the tire. This is the air escaping through the mechanism of the valve.
This should only be happening on one tire. If it happens on tires on opposite sides of your car, you’re either very unlucky or it doesn’t have to do with your valves at all.
How to fix it
You’ll need to replace the valve. This is done much easier with the right equipment so having a shop replace it is recommended. To remove the valve stem, start by prying the tire off the rims.
That will expose the entirety of the valves. Use a pair of pliers to remove the valve completely and reach behind the rim to remove the base of the assembly.
Push the new assembly in and fill it up with some air to pop it into place. From there, seat the tire back onto the rim and you’re all done.
2. There Is a Puncture
In my experience, the most common reason your tire keeps losing air is due to a puncture. This is a general term that means something made a hole in your tire. If the hole goes deep enough, then it will create a leak that allows air to escape.
Depending on the puncture, sometimes the screw or nail could still be on and not even noticeable especially if it punctured the tire in a hidden area. The air escaping could vary from minutes to weeks. Often times whatever punctures the tire doesn’t embed into the tire, simply punctures it.
I had an instance where there was a nail in my tire, and I didn’t notice for months. Every week or so I would have to refill my tire. The air was barely escaping around the nail, meaning that the leak was really slow.
You might have something embedded in your tire, or it could just be a hole.
This is likely only going to happen on one tire. It’s uncommon that more than one tire gets a minor puncture at the same time, but it’s still worth checking.
To troubleshoot, grab an empty spray bottle. Fill it with water and a little bit of dish soap. Shake the bottle vigorously then take it over to your car. Spray this solution across the entirety of your tire.
Wherever air is escaping, there will be a lot of bubbling (thanks to the dish soap).
If it’s hard for you to see around your tire, you might need to jack up your car and remove the tire. It’s always easier without doing this since extra pressure will be on your tires thanks to your car’s weight. This added weight makes the air escape a little faster, making the puncture more noticeable.
How to fix it
Your two options are to either replace the tire or plug it. To plug the tire, there are a lot of factors you need to consider, so I highly suggest following my tire plugging guide.
To replace the tire, you’ll need to remove it and put on a new tire. Unless your tires are brand-new or have very little use on them, you can’t just replace one tire. I’ll talk about this idea later.
3. The Temperature Is Changing
This option is less common, especially if your tire pressure drops consistently every few days. It’s still worth mentioning just in case you live in an area that has wild temperature swings on a daily or weekly basis.
In my guide about knowing if your tire is flat or just needs air, I discussed this concept in great detail. The short version is that cold air contracts and hot air expands.
If your tire goes through a lot of transitions from hot to cold, your pressure will drop. In fact, it can get so low that your low-pressure sensor triggers a light on your dashboard.
The unique nature of this problem is that you won’t notice a hole, puncture, or any mechanical defects. Your pressure is low simply because of the chemistry of the air inside of your tire or tires.
This is the only culprit that should affect more than one tire at a time. Usually, all four of your tires will be low if the temperature is to blame.
The only troubleshooting you can do is rule out the other culprits and look at the temperature in the past few days. If this morning was especially cold as compared to the past few days, then your low pressure could be due to the weather.
How to fix it
The solution is to simply refill your tires with air until they’re all at the manufacturer’s suggested PSI. One of the many perks of parking in a garage is that these temperature swings won’t lower your tire pressure, so consider parking inside if you can.
4. You Have a Defective Tire
This problem is even more annoying if you’re dealing with a brand-new tire leaking. I’ve personally bought a tire in the past and then experienced a leak right after putting it on my car. I thought I did something wrong during the installation, but it turns out that the tire was just defective.
A defective tire has something mechanically wrong with it that allows air to leak out. It could be a hole, an incorrectly installed bead, or any number of incorrectly done manufacturing steps.
The bottom line is that the tire isn’t holding air the way it should be.
If you just installed a new tire and you’re losing pressure, there’s a chance it’s just a defective tire. If you haven’t driven anywhere, then the chance of this is even higher.
If you can’t find anything wrong with a new tire and you can guarantee it was correctly installed, then you should assume that it’s defective.
How to fix it
The best solution is to reach out to whoever sold you the tire and report it. A lot of tire manufacturers have a certain grace period where they’ll replace a tire for free. Make sure you let them know as soon as you find out your tire is defective.
They might ask for some numbers found on your tire which will help them trace back the tire and find out the root of the problem.
5. The Wheel Is Damaged
The other part of the equation that I haven’t mentioned yet is the wheel. As a reminder, the wheel is the metal part that your tire sits on. You need the circumference of the wheel to be smooth and undamaged.
Of course, the tire itself is holding all of the pressure and keeping the air sealed. The wheel is the strong part of the assembly that keeps the tire together and in place.
If the wheel is bent, corroded, out of shape, or has cracks, problems can occur. Any of these mechanical issues will result in a wheel that isn’t perfectly circular. As your tires spin around, the misshaped wheel will add extra vibration and motion between the metal and rubber of the wheel assembly.
In this scenario, the metal will start eating into the rubber. In fact, it can cause the beads within your tires to fail, leading to leaking air.
To find a damaged wheel, you’ll want to pay attention to how your car feels while you’re driving. It might be more obvious at low or high speeds, depending on the type of damage you have.
At any rate, you’ll notice that one of your tires is especially shaky and wobbly as you’re driving. This is a hint that there might be damage. If this is the same side that you have the tire that needs air every few days, then there’s a good chance you found the culprit.
How to fix it
Alloy wheels are repairable if the wheel is not warped beyond repair. Repair costs can range between $100 to $300 per wheel. Often times it makes sense to refurbish your car wheels because after they repair the wheel, they refinish and paint it which gets rid of any curb rashes basically making it like-new.
If the price is too high or if you can’t find a local alloy wheel repair technician in your area, sometimes it makes sense to simply replace it with the same exact wheel. If it’s OEM, there are some websites dedicated to selling brand new OEM wheels. eBay is another great source.
Remember To Replace Tires In Pairs
I also want to specifically talk about replacing your tires. A lot of the troubleshooting steps I just explained have to do with swapping out a tire for a new one.
You should never replace a single worn tire with a new one without replacing its partner. For FWD or RWD cars, you might be able to replace just one pair of tires — either the front or rear set, depending on which is the problem tire you’re replacing in the first place.
For AWD and 4WD vehicles, you’ll need to replace all four.
The reasoning boils down to the physics of driving. Your car’s tread will determine how your car performs, accelerates, decelerates, and turns. If one tire has way more grip than the other 3, your car will pull in that direction, and you could spin out if you speed up or slow down too fast.
Since FWD and RWD cars only power a single set of wheels, you can typically get away with just replacing one set at a time. If you try the same in an AWD or 4WD, you’ll run into the same problem I was just mentioning.
The only exception to this rule is if all of your tires are new. If they all have very little mileage and wear on them, you can replace a single tire without running into this problem.
This is why tire shops will always try to sell you tires in pairs. They’re not trying to scam you out of more money, they’re trying to keep you safe on the road.
Now you know how to fix that pesky tire that keeps demanding more air. If you ignore the low-pressure warning, you could run into a lot of performance and safety issues with your car, so make sure you fix it as soon as possible.
For more car troubleshooting guides, take a look at my blog. I also have some products that can come in handy for you, including a portable air compressor — check out the full list here.