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How to Repair a Flat Car Tire (Easy Step-by-Step Guide)

Intro

Plugging a tire is a really easy process. Even so, a lot of people don’t know the right way to do it. You can save a lot of time and money by plugging your car’s tire. In the following sections, you’ll learn why plugging a tire is so great and we’ll tell you our easy step-by-step instructions for plugging your car’s tire.

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Understanding How Your Tires Work

Before getting into our easy step-by-step guide, let’s take a second and talk about how your tires work. It might seem like a really easy concept, but not many people know the truth.

The strongest part of a tire is where the tread is. This is the grooved section along the center. Anything outside of this immediate area is really weak, comparatively.

Why? It’s simply because that’s the only part of your tire that should be in contact with the road under it. The sides, or sidewall, of your tires, are just there to keep the tire pressure correct and hold the tire together.

Can Every Tire Be Repaired?

Not every tire or every puncture can be repaired. This is devastating news to a lot of people. Whether or not you can patch or plug it depends on a few factors — let’s take a look at what stops you from repairing one.

Plugging vs Patching

When doing a plug repair on a car tire. This can be done from the outside with a car tire plug kit. Patching a car tire is done by removing the tire from the wheel and patching it from the inside. This article will be focused on how to do a patch repair job.

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Size of the Puncture

A hole over 1/4 of an inch is typically unable to be plugged or patched. With large holes like these, the plug isn’t strong enough to secure the tire. A large amount of force will be pushing against the plug and it will most likely fail.

On top of that, plug kits come with specifically-sized rubber insert rods. If the plug is larger than these rods, there’s nothing you can do besides replace the tire.

Car tire with a nail lodged in it

Number of Punctures

If an angry neighbor left a handful of nails in your driveway, you might be left with tires that can’t be repaired.

In general, anything more than a single puncture usually calls for a complete replacement of your tire. If you look at the stresses that your tire sees from multiple punctures, this makes sense. The air is trying desperately to escape through the plugged holes – the more you have, the more likely it is that your tire will blow out.

Worn Tires

A lesser-known reason to avoid a tire plug is due to your tires being worn. As you know, the tread on your tires wears down over time. We always suggest checking the health of your tires before considering a tire plug.

If your tires are too worn, there isn’t enough strength in your tires. A plug kit can only do so much, and your tires might fail.

In the case of worn tires, it’s probably best to replace all of your tires.

Worn out tire with a nail in it

Location of the Hole

We hinted at it earlier, but the sidewall of your tire is especially weak. There’s not enough meat for a plug kit to work.

The rule of thumb is that any puncture outside of the main strip of tread cannot be repaired.

Cracks, Bubbles, or Tire Deformities

It’s not rare to find a bubble in your tire after noticing a nail in your tread. When your tire gets punctured, other parts of the rubber can structurally fail.

You can tell if your tire is weak if you see cracks, bulges or bubbles, or any type of tire deformity. If you see any of these signs, you should ditch the plug kit and immediately replace your tire. It’s probably best to have the car towed to your local auto shop because a bubble is the first sign that your tire can blow out soon.

What Does a Tire Plug Do?

When you pick up a tire plug kit, you’ll notice a few things are included. There are two t-handled pieces of metal, a tube of some liquid, and multiple rods of a rubber material. All of these come together to create a single kit.

The idea is that the rubber is used to fill the hole in your tire. All the other accessories help to create a strong seal which can survive as you drive along.

Benefits of a Tire Plug

The alternative to plugging a tire is to replace the tire instead. If your wheels have some miles on them, this probably means that you’ll need to replace all four tires.

Avoiding this expensive and time-consuming process is the exact reason why the tire plug kit was invented.

The Price

First and foremost, plug kits are dirt-cheap. It’s pretty common to find kits that are less than $20. A lot of them are even under $10. Comparatively, new tires could be hundreds of dollars and require professional help.

Car tire plug kit

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Speed of the Process

If you follow our guide in a later section, you can have your tires plugged in just a few minutes. Replacing the tires could take days if you need to wait for spare parts to come in. You can plug a tire on the side of the road and get back to driving in no time.

Repair vs. Replace

In the world of car maintenance, repairing is almost always preferred over replacement. It means saving time and money. A tire plug kit is a prime example of repairing a flat tire instead of replacing it.

Step-By-Step Guide to Plug a Tire

Without further ado, let’s get into our easy step-by-step guide to plug a tire. After determining that the tire’s puncture can be repaired, you can start working through these steps.

Tools Needed

In reality, all you need is a tire plug kit and a way to remove your tire for easier access. For most this means a jack stand, jack, needle nose pliers, and tire iron or wrench set.

#1: Find the Leak

Inflating the car tire

The first step depends on how much you know about your tire’s puncture. If you’re lucky, you can simply see the nail in your tread when your car is parked.

Start by finding the punctured tire. You can do this by checking the tire pressure of each of your tires with a gauge.

Fill up the low tire and see if the pressure deflates back over the next few days. We suggest using a portable tire inflator.

When you confirmed that a tire is punctured, see if you can find the leak visually. If you’re not having any luck, there are two quick tests you can do.

One is a simple hearing test. Lean down next to the tire that’s low. Put your ear close to the tire and listen for a noise of whistling air. If you can’t hear anything, try the soap test.

Mix a little dish soap into a container of tap water. Put it into a sprayer bottle and spray the punctured tire. The hole will create a lot of bubbles after being sprayed.

#2: Take Off the Tire

Removing the tire

Now is when your tools will come in handy. It’s a lot easier to plug a tire when it’s removed and you can work on it freely.

First, “break” the bolts loose on your tire while your car is on the ground. This involves putting the tire iron or wrench bit onto the lugs of your tire and rotating them counter-clockwise with some force. The lugs are going to be really tight, so this is just to break that initial force so you can loosen the tire later.

Do this in a star pattern on the tire. Then, place the jack on your car’s framework and slowly jack it up until you can freely rotate the tire.

Put a jack stand under your car and make sure it’s in a good location. Remove the jack so you don’t accidentally hit it and slam your car to the ground.

With your tire in the air and a jack stand supporting it, it’s time to take off the tire. Use the same tool from earlier and loosen and remove all the lugs on your tire. From there, remove the tire completely by pulling it straight towards you.

#3: Mark and Remove the Obstruction

Marking the spot with chalk

With your tire removed, you can find exactly what’s causing the puncture. In a lot of cases, it’s a screw or nail wedged into your tire.

When you find the obstruction, use chalk or spray paint to mark the area of the hole. This is a quick way to find the area you’re about to plug so you don’t lose it after the obstruction is removed.

Speaking of removing the obstruction, now is the time to do that. You’ll probably get the best results by using a pair of needle nose pliers.

#4: Ream the Hole

The plugging process isn’t going to work unless there’s a good texture to the puncture in your tire. Basically, the rubber rod and sealant need a rough wall to adhere to.

That’s why this step is so important. In most plug kits there’s a ‘t-handled tool’ that has a pattern or spiral along the shaft. This is used to create a rough surface for the magic to happen.

You’ll want to insert the tool into the puncture and twist it or move the tool up and down. This is how to successfully ream the hole.

Reaming the car tire

#5: Insert the Rubber Rod (String Plug)

Now, grab the other tool included in the set. It should be another t-handle but this one has a pointed tip with a little slot in it.

Insert the rubber rod, or string plug, into the hole in your tool. Grip the tool and use it to insert the string plug. The rod should be inserted equally so that the center of the rod is at the center of the tool.

Use the tool to push the rod into the tire. It should be inserted so that only about half an inch of the ends of the rod are protruding from the face of the tire.

Inserting the string plug

#6: Seal It

The only thing missing is the added sealing liquid. The combination of this liquid and the rubber rod will create the perfect seal you’re looking for. It’s done through a chemical reaction so you don’t need to do anything special.

Each kit has its own sealing liquid and should explain how to correctly apply it in the instructions. In general, you’ll want to coat the area that you just inserted the rod into. You also need to wait a certain amount of time for the sealant to solidify and create a perfect seal.

Sealing the car string plug after repair

#7: Cut the Rod

To help avoid unwanted jostling, it’s a good idea to cut the string plug when you’re done sealing it. You can use a standard pair of scissors and try to get it as close as flush to the tire’s tread. It doesn’t have to be perfect — simply driving on the road will help flatten it.

Cutting off the rubber string plug

#8: Put Your Tire Back On

With everything plugged and sealed, you’re ready to put the tire back on your car. After placing the tire, tighten the lugs in a star pattern hand-tight.

Place the jack on your car’s framework, remove the jack stand, and lower your car back to the ground. When the jack is removed, you can use your tool to completely tighten all the lugs on your tire.

Voila, your tire is plugged and good to go.

Re-installing the car tire

Keep an Eye on Your Tire

Just because you plugged the tire doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. For at least a few weeks, you should be keeping a close eye on your tire. Routinely check the pressure and be on the lookout for cracks, bubbles, or tire deformities.

If you notice any, take your car to the shop immediately — you’re risking a tire blowout.

Conclusion

As you can see, plugging a tire is a pretty straightforward process. As long as the hole is small enough and in the center of your tread, you should have no problem plugging, sealing, and repairing your tire. A simple plug can save you hundreds of dollars and tons of time. For more car repair tips, browse the rest of our blog. Be sure to see what other products we recommend for your car’s health.

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4 thoughts on “How to Repair a Flat Car Tire (Easy Step-by-Step Guide)”

    • The rod has a tiny slit at the bottom, so when you insert the plug, it stays inside the tire while sliding out of the rod tool.

      Reply
  1. This type of repair is considered an unapproved type of repair by all tire companies. The tire needs to be inspected for damage
    inside first and include a patch inside with a plug also.

    Reply
    • There are many factors to consider. Doing a plug repair job on a tire may void the warranty, the tire needs to be assessed whether it’s even worth repairing with a plug and it may not be so easy to do on the side of the road. While a plug may do the job, replacing the tire or getting it patched by the tire where you purchased would certainly be more ideal. I still believe a plug repair has its place and can benefit someone in a particular situation.

      Reply

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