What happens if you notice a flat tire when you pull into your driveway? The good news is this is one of the best places to find out about a flat tire. The bad news is that you’ll need to get to work so the repair is done before you have to commute tomorrow.
First, start by troubleshooting the tire. If there is a puncture in the tire’s tread, it’s a small object, and your tires aren’t bubbling or cracking, then you can repair it. Since you’re home, you can easily fix it with a tire plug repair kit, lug wrench, and a jack. I’ll discuss this process later in the guide.
If you have a flat tire at home, you have a few more options. You also have more space, time, and tools at your exposure as opposed to getting a flat on the side of the road. In this guide, I’ll talk you through everything you need to know. By the end, you’ll have a fully functional tire that will get you to work tomorrow.
Why Flat Tires Happen
There are actually a few reasons why your tire might lose air. In fact, you don’t even need a hole for the tire to go flat. Something as simple as changing seasons or damage to the rubber can cause air to escape and leave you with a flat tire.
The science behind a flat tire is pretty simple. Tires are supposed to be airtight and leakproof. This is the only way that a tire can get pressurized in the first place. Tire manufacturers do this through ropes of rubber, additional fabrics, and by making a tire that pairs up perfectly with the metal wheel under it.
If any part of this assembly creates a defect that allows air to escape, your tire will become flat.
For most of this guide, I’ll be talking about tires that have something lodged in them that punctures the rubber. The standard example is running over a nail and having a nail embedded in your tire’s tread.
Once the nail punctures the rubber, it is no longer sealed or airtight. Air will rush out of your tire around the nail, and it will deplete your tire, causing it to go flat.
Why Your Location Matters
This guide is all about flat tires at home, but why does it matter where the tire goes flat? Well, it makes things a lot easier. Dealing with this problem on the side of the road has fewer options and more panic.
Since you’re home, you can take more time to troubleshoot. You can also fully repair the tire if you want to since you’re safely at your house. On top of that, you’ll have access to more tools, time, and space.
If you have a flat on the highway, you’ll want to either replace it ASAP or get a tow truck ASAP — it’s an incredibly unsafe place to be broken down. Since you’re home, take a deep breath and relax before going through this guide. As long as you get started before the next time you need to drive somewhere, you’ll be fine.
What to Do When You Have a Flat Tire at Home
Since you’re home with a flat, you have more options. I’ll get into some more detail about some of these steps later in the guide, but I want to start by introducing your options. Each one has a set of pros and cons, so take a look at this section to figure out what you want to do.
Find Out Why It’s Flat
Actually, there’s a quick step you need to do before finding out a path forward: you need to find out why the tire is flat. If it’s due to a small nail in the center of your tire’s tread, that’s great news. If you have a massive rock lodged in the side of your tire, that’s bad news.
If the hole is small enough, there are few enough punctures, and it’s contained within the tread of your tire, a plug kit will work. This means you can keep all of your tires on, and you just need to do a quick repair.
If any of these criteria aren’t met (as in, the hole is big, outside of the tread, or there are numerous holes), then you cannot safely plug your tire. You’ll need to replace it with a brand-new tire, which usually means changing out the other tire that shares an axle with this one.
The following suggestions are based on the fact that all three criteria are met.
Pros: Needs to be done before moving forward.
If you feel brave and have some tools, fixing the tire should be pretty easy. I plugged a tire when I was in middle school, so that should show you how easy it is. I have a full step-by-step guide for plugging your tire, so start there.
The concept is that you’ll be filling the hole with a chunk of rubber that gets sealed. Just like that, your tire is leakproof again.
Pros: Quick, easy, and inexpensive repair.
Cons: It might void your tire’s warranty, and it isn’t a permanent solution since your tire is now weaker at the plugged location.
Call a Mechanically Inclined Buddy for Help
If you have any doubt or have never plugged a tire, it helps to call a buddy over. Again, this is a luxury that you get since you noticed your flat tire at home and not on the side of the road. Ask them to help you plug your tire and diagnose the issue.
Pros: The best option for beginners.
Cons: Requires having a willing and able car friend.
Tow it to a Shop
What if you find the hole but you don’t know if the location is ideal and you have some doubts? There’s nothing wrong with getting your car towed to a shop. This option will allow the experts to deal with it, taking all the stress away from you.
You’ll want to go to either a dealership’s service area, a trusted mechanic, or find a tire shop that also does installations.
However, this option is going to cost you more money. For one, you’ll need to pay for towing services. In addition, the repairman is going to charge more for the service that you would be doing on your own.
If you have a nasty hole in your tire, then you’ll need to do this so they can replace the tire.
Pros: Stress-free option for you, guarantees the best repair/ replace, and gives an expert an opportunity to examine your tire.
Cons: Costs the most, takes the longest time, and requires some planning.
Get a Rental and Deal with it Later
I’ll admit that I’ve had car issues in the past that I simply didn’t have time to deal with. I was living on my own and needed to get to work in the morning, so I couldn’t start troubleshooting my car. I actually rented a car for a few days until I could fix my car during the upcoming weekend.
If you don’t want to rent a car, you could get an Uber around town for a few days until you have time to dedicate to fixing your tire.
I wouldn’t suggest this for most people, but it’s a great option for people in specific scenarios.
Pros: It gives you the luxury of getting around before you have time for the repairs.
Cons: Costs more money and prolongs the repair of your tire.
Replace it and Drive to a Shop
Another option is to throw on a spare tire and let a shop fix your tire. This is the preferred method if your tire is really damaged and can’t be plugged. You’ll need a professional to plug it, or you’ll need to get brand-new tires.
In either case, going to a shop will be your best bet. Remember, spare tires are a very temporary option used in emergency scenarios. You shouldn’t drive them faster than 50mph or further than 50 miles (remember the rule of “50s”.)
Pros: Allows a professional to help you without the need for a tow.
Cons: Putting on a spare takes time and going to a shop costs time and money.
How to Fix Your Flat Tire at Home (Preferred Method)
If you or your mechanically inclined buddy want to fix the flat tire on your own, then this section should help. Again, I suggest reading my full tire repair guide for more detail, but this short section will cover the basics.
Locate the Leak
You never want to do anything to your tire before locating the leak. In some cases, you can just be quiet and put your ear near the tire to source the leak.
If you want an easier method, grab a spray bottle and fill it with water and a few drops of dish soap. Shake it up and spray it all over your tire.
Where you see aggressive bubbling is where the hole is. The bubbles are telling you where the air is escaping, and the low surface tension of soap helps you spot it.
When the Tire Can’t Be Fixed
As a shortcut, remember that your tire cannot be plugged or patched if:
- There is more than 1 puncture
- The puncture exists outside of the main area of your tire’s tread
- The puncture is larger than 1/4″
- There are any cracks, bubbles, or unevenly worn parts of your tire
Jack Up Your Car
After identifying that you can plug the hole, you should jack up your car. Some people jack their cars up first before looking for a leak. While this will give you more ability to look around your tires, it takes all of the weight off of your tires.
When your car is sitting on the tires, the extra weight makes the air escape faster. This helps you find the hole easier. I suggest finding the hole with your car on the ground, then jacking it up for the repairs.
When you jack up the car, make sure you use jack stands. These are robust metal stands that will hold your car in place and won’t drop your car. I’ve had some bad experiences when I only used a jack alone without the stands, so I can assure you it’s something you want to avoid.
Remove the Culprit
If there is a nail, screw, or object puncturing your tire, it’s time to remove it. You can do this by using a pair of needle-nose pliers to get a good grasp of the object before pulling it straight out.
Some people prefer to use the claw end of a hammer to work the nail or screw out. There’s no problem with this, just be mindful of your hammer so you don’t damage your car’s body while you use it.
You could also use a knife’s blade to help pry the head of the object away from the rubber. Make sure you don’t accidentally stab the tire and make things worse.
Once the object is removed, throw it away and make sure you don’t accidentally leave it behind your car or on the road. It might help to take photos of the object when it’s in your tire and after it’s removed in case you need to go to a shop later for repairs — the reference photo will let them know how bad the damage inside the tire is and the exact diameter of the puncture.
Plug it Up
With the hole exposed, you can plug it using a plug kit. I walked through exactly how to do this in my other guide. You want to make sure the rubber strip and sealant are applied correctly, and that you prepare the hole appropriately before starting the repairs.
The plug isn’t a perfect solution, but it works pretty well in a lot of cases. It’s also a fraction of the cost of replacing the tires, so I always suggest starting with a plug whenever possible.
Inflate Car Tire and Check for Leaks Again
After plugging the car, take it down from the jack stands and slowly jack it back to the ground. With the car back on the ground, take a look at the flat tire again. You’ll want to break out that soapy water mix you had in the spray bottle earlier.
Spray it around your repaired tire and check for leaks. If there are any bubbles in the area you just applied the tire plug, then the plug job didn’t work. Remember, even a tiny leak will cause your tires to go flat every few days and can lead to a blowout.
Give it Some Time
Most plug kits take a few hours for the rubber cement to fully cure. Since you’re home, you can afford this extra time. Put on a football game and when it’s done your tires should be good to go.
The good thing about patches is that they’ll be airproof right after you apply them. The hours required to cure just make sure the tire stays intact in the future and the plug doesn’t shift.
Keep Checking in on Your Tire
After your car’s first trip after a plug, check the air pressure when you get to your destination. If there were any mistakes during the repair, then the plug can fall out and the puncture will leak air again.
Moving forward, you’ll want to be more mindful of the tire you just repaired. Check the pressure more regularly than you might have in the past. Do visual inspections to make sure the tire isn’t bubbling, cracking, or deformed.
If there are any issues at all with the tire you repaired with a tire plug repair kit, you’ll likely need to replace the tire as well as the other tire that shares the same axle. Re-plugging the tire is typically not a good idea.
I hope that this guide helped you out. I discussed a few options you have once you notice a flat tire at home. I also walked through the preferred method of repairing the tire before things get any worse.
If you have more car questions, check out the rest of my blog. Drop a comment below if this guide helped you at all. As always, refer to my ultimate list of essential car care products if you want to make your life a little easier.