Few things feel worse than running out the door to get in your car and seeing that you have a low or flat tire. Since your tires are among the most important components of your vehicle when it comes to safety, it’s essential to make sure they’re in good working condition at all times. If you have a flat, determining whether you can fix it or need to replace the tire is key to your safety. Take a look at what you need to know about tire repair.
Types of Repairable Tire Damage
It’s not uncommon to run over a nail, a screw, or another sharp object that can puncture your tire. Some types of tire damage are repairable, while other damage requires an entirely new tire. It’s important to know when you can safely repair a tire, though a trained professional ideally should make the call.
Whether a tire puncture is repairable depends on the size of the puncture, where it’s located, and how long it’s been there. In some cases, tire repair is the most cost-effective solution, but it’s only a good option if it will keep you safe, too.
A tire puncture can be repaired if:
- The puncture hole is 1/4 inch in diameter or less
- The puncture is within the tread area
Non-Repairable Tire Damage
There are more non-repairable types of tire damage than repairable ones. The severity of the damage and where the damage is located will help you determine whether you need to replace the tire.
A tire puncture cannot be repaired if:
- The puncture is more than 1/4 inch in diameter
- The puncture is in the sidewall of the tire
- The puncture is in the shoulder of the tire
- The tire has multiple punctures in proximity
If you notice a bulge or a bubble in the tire’s sidewall, the tire is not safe and repair shouldn’t be attempted. Also, don’t repair a tire if the tread depth is already less than 1/16 inch or the tread is damaged. If the tread is low, the tire should not be on the road anyway, so repairing it doesn’t make sense.
Never repair a tire that already has an improper repair. It’s also important to know that you should not have a repair done in the same spot more than once.
Types of Tire Repair
If you determine that you can repair the tire, there are three main types of tire repair.
The easiest and quickest tire repair option is plugging. A plug is a small piece of leather coated with a rubber adhesive. It’s inserted into the hole to plug it. When you get back on the road, the tire heats up as you drive, and the adhesive hardens into a permanent seal. This type of repair works if you drive over a small rounded object such as a nail, but the plug might loosen and come out if the hole has an irregular shape.
A plug is a good option if you’ve run over a small nail or screw and the puncture hole is away from the sidewall. Don’t use a plug if you’ve driven on the tire while it was flat because it can damage the side walls.
A patch is a piece of rubber with adhesive on the back. It’s attached to the inside of the tire, and just like with the plug, when the tire heats up as you drive, it vulcanizes, becomes hard, and seals to the tire. In order to apply a patch, the tire must come off the vehicle. This type of repair should be done by a professional who can not only remove the tire but also mount it and balance it after applying the patch.
Patches are better than plugs for larger holes, as long as they are still less than 1/4 inch in diameter. You can also use them when the hole is closer to the sidewall as long as it’s not on the sidewall. Since a patch will cover an irregular shape, it can also be used for holes that are not completely straight.
You can’t use a patch if the sidewalls are already damaged, if there is another patch nearby, or if the hole is at a strange angle.
Combination of Plug and Patch
Patching or plugging alone in most cases is not the best option. Using a combination of a plug and a patch is the best tire repair method. For this type of repair, a patch with a hanging tail goes inside the tire, and the tail is threaded through the puncture hole to plug up the gap.
Basic Tire Repair Guidelines
No matter what type of repair you have done, the tire needs to come off the vehicle so it can be inspected for any other damage. In some cases, you can have a plug put in with the tire on to get you through for the short term, but the tire should come off and be inspected.
Some punctures might seem repairable until you get a closer look at them. Once you get a better look, it might reveal that the puncture is long enough to cut the sidewall from the inside. This additional damage will go unnoticed if you don’t remove the tire.
A plug on its own might serve as a very temporary solution if you find yourself in a situation where you need to get to a service center for more extensive repairs. But a plug on its own is usually not the best option.
How Long Does a Tire Repair Last?
If a tire plug and patch procedure is done correctly and with the correct sealant, it can last up to 10 years or 25,000 miles. If it’s not done correctly, it won’t last this long.
To ensure that your tires are safe, you should always have them inspected by a trained technician. There are certain standards for tire repairs, and these must be upheld in order for the tire to be determined safe after a repair. Your best bet if you have a flat or puncture is to take your vehicle to a tire shop or dealership that has trained experts who can let you know when a repair is feasible instead of replacement.
Recovering autocross and track day enthusiast. Once turned a VW Jetta into a pickup truck. Lives in a van down by the river. Dream car: 2001 Subaru WRC rally car.