Fixing a Tire Leak Is a Beginner Repair for Most DIYers. Here’s Everything You Need To Know To Fix a Tire Leak at Home.
- DIY Difficulty Level: Beginner
- Time Required: 30 minutes
- Tools & Materials: Tire repair kit
What Can Cause a Tire Leak?
If your tire seems to be leaking air, the first step is figuring out what is causing the leak. For instance:
- Puncture: This is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of tire leaks. Most punctures are caused by running over something sharp. The object typically becomes embedded in the tire, plugging the hole and resulting in a slow leak.
- Damaged valve stem: Over time, valve stems can become dislocated or damaged by corrosion. This can cause a slow leak from either the base or body of the valve.
- Deformed wheels: Driving too fast over a speed bump, hitting a curb, or driving through a large pothole can damage your wheels. When a wheel gets bent out of shape, the tire may pull away from it. This leaves a gap where the tire bead meets the rim, resulting in a leak.
- Mounting issues: A leak can develop at the tire bead if your tires were improperly mounted or if a piece of debris has become stuck between the tire and wheel. The wheel could also be corroded.
Is It Safe To Drive With a Tire Leak?
Tires with a slow leak may still be safe to drive on, at least for a while. However, you will have to keep refilling the leaky tire in order to maintain proper tire pressure. It’s best to repair the leak as soon as possible.
Maintaining proper tire pressure is important for two main reasons: to stay safe and to save money. Low tire pressure will decrease your gas mileage and allow a buildup of heat that can damage your tires, requiring early replacement and risking a blowout, which could be especially dangerous on the highway. Without the proper pressure, your tires will struggle to stop, turn, accelerate, and even support your vehicle’s weight.
Most DIYers will be able to apply a plug or sealant to fix a tire leak. In fact, it’s a good idea to keep a tire repair kit in your vehicle for emergencies. Your vehicle may have come with some sort of tire repair kit instead of a spare tire. If not, you can find high-quality kits for less than $20. However, a DIY repair is only a temporary fix. We recommend taking your vehicle to an auto shop so that a professional can diagnose the problem and let you know whether your tire can be fixed or should be replaced.
When Should You Replace vs. Repair Your Tires?
According to the NHTSA, most manufacturers recommend replacing your tires every six to 10 years. However, your tires will need to be replaced sooner if the tread has worn down below 2/32 of an inch or if the tire is damaged.
Many tire punctures can be patched, and a leaky valve stem can usually be replaced. A mechanic may be able to repair damaged wheels or remount your tires to correct a leak along the mounting surface. However, not all leaks are repairable. A tire with a puncture in the sidewall, near the edge of the tread, or multiple punctures will need to be replaced. A professional can tell you whether a repair is possible.
How Do You Know Your Tire Has a Leak?
Most modern cars include a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) that lets you know when the air pressure in your tires falls below whatever the manufacturer recommends. Your tire pressure light turning on is the most obvious sign that you could have a tire leak. However, the weather can also affect your tire pressure. Cold temperatures will cause your tire pressure to drop slightly even if your tires are perfectly intact.
If your vehicle does not have a TPMS, you can check your tire pressure manually. Do this regularly, perhaps once a week, so that you can track changes in your tire pressure over time. If one tire is persistently underinflated, that could be a sign that it has a slow leak. A leak would also be apparent if your tire is visibly flat.
Keep in Mind
Always follow the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule and complete any tire leak repairs as advised for your make and model. You can help your tires last longer by investing in quality tires rather than opting for the cheapest set and taking the time to rotate your tires regularly.
How To Fix a Tire Leak
If the source of the problem is a damaged valve stem, you will need to replace it. If the leak is from a puncture, follow the steps below to plug it.
Step 1: Find the leak
Although large slashes or an object embedded in the tire are easy to spot, smaller leaks can be difficult to find. In that case, all you need is soapy water. Mix soap and water in a spray bottle, give it a shake and then spray the tire with the solution. If you see bubbles forming on the surface, that’s where the leak is. You can also listen for a hissing noise to pinpoint the location of a leak. All of these steps will be easier if the wheel and tire are off the vehicle.
Step 2: Remove any embedded object
If the object that caused the puncture is still embedded in your tire, remove it with pliers. Be sure to wear gloves and safety glasses during this step.
Step 3: Clean up the hole
Most tire repair kits include a reamer. Use this tool to enlarge and roughen the edges of the hole before plugging it.
Step 4: Plug the hole
Follow the instructions included with your repair kit to insert the plug into the hole. If part of the plug protrudes from the tire, you can use snippers or a razor blade to remove the excess.
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