How to Plug a Tire
Seeing your tire pancake-flat against the pavement is guaranteed to leave you feeling deflated. In addition to the cost of the flat tire repair, there’s likely something you’re going to be late for or miss as a result. And let’s face it – flats don’t usually happen at the most opportune time, plus many facilities aren’t able to get you in for a fix right away.
If you have a way to perform the repair yourself, either temporary or permanent, you can at least continue on to minimize your disruption and get your vehicle to a safe place. Tire plugs can be a stopgap for that purpose, or they can be used as part of a permanent tire repair. Here’s what you need to know about how to plug a tire.
What tools do you need to plug a tire?
Driver’s often ask, “Can I plug a tire myself?” Of course, you can. It might be intimidating to perform a repair on your vehicle, but a tire repair isn’t nearly as intrusive as it may appear. To find and repair the leak, you’ll need:
- A spray bottle with soapy water
- Tire chalk or a marker
- A tire plug kit including a reamer, probe, and plugs
- Tire inflator
- A car jack
- Tire wrench
- Side cutters
Optionally, the tire can be repaired using a combination plug-patch or patch and rubber cement. For that, you’ll need tire dismount bars to remove the tire from the rim.
Steps to repair a tire
According to the Tire Industry Association, an approved repair requires that the tire is taken off the rim, inspected, and plugged and patched from the inside. That might take more time than you have in the moment., and we’ll review that too. But if you need to perform an emergency or temporary repair, a tire plug can do the job. Here’s how to do it.
Remove the tire
In a safe place, park on a flat surface with the parking brake set. Use your tire wrench to loosen each lug nut about a quarter-turn, then jack up the affected wheel. Ensure there’s enough clearance so the tire is not contacting the ground anymore. Once the tire is off the ground, remove the pre-loosened lug nuts with the tire wrench and pull the wheel assembly off the car.
Locate the leak
Now, to locate the source of the leak… Sometimes, punctures are evident like a screw in the middle of the tread. Other times, you’ll have no idea where it’s coming from, even with a thorough check over. To find the source of the leak, inflate the tire and spray it with soapy water. The leak will begin to blow bubbles in the viscous liquid, identifying where the problem is. Mark the hole with a piece of tire chalk or something else that stands out on the rubber.
How to plug your tire
The technical part isn’t all that difficult. To install a tire plug, follow these steps:
Ream the hole.
Push the reaming tool into the puncture, moving it in and out a few times. This cleans any debris from the hole, roughens the surface for adhesion, and ensures it’s wide enough to push the tire plug into it.
Insert a plug into the probe.
Pull one of the tacky plugs from the backing paper and insert it into the eyelet on the probe with about half of the plug hanging out each side.
Push the probe into the tire.
Forcefully push the probe into the hole in the tire until only 1/3 of the plug is showing on the outside. Then, pull it out rapidly in a straight motion, leaving the plug in the tire.
Trim away the excess.
Leaving the tag ends on the plug would be a great way for it to get pulled out. Trim away the excess material even with the tire tread.
Inflate the tire and recheck for leaks.
Using the pressure found on the driver’s door placard, inflate the tire to the correct pressure and spray it down again.
Install it on your car.
Re-fit the wheel onto the hub and tighten it with your tire wrench. Lower the jack and re-tighten the wheel.
How to use a tire patch kit
Tire patches alone aren’t enough for an approved repair either, but a tire plug-patch or a tire patch on top of a plug can do the trick. If your plan is a permanent repair, you’ll need to take the tire off the rim.
Deflate the tire completely, then break the tire bead away from the rim lip. You’ll need a bunch of force to make this happen whether it’s a press or by placing something very heavy on the tire. Then, use tire bars to pry the tire bead off the rim.
On the inside of the tire, find the hole you’ve reamed but, instead of inserting a plug, scuff the inner liner with a rasp to rough it up and clean it. Remove any loose bits of rubber. Put a layer of rubber cement on the rubber that’s about a ½-inch wider than the patch size. And let it dry. Push the rigid post for the plug-patch through the hole from the inside, then grasp it from the outside with pliers and pull it until the patch is fully seated. Now you have both the plug in the hole and a patch covering from the inside. Press the patch firmly against the adhesive to seal it.
Now you’re ready to re-mount, inflate, and install the wheel on the car.
Tire plugs vs patches: What is the correct way to plug a tire?
The approved way to fix a tire is with a combination plug-patch, and any plug kit for tires alone is a temporary fix. And how long can you drive on a tire with a plug in it? There’s no safe distance you can measure out. It’s just meant to get you to a time and place when it can be fixed properly or the tire replaced.
If you are still experiencing problems with your tire, look for these common signs that you need to replace your tire.
Don’t be caught out of air. Get tire plugs at AutoZone and stash a kit in your garage and your toolbox for those emergencies.