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Plugging a Tire vs Patching a Tire: Which Repair is Better?

In time, virtually every driver is going to experience the annoyance of a flat tire due to a fast-flowing puncture. You can put the spare tire on temporarily, but you can’t go far or fast with the donut that most vehicles come with. And if your car has been built without a spare to save on weight, you might not even have that option.  

A tire plug or patch can get you rolling again. But which is the right repair, and will it last? If you’re weighing your options between a tire patch vs plug, here’s what you need to know. 

How Tire Plugs Work 

Tire plugs are a fast and easy repair kit to use that does exactly like the name suggests: they plug the hole in the tire. The plugs are flexible, tacky rubber strings that can seal up small holes in your tire left behind by a screw, nail, or something else thin and pointy. The kit also includes a reamer tool with raspy edges that cleans and roughs up the hole before inserting the plug, and a tool to insert the plug itself. 

Once you locate the hole in your tire, you’ll jam the reamer tool into it and push and pull a few times, cleaning any debris and corrosion out. Next, you insert a rubber string into the eye on the plugging tool, apply adhesive if your kit includes it, then push it about two-thirds of the way into the tire. A quick pull back on the tool will leave the plug in place, and then you simply trim it flush with the tread. 

tire plug kit
Tire plug kit

When Should a Tire Plug Be Used? 

Tire plugs are a temporary solution if you’re using them on a vehicle driven on the roads. The necessary process of reaming the hole effectively cuts tire cords and can affect the tire’s structure. 

Use a tire plug when:  

  • You’re able to get to the tire shop soon for a permanent repair 
  • It’s for an offroad vehicle, wheelbarrow, or another type of tubeless tire 
  • The puncture is in the tread section 
  • The hole is less than 1/8” wide 
  • You’re planning to replace your tires soon anyway 

How Long Does a Tire Plug Last? 

A tire plug could be just fine for a day, a week, a year, or even longer. Done properly, it can effectively seal the tire and let you keep using it, but there’s no guarantee it’s going to last. Some sources say a properly plugged tire can be driven on for 25,000 miles, although that’s not recommended since determining if a plug has been put in correctly is extremely difficult without taking the tire off the rim.  

How Tire Patches Work 

To patch a tire is more involved than jamming a plug in the tire. Patches are thin, flexible pieces of rubber that are affixed to the inner liner of a tubeless tire with an adhesive like rubber cement.  

With a tire patch vs plug, you’ll need to take the wheel off and dismount the tire from the rim to access the inner liner. Of course, that also means you’ll need to reseat the bead and inflate the tire afterward. With the tire off the rim, the puncture wound is scuffed to promote adhesion and rubber cement is applied to both the patch and the cleaned area. Once it’s dried to the touch,  the patch is applied and pressed into place to seal it. 

Tire patch kit

When Should You Use a Tire Patch? 

Tire patches are more durable than a plug in most cases. They’re less convenient and don’t work well in an emergency situation, like if you’re stuck at the roadside with a flat. 

Tire patches are great when:  

  • You have the time and equipment to do the job 
  • The puncture is in the flat tread section 
  • There are no other punctures or repairs it will overlap with 
  • The tire won’t be used permanently on your vehicle 
  • The puncture is less than ¼” wide 
  • It’s for an off-road vehicle

How Long Does a Tire Patch Last? 

A tire patch can last indefinitely, or it could come off unexpectedly. With only one small layer of protection against the leak, there’s no promise of its longevity. Properly installed, you could drive on a patched tire for years but it shouldn’t be considered a permanent repair. 

Which Tire Repair is Better? 

In the comparison between a tire patch vs plug, a tire patch is a more dependable solution if you have the time and equipment to install it. If you’re in a pinch, a tire plug will suffice as long as the hole isn’t too large for the plug to fit tightly. 

Tire plug vs patch cost 

If you’re doing it yourself, the pricing is quite modest for the two options. A tire patch kit is only a few dollars and will suffice for a handful of repairs, whereas a tire plugger kit is more expensive with tools included in it, probably around $10 to $35, and comes with enough plugs for a handful of repairs too. 

What’s the Best Repair? 

If you have a puncture in a tire, the only surefire way to confirm it hasn’t compromised the cords or belts is to replace the tire completely. The next best solution is a combination plug-patch, which is the only repair approved by the tire industry for use on the highway. And if you’re going to go through the effort of a patch, a plug patch is only a small cost more for virtually the same job. 

When Can’t a Tire Be Repaired? 

You shouldn’t attempt to repair on some punctures at all. If the hole is larger than ¼” or it’s entered into an area on the shoulder or sidewall of the tire, the tire needs to be replaced rather than fixed. Punctures in the sidewall or on the shoulder flex too much for a patch or plug to hole properly, and you can expect it to leak right away. As well, the sidewall is thinner and could blow out at the repair. 

Visit a local AutoZone to purchase a tire plug kit for emergency repairs, or purchase a tire patch kit. If you determine the job is too big to tackle, check out our list of Preferred Shops in your area to help you complete the job. 

FAQs 

How long can you drive on a tire patch/plug?

Both tire patches and tire plugs are intended to be a temporary repair. If you employ one of these options, have a tire shop install a plug-patch combo.

Is it worth patching a tire? Plugging a tire?

The cost is small to plug a tire or patch it on your own and is often worth the effort, even to get you to a safe place to address the leak properly.

Can I patch/plug a tire myself?

Yes! AutoZone carries both tire patch and tire plug kits that you can use for your tire

Are tire plugs/patches permanent?

You should not count on a tire plug or tire patch to hold permanently. Rather, for a permanent fix, choose to install a tire plug-patch combo if the hole is in an approved area.

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