Outdoor enthusiasts are more subject than most to having to deal with a vehicle breakdown in a remote location where immediate help may not be available. Since tire punctures are by far the most common problem a vehicle will experience and something more likely to happen on dirt roads and since you can’t always count on your spare tire, it makes sense for us to arm ourselves with the tools and knowledge it takes to repair them ourselves. Here’s how.
How Do You Know You’ve Got a Puncture?
On a paved road, if your steering wheel starts to wobble vaguely in your hands, or if you hear a loud thumping sound that coincides with your wheels’ rotation, then you’ve got a flat tire.
Off-road, at lower speeds, you’ll likely hear that thumping before you feel it. In both cases, avoid risking further damage to the tire or vehicle by finding the first safe location to pull off the road or trail.
Don’t Rely on Your Spare
It’s become less and less common for new vehicles to come equipped with a full-size spare tire. Space savers, or donuts, are only designed to get you a very short distance at very low speeds across town to the tire shop, basically. You should avoid using a space saver on a dirt road or trail if at all possible.
And even if you have a full-size spare with a matching tire and wheel, it’s still possible to puncture more than one tire at a time. And man, that’s going to cause a big problem if you’re not prepared or if it happens somewhere you can’t easily call for help.
What You Need
The tools you should have to fix a flat tire yourself don’t cost much more than getting a tire plugged at a tire shop. And they’re hundreds of dollars cheaper than calling for a tow. They’re also small and light. There’s really no excuse for not carrying this stuff in your car or truck.
The best tire-repair kit I’ve found is made by Boulder Tools and costs $38. Like other kits, it includes rope plugs and the tools you need to install them, but this one goes above and beyond by including items like needle-nose pliers, spare valve cores, and a folding razor blade.
You will also need a compressor. That’s what you’ll use to reinflate your tire after you fix the puncture, or how you’ll air back up to road pressures if you’re airing down for off-road driving. If all you need is an emergency option, one of these $23 Slime compressors is perfect.
It plugs into your cigarette lighter (or 12-volt outlet), so you don’t even need to open your hood. You don’t want to rely on something like this if you’re regularly inflating oversize off-road tires, but that’s a story for another time.
I also stick a can of Fix-a-Flat in every car my family owns, plus those of most of my friends. Fix-a-Flat includes both a sealant and compressed air in a single can, allowing you to take care of the kind of small punctures caused by a screw or nail without even removing the wheel.
And that capability makes it a unique tool in your arsenal one that can come in handy for even complicated repairs where it’s not safe to try and remove a wheel or where gaining the ability to roll the car a few hundred yards can make the situation much safer (think: a steep slope off-road or the side of a busy highway, with trucks rushing past just feet away).
Everyone should also carry a quality tire pressure gauge. Use it to check the pressure of your tires once a month, and adjust them to factory-recommended settings if they’re off. Ambient temperatures, elevation, and just time can all cause a tire to lose or gain pressure, and when it does so, it can harm your fuel economy, handling, and performance.
Regularly inspect your tires and replace them before the tread wears to 2/32nd of an inch deep. An easy way to check this is to insert a penny upside down into the tread (Lincoln’s head first). If the tread reaches past Honest Abe’s hairline at his forehead, you’re good.
If not, order new tires. Tires worn to or past 2/32nd of an inch of tread will be much more prone to punctures and won’t provide the same grip as a tire in good condition.
Tires also have a maximum life span of six years. To determine how old your tires are, look for the tire identification number on the sidewall: it begins with DOT, is 11 digits long, and ends in four numbers. The first two digits of those last four numbers represent the week (of 52 in a year) the tire was manufactured. The last two are the year.
If your tire shows any signs of cracking or tearing, or if anything white or metallic has worn through the rubber, replace it immediately.
You also need to make sure you’re using an appropriate tire for the conditions you’re facing. If you’re traveling off-pavement, a quality all-terrain tire will help you avoid punctures both in the tread and, more importantly, the sidewall.
Make sure any vehicle you’re driving has all of the necessary tire-change tools present and accounted for. You’ll need a lug wrench and a jack at a minimum. Don’t be that person who forgets to put them back into a car. I even check for these things in rental cars before driving off they’re that essential.
Related Article: 1. What is Tire Rotation? 2. What is Wheel Alignment? 3. What is Tire Balancing?
How to Fix a Flat Tire?
- Step 1: Find the Puncture
- Step 2: Remove the Wheel
- Step 3: Evaluate the Puncture
- Step 4: Remove the Problem
- Step 5: Enlarge the Hole
- Step 6: Install the Plug
- Step 7: Reinstall the Wheel
Step 1. Find the Puncture
Once you’re in a safe place, hop out of the car, and find the flat tire. Try to identify the source of the puncture. Sometimes a foreign object will be very obvious at just a glance. Sometimes you’ll need to roll the car a foot or two to expose the problem.
If you are able to see that there’s obviously a nail or screw embedded in your tire’s tread, that’s good news. If the nail or screw is strongly embedded into the tire’s tread, there’s no need to remove it at this time. Get out your can of Fix-a-Flat, follow its directions to connect it to your tire valve, and empty the entire contents of the can into the tire. You should see the tire visibly inflate.
If it returns to normal, drive off immediately, go a few miles, then stop and check your tire pressure, adjusting it if necessary. If the tire seems to be holding air, you’re good to continue driving, but take a look at the tire any time you stop. When you get back from your trip and have the time, go ahead and follow the rest of the steps here to repair the puncture with a plug.
If you can’t find the source of the puncture, if it’s an exposed hole, or if you don’t have a can of Fix-a-Flat, you’ll need to take the wheel off.
Step 2. Remove the Wheel
First, remove your spare (even if it’s a space-saver), and place it under the frame of your vehicle in front of the front tire or behind the rear tire. That way, if your vehicle falls off its jack, it will fall onto the spare, minimizing injury to you and damage to the car.
Loosen the lug nuts before you raise the vehicle. Remember lefty loosey.
Next, follow the instructions in your owner’s manual to locate and use the jack accordingly.
Once the wheel is off the ground, finish removing the lug nuts. Put them somewhere safe. Pull the wheel out toward your body. Be careful wheels can be heavy.
Step 3. Evaluate the Puncture
If you have a hole in your tread, it can be fixed. Tires in good condition won’t experience more than a simple hole in that location. If the hole is in your sidewall (the portion of the tire that rides roughly vertical), you just need to mount your spare and have the tire replaced at the first possible opportunity.
If the hole is in the tire’s tread and can’t be taken care of by simply dumping a can of Fix-a-Flat into it, roll the tire around to the back of your vehicle where tools are and where you can safely work away from traffic.
Look for holes and foreign objects as you roll it. If a hole is small and the tire is no longer leaking air, it may be a good idea to mark the hole for easy reference later.
The recommended kit includes these needle-nose pliers; otherwise, a multitool is a good stand-in.
Step 4. Remove the Problem
If there’s a foreign object in your tire, and the tire can no longer hold air, remove it. In the video, I used a screw gun to put the screw in the tire, meaning its threads engaged with the rubber and steel belts.
Most roads don’t have their own screw guns, so the puncture won’t engage the threads in the same way, and it should be easier to pull out using your needle-nose pliers.
I’ve seen tires punctured by everything from a steel bar to a particularly nasty cactus barb. Organic objects like tree branches can leave residue behind. Try and get all of that out of the way.
Step 5. Enlarge the Hole
If the hole is larger than a pencil, skip this step. If not, grab your tire-repair kit’s reamer, and use it to enlarge the hole until it is roughly the size of a pencil.
If you have a very small hole, this will be difficult at first. Install the reaming tool by slowly screwing it into the tread while applying downward pressure. Otherwise, just push the tool into the hole all the way up to the handle, then yank it out.
Repeat until the hole is large enough that you can insert and remove the tool without much effort.
Getting the plug through the eyelet can be fussy. These things are designed to be difficult to remove from a hole, not easy to insert into one. The pliers will help.
Step 6. Install the Plug
Remove a rope plug from the plastic wrapper, flatten one end with the needle-nose pliers, and push it through the eyelet on the installation tool. Grasp the protruding edge of the plug with the pliers, and pull it through the eyelet until equal lengths of the plug protrude from both sides.
Grab a finger of lube from the kit, and apply it to the plug and leading edge of the tool.
Firmly push the installation tool in as far as it will go, then yank it out as hard as you can.
Place the tooltip down on top of the hole in the tire, grasp the tool securely with both hands, and force it through the tire until the depth guide is flush with the tread. Then yank the tool straight out of the hole as hard and fast as you can. The rope plug should pass through the eyelet and remain inside the tire.
The plug should remain in the tire when you yank the tool out. Now just trim off that excess length.
If you have only a small puncture, one plug should do. If not, you may need to install a second or third. If you must install multiple plugs, then plan on taking that tire to a shop the first possible opportunity, where it can be evaluated for safety.
You may have to replace it. But most of the time, that single plug will be enough. Use the razor to trim the excess length flush with the tire tread.
If your tire holds air up to the recommended pressure, then odds are it’s going to be good to go. Just check the pressure again after a few miles to make sure. If for some reason you’re losing a little air around the plug, try adding Fix-a-Flat.
Step 7. Reinstall the Wheel
Use your air compressor to inflate the tire to the recommended pressure. (You’ll find that listed inside the driver’s doorjamb.) Once inflated, reverse the tire-removal steps described above to reinstall the wheel. First, install the lug nuts by hand to secure the wheel to the hub.
Then, once you’ve lowered the vehicle back down and removed the jack, use the lug wrench to make sure all the lug nuts are as tight as possible. Tighten them in a star pattern, so the wheel snugs back to the hub evenly. Remember righty tighty. Check these again later that day.
Return all your tools, the jack, and the lug wrench to their proper locations. You’d don’t want to misplace this stuff.
Related Article: How to Run Flat Tire and How does It Work?
How can I Fix-a-Flat tire at home?
How much is Fix-a-Flat for tires?
If you’re looking into having a puncture repaired on a tire, you’re looking at spending on average between $10 to $20 dollars.
Can you fix completely Flat tires?
Puncture repairs are limited to the center of the tread area. If there are punctures or damage in the shoulder or sidewall of the tire, it is not repairable.
Does Fix-a-Flat actually work?
Can you patch a tire yourself?
While you can patch a tire yourself, it may be better to bring your car to a tire shop. You must first remove the tire to install the tire patch and then remove the tire from the rim. While it’s possible to do this yourself, it can get pretty complicated. If the hole is too big to plug, you shouldn’t try to drive.
Is it OK to leave a flat tire overnight?
Yes, you can leave a flat tire overnight. Doing this can prevent any form of permanent damage to both the rim and tire. In the unfortunate event of not being able to repair the tire immediately, the next best thing to do is to elevate the edge of the car with a jack.
Should I use Fix-a-Flat for a slow leak?
It is okay to use fix-a-flat on a tire that you previously used it on. The tire shop will clean up the tire properly before curing the rubber to fix the slow leak permanently. As long as the tire is well-cleaned, you can use fix-a-flat again on the tire to address future slow leaks emergencies.
Is It Safe to Drive on a Patched Tire?
As compared to having a flat tire, a patched tire repair is better and safer. There are no safety concerns with a well-patched tire, and is actually the best way to handle flat tires. It is safe to drive on a patched tire regardless of how rugged or rocky the road gets.
Can you patch a tire with 2 nails in it?
If the tire has two punctures, getting a tire repaired may still be an option as long as the punctures are at least 16 inches apart and the maximum number of repairs does not exceed a total of 2 in the tire. Any more punctures than that, and you should consider getting a new tire.
How long can you drive on a patched tire?
As long as you notice the puncture or leak in time and don’t continue to drive on a flat, then the patched tire will function as well as your other tires on the road.
Do tire plugs work?
Tire plugging should be a temporary fix for a damaged tire and not a permanent solution for proper tire repair. It is safe to drive with a tire plug for a short time, as the intent of the repair is to allow the car to be drivable so that you can reach the tire store.
Is it better to plug or patch a flat tire?
Patches are better than plugs for bigger holes, holes closer to but not the sidewall, and holes that aren’t completely straight. Note that if you’re looking to do tire sidewall repair, a patch will usually not cut it and you’ll likely want to replace the tire. Don’t patch the tire if it’s near the sidewall.
Can I use Fix-a-Flat on a tire with a nail in it?
A run-flat tire with a nail in it could be repairable, but it will most likely need to be replaced after running flat.
How many times can you use Fix-a-Flat on the same tire?
Each can of Fix-a-Flat is intended to be fully dispensed into one tire. We do not recommend using a single can on more than one tire.
Where is it safe to plug a tire?
Puncture repairs are limited to the center of the tread area. If there are punctures or damage in the shoulder or sidewall of the tire, it is not repairable.
Can I drive 2 miles on a flat tire?
No. Do not drive on a flat tire. However, it may be necessary to travel a short distance on a flat tire when pulling over to the side of the road. But driving on a flat tire is a surefire way to put your passengers at risk and seriously damage your vehicle.
How long can you drive on a rim?
Drive on disfigured rims for just a few yards only, if you must at all. Most traffic regulatory authorities recommend that you should not drive on a bent rim for any distance exceeding a maximum of 100 yards, and only to a safe parking location away from other cars or to where you will get the malfunction fixed.
Why did my brand-new tire go flat?
Improper Seal at Installation – Even new tires can go flat if they don’t seal properly. This can be caused by something as simple as a mistake made when installing, such as not cleaning the seal properly or failure to remove a label of some kind.
Can you patch a tire with foam in it?
Tires with the acoustic foam are repairable using industry-approved methods of injury size and injury location on the tire the same as any other tire injury. A Two-Piece Repair and Minicombi Repair Method Is Acceptable to Repair These Tires.
Can you fix a slow leak in a tire?
The leak should then be permanently fixed using a proper tire repair consisting of a cured rubber stem and repair unit. If the leak is caused by a damaged valve, a trained tire technician can typically replace the valve at a minimal cost. In some cases, however, the tire may need to be replaced.
Is Fix-a-Flat a permanent fix?
Fix-A-Flat is not a permanent tire repair. It’s only meant to keep you rolling so you can get the tire repaired properly at a tire shop. To get to a tire shop.
Can you patch a tire with a staple in it?
If yes, they will either plug it or push something into the hole for easy location of the hole once the tire is dismounted. An inner patch is the best fix if leaking but tire plugs are much more common and usually work fine. If a plug ever starts leaking, you can still patch from the inside.
Can you double plug a hole in a tire?
Punctures can be repaired if the hole is a quarter-inch across or less. Some manufacturers may also say a tire should be repaired no more than twice or prohibit repairs if two punctures are within 16 inches of one another. It is also unsafe to fix a tire with an improper repair to a previous puncture.