How To Plug A Tire

You park your car and hear that unmistakable, dreadful hiss. But it’s not a snake; it’s a small puncture in your tire. Although the leak is slight, in a matter of hours, you’re going to have a flat.

And that’s when a tire plug becomes your best friend. With a small tire plug kit, you can repair a punctured tire without taking your car to the shop.

The best news is that even novices can plug a tire without a problem. So, if you notice a hiss, fear not. A tire plug has your back.

How to Plug a Tire

So, how do you decide the right time to plug a tire? Oftentimes, you need to assess what tire-fixing solutions you have, as well as the overall severity of the damage.

For small puncture holes ¼ of an inch in diameter or smaller, a tire plug will usually get you home or to a tire shop. But for more severe damage, you should also consider using the spare tire or using a portable air compressor to get you to the shop.

But if you have a tire plug and the hole is small enough, it’s a great temporary fix or an emergency solution. Here’s how to get the job done with minimal issues.

1. Find the Leak

Sometimes, finding the leak in your tire is easy. Just look for a nail, screw, or other debris lodged in the tire. Other times, locating the leak is a bit more tricky, especially if the debris has fallen out of the tire.

In this case, you’ll need a spray bottle full of soapy water.

  • To start, safely remove the tire from the vehicle
  • Apply the soapy water liberally across the tread of the tire 
  • Then, look for a place on the tire where the soap starts to bubble. Voila, you’ve found your leak! 
  • Make sure to coat the entire tire with soapy water to ensure you don’t have multiple leaks

You should also spray soapy water around the tire nozzle and where the tire meets the wheel. These are also common places where leaks occur. Note that these types of leaks cannot be fixed with a tire plug. Furthermore, if the leak is on the sidewall or the shoulder of the tire, you must replace the entire tire.

2. Prep Work

Before removing the screw or nail in your tire, you should get your tire plug kit ready. To do this, flatten one end of the plug and slide it halfway through the slot in the plug pusher. You may also want to wear eye protection, as when you pull the screw or nail out, moisture and debris at pressure can spray back at you.

3. Remove the Nail or Screw

If you have a nail in the tire tread, remove it using a pair of pliers. You may need to use a flathead screwdriver to pull the nail up before removal.

If you have a screw stuck in your tire, start by pulling it out with a flathead screwdriver. Once you’ve pulled it out, use a pair of pliers to unscrew it, just as you would if you were removing a screw from any other surface.

4. Ream the Hole

Now that the screw is removed, you’ll start to hear air leaking from the tire. The next step is to take the reamer to remove any loose rubber within the tire. A reamer is a serrated tool similar to a file with a T-bar or grip at the top to provide leverage.

Insert this into the hole and push and pull it back and forth to clean the hole and ensure it’s uniform. This will create a smooth surface inside the hole that will prevent extra leaks and allow the plug to seal the hole.

5. Insert the Plug

Before you remove the reamer, make sure to have the plug pusher nearby. Then, remove the reamer and shove the plug pusher into the hole. Keep pushing until you have about ¼ inch of the plug remaining outside the tire. Once you have the plug in position, pull firmly on the plug pusher to remove it.

6. Remove the Excess Plug

Let the excess length of the plug remain in the hole for about 10 minutes or until it dries. To remove the portion of the plug, use a pair of wire cutters. To get the plug flush with the tire, carefully use a razor blade to cut away the rest. 

Optional: you may also carefully use a blowtorch to heat the end of the plug and rubber surrounding it to permanently fuse them together.

7. Remount the Wheel

Before remounting the tire, spray the affected area with soapy water yet again to ensure you don’t have any leaks. Refill the tire with air. Then, put the tire on the wheel hub, hand-tighten the lug nuts, lower the vehicle, and tighten the lug nuts with a torque wrench or tire iron.

Tire Plugging Tips, Tricks, and Hacks for Success

Although plugging a tire is relatively straightforward, certain tips and tricks will set you up for success. Here are a few of those hacks to make your life just a little bit easier.

Soapy Water

As mentioned above, soapy water is the most effective way to find the leak in your tire. Just spray the tire with the water and look for bubbles to locate the leak.

You Don’t Have to Remove the Wheel

If you’re apprehensive about removing the tire or have never changed a flat, remember that you don’t have to remove the tire if it’s unnecessary. However, you’ll probably need a second person to slowly roll the vehicle forward while you inspect the tire. Again, you can look for a nail or screw or apply soapy water to help you.

The Rubber Cement Trick

Although it’s not 100% necessary, adding rubber cement to the plug is a handy tip. Not only does this create an extra seal around the plug, but it also lubes the plug for easier entry into the puncture.

To use rubber cement, apply it evenly across the plug while it’s threaded through the plug pusher. After you push the plug in, you can also add some extra rubber cement around the hole for added sealing.

Don’t Stress About a Flat Tire When a Quick Plug Will Do the Job

If you have a flat tire or a puncture, your first reaction will almost certainly be annoyance or dread. But with a trusty tire plug kit in your trunk, you can turn a nuisance into a quick fix. So don’t stress. This kit that only costs a few bucks will make your life as a vehicle owner that much easier.

Carlos G. Hill

Carlos G. Hill

Carlos joined TireReview in 2019 after seven years of living and working in Dubai. He has been a journalist for over a decade and has worked for a wide range of publications, including Rolling Stone, Time Out, iQ and Loaded. After starting out on the automotive team as deputy editor of Engine Technology International, Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International and Transmissions Technology International, he has been an editor since 2015, and began editing Tire Technology International in 2018. In 2020, he was appointed editor-in-chief of Tire, Professional Motorsport World, Electric & Hybrid Marine Technology International and Crash test Technology International

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