As tough as contemporary tires are, they’re not invincible. Driving over any sharp object carries the risk of puncture. When a hole is small and on the tread, it may be possible to plug it, permitting reinflation.
The question is, does plugging restore a tire to like-new condition? Is it safe to drive on a plugged tire? Is the life of the plugged tire the same as an undamaged tire with similar mileage and wear? Is a tire plug better than a tire patch?
How to Use a Tire Plug Kit
The most common threat to your tires comes in the form of nails and screws. These tend to create tire damage that’s well-suited for a tire plug kit.
These kits come with the plugs themselves and an installer tool at the bare minimum, but you should opt for a kit that also includes a reamer tool. Some kits may include liquid cement as well.
As well, you’ll need a pair of pliers, usually needle-nose and/or diagonal cutters. Re-inflating a tire requires some form of compressed air. A small 12-volt pump is easy enough to purchase and store in your car for an emergency repair down the road.
- Locate the puncture: you may be able to hear or see the puncture but if not, the time-tested technique is to spray the tire with soapy water and the bubbles that form over the leak.
- Use the pliers to remove the object that caused the puncture. Diagonal cutters may be better for gripping larger pieces while needle-nose pliers might be better in deep treads.
- Insert the reamer tool: the goal is to make the puncture large enough to accept the plug. Use a sawing motion to shape the hole. It can take some effort, and you will hear the tire belts rubbing against the tool.
- The installer tool looks like an oversized needle eye. Thread a plug through the eye to about the halfway point of the plug. The pliers may help with threading.
- If your kit includes cement, brush it on the plug now.
- Push the installer into the reamed hole until the plug is about three-quarters of the way into the hole.
- Twist the installer handle 90 degrees and pull it out. The plug will remain behind. Trimming the excess plug material is optional.
- Fill your tire to the proper pressure level using the compressor.
Plug Your Tire ONLY in These Circumstances
- The hole must be no wider than one-quarter of an inch and it must be on the tread portion of the tire. A hole on the side of a tire cannot be patched
- The angle of the hole makes a difference. The best plugs work when the puncture is straight in. Angled punctures may not seal as well.
- Tire wear is important. Do not plug a tire with a tread depth less than 2/32 of an inch.
Tire Plug vs Patch
A tire patch is stronger than a plug, but it requires taking the tire off the rim since the patch is placed on the inside of the tire. Adhesive keeps the patch in place and it’s secured further by the pressurized air in the tire. There are also hybrid plug patches that combine the benefits of both repair methods.
How Long Will a Tire Plug Last?
The correct answer is probably less than you think. A properly installed plug, according to their manufacturers, can last as long as 10 years or 40,000 kilometres. This depends on professional installation without complications, unusual angles, or other unseen damage.
An emergency plug that you install on the roadside should not be considered to be properly installed. The conditions and variables are simply too questionable to establish the integrity of the repair.
You can expect an emergency plug to hold air long enough to get to a mechanic for a tire evaluation and, if it’s safe, a hybrid plug patch installed by a qualified technician.
Can I Drive Long Distances With a Plugged Tire?
You can if the tire is repaired professionally with a hybrid plug patch. Tire life should be similar to the other tires on your vehicle.
Note that this is for normal city and highway driving. Tire manufacturers do not support published speed ratings for tires that have been repaired.
Emergency repairs should be treated as temporary, to get you to a local destination before having the tire serviced.
A tire plug done at the side of the road, under emergency conditions, is a temporary repair done to get you out of a problem situation. Do not count on this type of repair to last longer than the time it takes until you get your car to a garage.
The puncture represents a breakdown of a tire’s integrity, and the plug is no assurance that the damage done to the tire at the time of puncture won’t get worse. Driving at highway speeds can accelerate damage to the tire and you may not be aware of this until the tire fails.
Emergency plugs work because of the stickiness of the plug material. If it dries over time, or the hole in the tire enlarges, then you may be facing another flat at some point in the future. There’s no way to evaluate the condition of the plug once it’s installed.
If you have the choice between a spare tire and an emergency plug, the spare tire is the best bet, even when it’s an undersized emergency spare. Its purpose, too, is to get you to a garage where the punctured tire can be evaluated and repaired professionally, if possible.
Tire warranties may be invalid after a repair that’s deemed improper. This in itself is reason enough to trust the job to a mechanic, so that your emergency repair can be replaced.
The best solution following any tire damage is to replace the tire completely. Don’t be tempted to flirt with inconvenience or danger by attempting to extend the life of a temporary plug repair.