tire repair

Know How Notes – Emergency Tire Plug Repair

Flats tend to happen at the worst time in the worst places. If you are on the road or outside of normal business hours and your vehicle has a flat and the spare is missing or no good, you might feel stranded, but there is an option – an emergency tire plug repair. This is something that anybody can do, you just need the right parts.

Liquid tire repair might get you down the road, but it will make your tire repair impossible and it could ruin the TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitor System) unit inside the rim itself. The best solution is a tire plug. Made from cork and a gooey adhesive that keeps it place and seals the tire, a tire tire plug repair is an excellent way to get your car back on the road until you can get to a tire shop for an internal patch.

Installing a plug in your tire works for pierced tread area only. You cannot fix sidewall damage or compression breaks (from potholes, gravel roads or curbing). The most common road hazards you will find are nails and screws. Fixing these issues are perfect for the good old fashioned tire plug.

These are the tools you need to install an emergency tire patch. You should keep these in your vehicle, along with a 12-volt compressor.

These are the tools you need to install an emergency tire patch. You should keep these in your vehicle, along with a 12-volt compressor.

Supplies

You will need the following to make a tire plug repair:

Tire plug kit

Pliers, preferably needle-nosed or diagonal side-cutters

Compressed air to refill the tire

There are all kinds of tire plug kits, but you want the most complete kit, which comes with the plugs, the install tool, and the reamer tool. Some kits just come with the plugs and installer, but the reamer tool is a necessary component to a good repair. Some kits come with liquid cement, you can use it or not, the cement helps make a permanent repair.

Step One

Locate the puncture. If you don’t see or hear the puncture, spray some soapy water on the tire and look for bubbles.

This is a small staple that was dropping tire pressure by 20 psi in about 12 hours. It needs to go.

This is a small staple that was dropping tire pressure by 20 psi in about 12 hours. It needs to go.

Step Two

Remove the offending item. This is usually easy, but sometimes the nail or screw is worn down, making it hard to get a bite on it. This is where the side-cutters come in really handy. You will want to position the tire where you get the most leverage.

Side cutters work best for removing these items, as they can grip small round objects better than regular pliers.

Side cutters work best for removing these items, as they can grip small round objects better than regular pliers.

Step Three

Insert the reamer. This will take some effort, as you have to push it through the steel belts. Use a twisting motion and push it into the tire. Once the reamer is through, saw it in and out of the tire a few times to really make a nice hole for the plug. Yes, it is counter-intuitive, but it is necessary.

The reamer requires some effort. You will hear the belts scrubbing the reamer as your break through.

The reamer requires some effort. You will hear the belts scrubbing the reamer as your break through.

 

Push the reamer all the way and then saw it in and out a few times to make a clean hole.

Push the reamer all the way and then saw it in and out a few times to make a clean hole.

Step Four

Prep the plug and installer. Pull a plug off the strip and push it through the eyelet of the installer tool. The pliers will make this easier. Push a little through, grab it with the pliers and pull the plug halfway through the eyelet.

Pull a cork strip from the kit and grab the installer tool, which looks like a large needle with a slit in the eye.

Pull a cork strip from the kit and grab the installer tool, which looks like a large needle with a slit in the eye.

 

Threading the sticky cork plug is not easy, but if you can get it squished into the hole, you should be able to pull it on through. The side cutters might help.

Threading the sticky cork plug is not easy, but if you can get it squished into the hole, you should be able to pull it on through. The side cutters might help.

Step Five

Insert the plug into the tire. If the kit has liquid cement, apply some to the plug before inserting it into the tire. Simply push the installer into the hole in the tire until the plug is about 3/4 of the way in. Twist the installer tool 90-degrees and pull it out. The plug will stay in the tire and the tool will come out nice and easy. You may trim away the excess plug, or leave it to wear away as you drive.

Push the plug into the hole. Don't twist the plug, just go straight down and stop when there is about a 1/2-inch exposed.

Push the plug into the hole. Don’t twist the plug, just go straight down and stop when there is about a 1/2-inch exposed.

 

This is what you should see when the plug is installed.

This is what you should see when the plug is installed.

 

Now twist the handle 90-degrees and pull the tool out.

Now twist the handle 90-degrees and pull the tool out.

Step Six

Fill the tire to the proper PSI. If you have a portable air compressor, this will make things easy, but if you do not, you need to get air very soon.

All done. You can trim the plug or leave. You will need air, so don't go driving until you have the tire aired up.

All done. You can trim the plug or leave. You will need air, so don’t go driving until you have the tire aired up.

Every automobile you own should have an emergency tire plug repair kit in the tool box, along with a portable air compressor. These emergency repairs are quite good, but for a long term repair, you should take the vehicle to a tire shop for a proper repair as soon as possible.

Check out all the steering & suspension parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on emergency tire plug repair, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

about author

Jefferson Bryant

A life-long gearhead, Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 4 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced.

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