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—a tire plug kit. 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 damage 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 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. Here’s how to use a tire plug kit.
You will need the following to make a tire plug repair:
Pliers, preferably needle-nosed or diagonal side-cutters
Compressed air to refill the tire
There are all kinds of tire plugging kits, but you want the most complete kit, which comes with the plugs, the install tool and the reamer tool. Some flat tire repair kits just come with the plugs and installer, but the reamer tool is a necessary component to a good repair. Some kits also come with liquid cement. You can use it or not, but the cement helps make a permanent repair.
How to use a tire plug kit
Locate the puncture. If you don’t see or hear the puncture, spray some soapy water on the tire and look for bubbles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fill the tire to the proper PSI. If you have a portable air compressor, this will make things easy. However, if you do not, you need to get air very soon.
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.
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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.