Having a flat tire can make any road trip a horrible experience, especially if there is no tire repair service around. Sure, you can use the spare tire in a pinch, but there is always a risk of a second puncture.
And, this often happens – in the U.S. alone, approximately seven punctures happen each second, or 220 million a year.
Fortunately, there is a way to plug the puncture on the tubeless tires on your vehicle. Moreover, with the right instructions, you can do that while stranded.
To assist you, I prepared these 13 easy steps on how to plug a tire and hit the road in no time!
Will Plugging Help to Eliminate the Leak?
Before you even start working on your tires, you first need to evaluate the puncture. Most punctures can be plugged, specifically those from stones, nails, and screws.
Nevertheless, larger punctures and blowouts are much harder to plug. In some cases, even an experienced tire technician won’t be able to save the tire. Well, at least not without consequences.
As a general rule of thumb, you can safely plug a passenger-car tire with a puncture that’s up to 1/4-inch (6mm) in diameter. Repairing more massive leaks should be avoided.
Additionally, you can only plug a puncture in the middle of the tread of the tire. If the tire is punctured on the sidewall, or the outboard shoulders, you should avoid plugging it.
Otherwise, you risk damaging the tire even further and risk your safety, the safety of the passengers, and other traffic participants. Moreover, an improperly plugged sidewall can result in a blowout.
You should also know that a plug will weaken the tread of the tire. This means that you can’t plug the tire to eternity – 4-5 plugs should be the maximum amount.
How Long Does It Take to Plug a Tire?
It depends on how crafty you are with tools and the knowledge of cars you have. I can do that in 15 minutes, and I’ve seen people do it even faster. However, it shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes – that’s the worst-case scenario.
The Tools and Supplies You’ll Need
Obviously, you can’t plug a tire without the proper tools and supplies. For most of the work, you can use the tools provided in your car. However, you’ll need specialized equipment to plug the puncture.
Thankfully, you can easily find tire repair kits online or at the nearest gas station. They are very cheap nowadays, even the high-quality ones. For that reason, it’s best always to keep a kit in your trunk – they don’t take up too much space.
Most tire repair kits will have everything you need to plug the tire. These include a set of pliers, a razor blade, spiral reaming tool, lubricant, repair cords, insertion tool, and valve stem tool. If the kit only includes repair cords and valves, make sure that you purchase the other tools separately.
You’ll also need tools to remove and place the wheel back again. These include a jack for lifting the vehicle and lug wrench to remove and place the tire. Your vehicle should already have these tools in the trunk.
To locate the puncture more quickly, you might also want to keep water and some sort of soap. Applying the solution to the tire will immediately show you where the hole is.
Finally, you might want to keep an air compressor around. That way, you can inflate the tire even when you’re stranded somewhere.
Got it? Then, follow all the steps below, and you should be driving again in a flash.
Step by Step Guide on How to Plug a Tire
Step 1. Jack Up Your Vehicle
Before jacking, make sure that you loosen the lug nuts – it’s much easier that way. Then, use the jack provided by the car manufacturer and jack up the vehicle.
Make sure that you position the jack on the jack point that’s closest to the damaged tire. If you’re not sure, you can find the jack point in the user manual.
Please ensure that you don’t crawl under the vehicle. The jack isn’t very secure for you to do that. Also, use protective gloves as a safeguard.
Step 2. Remove the Wheel with the Flat Tire
Unscrew the lug nuts on the wheel using a lug wrench and remove them altogether. Place them in a safe place. Then, remove the wheel with your hands carefully.
Step 3. Locate the Puncture
After you removed the wheel, take it to a safe place, and locate the puncture. The easiest way to do this is by spraying a water-soap solution on the tread of the tire. You should be able to see bubbles forming on the location of the puncture.
After you spotted the hole, clean the area from the remaining liquid. Then, mark the hole so you can easily spot it later.
Step 4. Remove the Sharp Object (If Any)
If there is any sharp object left on in the opening, use the pliers to remove it completely. Be sure that you remove even the smallest item. Otherwise, there is a risk of another puncture when you start driving again.
Step 5. Remove the Valve Stem Core
You can deflate the tire using a small object by inserting it into the valve stem core. However, I recommend removing the valve stem core completely using the valve stem tool.
That way, the tire will deflate fully, and it will be much easier to insert the plug. Ensure that you keep the valve stem in a safe place, or install a new valve stem.
Step 6. Ream the Puncture Opening
This is where the fun part begins. Use the reaming tool that comes in the tire repair kit and ream the hole. This will expand the opening and make it easier to apply the plug cord.
The hole is big enough when the reaming tool moves freely up and down. Don’t overdo it, though – the inside of the opening should be rough, so the plug sticks to it.
Step 7. Apply Lubricant or Contact Cement on the Hole (Optional)
For a smoother application of the repair cord, most tire repair kits provide a lubricant or contact cement. Apply the lubricant over the opening and on the repair cord itself.
Step 8. Thread the Repair Cord Inside the Puncture
Now it’s time to apply the plug repair cord and close the puncture. Use the insertion tool provided in the tire repair kit. This tool has an “eye” at the top, where you should put the repair cord. Ensure that the cord is symmetrical on both sides.
Then, using the insertion tool, start inserting the cord inside the hole. It might need a strong force, but you should also be careful not to overdo it. You don’t want the whole repair cord entering the hole – leave about 1/2 inch visible over the puncture.
Step 9. Remove the Reaming Tool
The next step is to remove the reaming tool without removing the plug. Do this with a quick upward vertical motion, while you hold the platform against the tire. If the tool doesn’t have a platform to hold onto, a sharp vertical pull should be enough.
Step 10. Cut the Remaining Plug Cord
You surely don’t want to drive with plug cords hanging from the tread of the tire, do you? Use a sharp knife or a razor blade to trim the remaining plug cord. Of course, make sure that you don’t damage the tread of the tire – a small cut can start to expand as you’re driving.
Step 11. Inflate the Tire
Put the valve stem core back and then inflate the tires. Ensure that you use a tire pressure gauge and inflate the tire to the value provided by the vehicle manufacturer. Otherwise, you risk premature tread wear, reduced overall performance, and worse comfort.
Step 12. Make Sure that the Hole is Properly Sealed
Spray the water-soap solution over the freshly-plugged hole. If no bubbles appear after a minute, then it means that the gap is sealed correctly. If the hole isn’t sealed correctly, you might need to start over again. Never drive with a tire that loses pressure!
Step 13. Put the Wheel Back on Your Vehicle
Install the wheel back on the car. Tighten the lug nuts using the lug wrench. Then, lower your vehicle carefully and remove the jack. Retighten the lug nuts again in a cross pattern for maximum safety.
Each time you work on your car, I recommend doing some safety precautions. To avoid injury, use working gloves and sturdy footwear. For better comfort, you might want to put a tire changing mat on the ground.
If you plug the tires while on the road, make sure to park your vehicle in a safe place. Then, put a reflective triangle at least 150 feet behind the car and turn on the hazard lights.
Plugging a tire requires many steps, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll do it in a heartbeat. Just make sure that you always follow the steps closely – skipping an action might result in an improperly sealed puncture.
Moreover, if you have other questions or something from this article is unclear, please do not hesitate to ask a question in the comment section below. And, if you found this article helpful, share it with the world – it will help us produce more quality articles in the future. Good luck!