A nail or a screw on the road can totally ruin your day by giving you a flat tire. It may seem like this isn’t a really big problem. However, if you don’t take the steps necessary to fix it quickly, it will cost you a lot more than getting your damaged tire serviced.

Should you continue to drive with an underinflated tire, you will lose the ability to handle the vehicle properly, so the risk of getting into an accident will increase. The fuel efficiency will be significantly reduced. In addition, driving with a flat tire may damage both the tire and the wheel itself beyond repair. Therefore, it will cost you a great deal of money to fix the problem if you don’t take care of it right away.

There are two things you should do immediately after you pull over and see that your tire is damaged:

  • Replace the flat tire with a spare.
    This is only a temporary measure as spare tires are different in shape and are less efficient than standard ones. Please note that many manufacturers provide spares that are smaller in size. Read the manual in order to learn how to make your drive safe when using a spare.
  • Fix the flat.
    There are several methods you can use in order to fix a punctured tire. Some tire fix kits will even allow you to perform a quick repair while on the road, but first you should decide whether you want to fix it on your own or have a professional to do this for you.

The most important thing you need to fix your flat in a jiffy is get some practice. This process is really simple and won’t take a lot of time if you are familiar with it. It’s better to be prepared for this problem as the chance of encountering it is extremely high. Take your time to practice replacing the tire when at home  If you’ve never tried to perform the procedure before and are trying to do this for the first time while stressed and surrounded by the sounds of traffic, the whole thing will get much more difficult.

You also need to familiarize yourself with the tire repair tools that are currently available on the market. This is especially important if you don’t want to pay extra for the service and prefer to handle smaller repairs on your own. This article will provide you with some essential information about the tools you can use to fix your tires and their reliability.

Flat Tire Repairs: Basics

Regardless whether you plan to go for a long drive or just want to go shopping a few blocks away, you always need to have the tools necessary to fix a flat tire in your vehicle. You never know when exactly some nasty nail might puncture your tire, so it’s best to always be prepared.

The tools you’ll require in this situation are:

  • Emergency warning signs
  • Lug wrench
  • Car manual
  • Car jack
  • Spare tire
  • Tire repair tools
  • Wheel chocks
  • Flashlight

Before you move on to repairing the tire, you need to remove it. This can be an ordeal in itself. Follow the steps listed below to make this procedure quick and stress-free:

  • Pull out of traffic and park on a safe stable surface.
    Try to avoid parking on the grass or dirt as the jack might sink into this kind of ground, which will give you a lot of trouble. This also increases the risks as an unstable car jack cannot support the vehicle properly.
  • Set out the alerts.
    Turn on the emergency lights on your vehicle and set down the emergency warning sign.
  • Secure the wheels.
    Use wheel chocks or large stones to secure the wheels after you engage the emergency parking brake. You need to secure the wheels on the side of the car opposite to the one being raised.
  • Loosen the lug nuts.
    You will need to loosen the lug nuts one turn before you jack up the vehicle. If you have hubcaps covering your wheels, remove them using a flat screwdriver. If these covers are held in place by lug nuts, leave them.
    In case the nuts are tight, use penetrating oil and use your foot to push on the lug wrench.
  • Lift the car with a jack.
    Look up the instructions in your car owner’s manual as manufacturers offer different instructions on where exactly the best place to secure a car jack is. The one thing all these guidelines have in common is to never place a jack under the suspension member or axle.
  • Remove the lug nuts.
    Now that your vehicle is partially off the ground, finish loosening and remove the lug nuts. Place them somewhere safe so that you don’t lose them.
  • Remove the wheel.
    Be careful and use both hands. Mind that the wheel is rather heavy and might be difficult to move around.
  • Remove the damaged tire.
    This is the hardest part. Use both hands and a rubber hammer to loosen the joints and remove the tire. You may also need some liquid penetrant if the tire is stuck due to dirt and rust.
    Once you remove it, put the tire under the car. This is an additional precaution in case your jack fails.
  • Put on the spare and tighten the lug nuts.
    Consult the manual for the tightening sequence. Follow these instructions to the letter as otherwise, the weight won’t be distributed properly and the wheel might get damaged.
  • OPTIONAL! Fix the punctured tire and put it back on the wheel.
    In some cases, repairing a tire while on the road might be acceptable, especially if you don’t have a spare or its quality is too low. However, this procedure will take some time and effort.
  • Lower your car and inflate the tire.
    Check the pressure in all the tires and you are safe to go.

Puncture Repair: Plug vs. Patch

If you are determined to fix your tire yourself, you’ll need to choose the best tools for doing this. There are quite a few options you can choose from, but in the end, your choices boil down to a plug or a patch. These two tire repair tools are most popular and efficient, but which of them is better?

Both options have some pros and cons that you’ll need to take into account.

  • Plugs.Plugs are the cheapest and simplest tire repair option. Therefore, they are perfect for highway emergencies. It will take you a few minutes and a plug kit to get your tire fit to go back on the road. You won’t even need to remove the tire from the wheel as all the plug repairs are done externally. Some people swear that this fix is so good that the tire gets as good as new. This, however, is not the case.It’s true that high quality plugs available today really can seal the puncture nicely, especially when you use a special kind of vulcanizing agent to “mesh” the material of the plug into the rubber of the tire. However, if the hole is close to the side wall, or if it isn’t straight, the plug may not be able to seal it completely. In these cases, this fix can be a temporary measure only.
    In addition, you have to understand that when you drive, your tires heat up and the rubber expands. No matter how good the plug is, its chemical properties are different, so it won’t heat up the same way as the rest of the tire. The results of these discrepancies can be unpredictable. You may not have any problems for months, or you might develop a “leak” right away. The higher your speed is, the higher the risk of the plug failure is.
  • Patch.Unlike plugs, patches are applied from the inside of the tire, so doing this takes more time and effort. You may not have an opportunity to do this while parked on the roadside. This, however, is one of the reasons that make patches more reliable as sometimes you may miss some damage without inspecting the tire from the inside. The Rubber Manufacturers Association stipulates that any repairs should be performed after removing the tire from the wheel so that you (or a technician) can assess the extent of the damage.A patch seals the hole from the inside. If the patch you have is self-vulcanizing, it will melt into the rubber of the tire when it gets heated up after you start driving. However, you may need to use a special product to seal the patch and “glue” it to the rubber.

The bottom line is that both plugs and patches can seal the puncture, but neither is the perfect fix. However, together they can be a very efficient solution to your tire problem.

NOTE: The repair units must not overlap!

According to all the studies and tests in this field, the best way to repair a punctured tire is to use either a combination of a plug and a patch, or get a special kind of “mushroom” patch. The latter has a pointy end attached to a radial patch. You will need to push it through the hole to the outside so it will act like a plug.

A Proper Guide to Patching Your Tire

  • Pinpoint the location of the puncture.
    With your tire safely removed from the wheel, you can start working on patching it up properly. First of all, you need to pinpoint the hole. This will be easy if the nail, or whatever other item that punctured it, is still there. In this case, you’ll need to put a piece of tape directly under it. This way, you won’t lose the hole when the item is removed. Then, take a pair of pliers and remove whatever has caused the damage.
    In case there are no indicators of the hole, you will need to cover the tire with soapy water while it’s still on the wheel. Then put some pressure on it and look for bubbles. This is where your hole is. Mark it right away.
  • Roughen up the sides of the hole.
    You can use a variety of tools to do this. If you have an opportunity, use a low speed drill and a 3/16 carbide cutter to ream the hole first from the outside, and then, from the inside. Clean the area thoroughly after this by using a scraper and specialized cleaning liquid. You need to remove all the dirt and rubber particles.
  • Apply the vulcanizing cement.
    You need to coat the pointy (plug) part of the mushroom patch in the substance as well as cover the buffed surface of the tire itself. Remove the plastic from the flat side of the patch.
  • Apply the patch.
    While the cement is still wet, push the pointy side of the patch through the hole and use pliers to adjust it properly.
    Be careful not to over-pull. The patch must not “dimple”.
  • Buff the area around the patch.
    If you have an opportunity to do so, you can use a low-power buffer to buff the patch and the surrounding area. However, be careful not to buff through the inner liner!
  • Coat the buffed area with self-vulcanizing cement.
    Clean the area with the cleaning fluid and coat everything with cement to seal every cranny.
  • Apply repair sealer.
    Finish the procedure with coating the buffed area with specialized repair sealer.
  • Put the tire back and inflate it.
  • Cut the plug.
    With your tire inflated, take a pair of scissors or a knife and cut the plug flush with the tread area.

Is It Safe to Drive on a Patched Tire?

If the safety regulations of the tire manufacturer allow for repairs, you should be safe. Please note that this is only true if you used proper procedure to fix the puncture properly.  However, a patched tire shouldn’t be used to drive at great speeds for extended periods of time. No matter how well it has been repaired, it will not perform at 100% of its original capacity. Remember this and be careful on the road.

When a Tire Can’t Be Fixed

You need to understand that NOT ALL TIRES CAN BE REPAIRED. Sometimes, you just have to accept that the extent of the damage is too great and replace the item.
You cannot repair the tire if:

  • The puncture is bigger than ¼“.
    Technically, it will be possible to fix even a bigger hole with a patch. However, all the existing research proves these attempts to be inefficient. The most you can hope is to patch the thing up in an emergency when you don’t have a spare tire. However, you will have to replace the damaged item as quickly as possible.
  • The puncture is at the side of the tire.
    Side punctures cannot be repaired properly. Even if you apply a patch from the inside, the tire will not perform at 100% and it will develop the leak again soon. Driving a car with a tire fixed in this manner is a great risk. It’s advised that you do this ONLY to reach a service station or the place where you can replace the damaged item. If you do this, drive at a low speed and with extreme care.
  • The manufacturer explicitly stated that the tires of this particular type cannot be repaired.
    In this case, even if you manage to fix the problem by using some specialized repair tools, the properties of the tire will not be restored. For example, speed tires can’t be fixed to the point where the “medicated” item can be as good as an undamaged one.

Regardless of the tire type, severity of the damage, etc. only a limited number of repairs is allowed. This information should be stated in the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Common Tire Misunderstandings

A puncture in itself isn’t a big problem. However, sometimes people forget about various aggravating factors that make fixing a tire much more difficult. There are several common tire misunderstandings you need to know about

  • Not realizing the detrimental effects of your car being out of alignment (uneven tire wear).
    The more worn out the tire is, the higher the risk of puncture is. If your car is out of alignment, the tires will wear out unevenly. Even if you fix this, the damage has already been done and the uneven wear will continue as your tires are at different levels. The only way to solve this particular issue is to replace the tires and get your vehicle aligned properly from the start.
  • Believing that a plug will suffice.
    Although a good temporary measure, a plug alone is not enough to fix a puncture properly. You need to use both a patch and a plug, or a single-piece unit that combines these repair tools.
  • Relying on a Fix-a-Flat.
    This one and other similar products are temporary solutions ONLY. You cannot rely on them to seal the hole in your tire for more than a couple of days, so get to a repair service as soon as possible.
  • Not understanding when the tire balance is off.
    Many people waste their money by having technicians rebalance their tires when they don’t have a balance problem in the first place. If you have this issue, you will feel on and off vibration that depends on the speed of your car. This is the sign you need to watch out for.
  • Inability to tell a tire problem from a wheel problem.
    A dented or uneven wheel will not balance regardless of how great your tires are and how much money you pay to the tire shop’s technician to fix them. Even new tires might develop leaks for no obvious reason if the problem is with the wheel. Have a technician determine the exact cause so that you don’t waste your money.

Tire Assessment

Not all flats are caused by punctures. Sometimes this problem can occur due to other issues that could have been prevented. To make sure that your tires are in good shape, you will need to assess them on a regular basis. This is what you should watch out for:

  • Soft or flat tires.
    Possible causes of this problem are a puncture or an underinflated tire. If there are no signs of a puncture, check the air pressure. Add air to the tire until you reach the level suggested by the owner’s manual.
  • Unusual tread.
    There are several causes of this issue:

    • If the tire shows excessive signs of wear on the sides, the problem is most likely caused by under-inflation. You can solve it by adding air to the tire. However, you should get it inspected by a professional to assess the damage dealt by under-inflation. A technician will also need to determine the cause of air loss.
    • When a tire shows signs of wear in the center or all over its surface, the main reason is over-inflation. Reduce the air pressure to the recommended level.
    • In case the wear is uneven, or the tire looks scalloped, the problem is caused by either over-inflation, or poor alignment. Check the pressure. If it’s within the normal limits, get your car to the service station to fix the alignment issues.
    • If your tires develop sawtooth or feathered edges, you’ll need to correct the alignment. An authorized tire dealer should be able to do this quickly.
    • Dips and cups on your tire are the signs of excessively worn parts. These issues may appear due to the wheels being imbalanced or extreme wear. Tires that develop this problem must be replaced.
    • When you see the tread wear indicator bars, your tires will need to be replaced.
  • Damaged sidewall.
    Depending on the type of damage, your tire may not require any repairs or be beyond helping. If the “damage” you see is a small indentation, you shouldn’t worry as it’s a normal occurrence for radial tires. However, if you see a budge or bubble, the tire must be replaced as these are the signs of severe damage to the cords.
  • Handling issues.
    Vibration is the most common handling issue, and it’s usually caused by poor alignment or balance discrepancies. These problems can also result in difficulties with steering.

In Conclusion

Tire punctures can be fixed effectively if you use the right tools and follow the guidelines developed by manufacturers. If you cannot pinpoint the source of the problem right away, you should get your tires assessed by a qualified specialist. Read the manufacturer’s instructions very carefully before you buy the tires as some types cannot be fixed by default.
Note that various shops use different repair methods. You’ll need to ask the technician about the tools that are going to be used to fix your tire. In case you do not agree with the chosen method, you can search for another service or carry out the repairs by yourself.