Wrench Tip: How To Plug A Tire

by David Zipf


This article originally ran on a defunct forum in 2010 and eventually made its way onto MotoIQ in April of 2015. At that time, I had only ever dealt with one puncture on my personal car. I didn't own a good camera, nor was I writing for a high quality site like MotoIQ, and the article reflected that. In the last two months, I got not one but TWO punctures. While it sucks for me, it gave me a chance to re-shoot the process with a real camera and make some much needed updates.

Flat tires suck. They're always a hassle and they ALWAYS come at the most inopportune or annoying times. As a former tire changer/tire repair man, I've seen all sorts of weird stuff in people's tires: nails, screws, screwdrivers, spark plugs, and chunks of steel the size of a business card. In the old days I'd be going to a repair shop to fix my tires, but these days I just do it myself.

Before we go any further, let me head off the inevitable comments. Plugs are a temporary measure. If you plug a tire, you should get it to a tire shop and have it patched. A patch is installed from the inside of the tire and is bonded directly to the inner wall, making it a permanent (but time consuming) repair, one that usually cannot be performed at home (that is unless you own tire mounting and balancing equipment). 

That said...I've installed about 100 plugs and I've never had one fail- even on racing slicks. In fact, one of the plugs you see here has already done 5,500 miles across 7 states without losing any more air than the other three tires. So, take that as you will. Also, you will notice I didn't mention liquid patches (aka Fix-A-Flat). I've never seen this stuff actually work, and it usually does more harm than good. Some of these will corrode aluminum wheels, causing more leaks as the bead of the wheel no longer seals. They also smell AWFUL (this is the number one way of making a tire tech hate your guts). On top of the potential for wreaking havoc on your wheels, a lot of these liquid patches just plain don't work and don't stop punctures from leaking.  ***These opinions are those of the writer and may not reflect the opinion of MotoIQ.com.***


Did I say plugged slicks? Because I really meant I had plugged slicks. This tire had only been plugged a few minutes before this shot was taken and hadn't worn down yet. Puncturing tires on unprepared courses is a risk autocrossers have to take. You can sweep and inspect all you want, but get off-line and there's no telling what you'll run over.

Alright, enough pontificating. Let's show you how to do this. The first thing you need is a tire with a hole in it.


As I said above, I got two punctures almost back to back. This was the first one, was on the passenger rear tire, and came a few days before I was supposed to drive 700 miles home for a week. Better get this right so we don't have to put on the spare in the middle of the WV mountains! You'll notice this isn't a VehiCross or Mazdaspeed3 tire. I bought a shiny new Tacoma TRD Off-Road as a daily driver in February. Clearly, the OEM Goodyear tires are not as off-road worthy as the rest of the truck.
This one happened to be on the driver's side front tire. Because I didn't feel like digging out a jack and breaking loose half a dozen lug nuts, I simply rolled the truck until the screw was in an easy to reach location and cranked the wheel all the way to the right. We can plug this tire without removing the tire from the truck.
These are the tools of the trade. For a tire plug kit, I go with Tire Slime's kit which you can pick up at any auto parts store. For $10 or less you get a few plugs, a plug gun, a reamer, and some vulcanizing cement. Since the packaging isn't reusable, I threw everything into a freezer bag so I can keep it handy. You'll also need some pliers to yank out the screw, a knife to trim the plug, and obviously a jack and breaker bar to remove the wheel to make it easier to work on. Why yes, I have a real breaker bar now. Thanks college!
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Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Thursday, April 23, 2015 5:04 AM
I would have never considered plugging a tire until reading this.
Nick B
Nick Blink
Thursday, April 23, 2015 7:52 AM
If all you need to do is drive a few miles to get home or to the repair shop I've always had good luck with the "tire in a can" liquid/foam stuff. I also always feel bad for the tire guy who has to deal with it when I show up for the repair.

If you're not able to get it repaired ASAP a plug will last longer and I would trust it a lot more than the foam/liquid sealer, still wouldn't track on a plug though.
Thursday, April 23, 2015 9:58 AM
"They also smell AWFUL (this is the number one way of making a tire tech hate your guts)."

Yea, especially when they dump the entire freaking can of cheap fix a flat and fail to mention it. I love getting covered in nasty crap when I pull the tire off.
Thursday, April 23, 2015 10:51 AM
I have had plugs last the life of the tire numerous times. They are an absolute necessity in times of emergency I've found. I have actually had to track a tire that has been plugged (hardback dirt) and never had an issue with it.
Thursday, April 23, 2015 3:29 PM
Iv'e found it helpful to leave the nail in the tire until you are ready to repair it. That way you when you remove the nail you know what angle to stick the plug in (and not create a new hole)
The Monkey in El Monte
The Monkey in El Montelink
Thursday, April 23, 2015 3:41 PM
I manage a very busy tire shop, and we have seen a lot of tires come in that have the belts separating from a bad plug.

Either the plug itself or the item that punctured the tire can cause the belts to start to separate, and over time and use they will continue to come part until the tire fails.

Just today, we had a Scion tC come in with a 3" long weight from a steel wheel that managed to get 2 3/4" of itself through the tire. The TPMS wasn't even going off, it was the "clicking" sound that brought the customer in to the store.

The other risk with plugs is the potential damage already on the inside of the tire. If the tire was run low on air, the initial damage to the sidewall starts on the inside. If the tire isn't dismounted and inspected, this weakened sidewall may fail later (usually at highway speeds). Most don't understand why the tire failed, they will think they hit something not he freeway causing a rapid deflation and not understand it was the damage done to the tire when it was run low before it was patched and made "as good as new". If it's a low profile tire, it's very difficult to tell how low the tire is on air and the odds for worse damage internally are higher.

I'd say keep the patches with you and use them to get home and then order up another tire. Tires are the only thing between your car and the road, why take the chance?
The Monkey in El Monte
The Monkey in El Montelink
Thursday, April 23, 2015 3:45 PM
One more thing to add, don't plug or patch tire near the sidewall where it will flex and eventually leak again (usually about the first inch of tread from the sidewall is too close and flexes with every revolution of the tire).
Thursday, April 23, 2015 6:46 PM
My wife got a moderate leak from road debris about two years ago, and decided to drive home anyway because she was only a half mile away. She shredded the sidewall coming into the neighborhood and turned what should have been a simple plug/patch repair into a complete new set of tires because they were half worn and on an AWD car. Not bitter at all.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Thursday, April 23, 2015 10:11 PM
There is nothing wrong with a plug if you use common sense. A plug can fix a small nail hole in the middle of the tread. It can't fix a big gash or a sideways big screw hole. It can't fix the sidewall and its dumb to use one at the juncture of the sidewall to the tread. If it can't be fixed easily with one plug, get a new tire. I have raced plugged tires down to the cords and have ran plugged tires for the entire service life of the tire when following these simple rules.
Friday, April 24, 2015 5:34 AM
Thanks Mike and Monkey, I meant to say somewhere that plugs should only be used on the tread of the tire and not the sidewall. That was in this article at one point, but I deleted the paragraph it was in and forgot to put that info back in later on!

I keep this plug kit in the back of my car along with a small air compressor. That punctured slick would have ended our practice day, but with 5 minutes of work, we were back on the track (erm parking lot). Since many flats are tread punctures, I can just fix my tire on the go and not even bother with the spare. Luckily I haven't had to use it (on my car, the SAE car was a different story obviously), but it's better to have it and not need it, right?
Monday, May 04, 2015 1:23 PM
Ever seen a dually with a shredded fender? This is usually from a tire that went flat and the owner kept going (harder to detect a flat on a dually) or because some dipshit decided a tire 10 years old with cracks like a dry lake bed was good to go.

Tire patch kits like this are absolutely necessary if you're off road and miles from civilization.

BTW, nice Chinese trailer bombs (Carlisle STs, though the newer ones are admittedly better) in the last photo... :)
Friday, September 15, 2017 6:10 AM
I wonder if I can get a tire plug in a race compound...

Patent Pending
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