Learn Do It Yourself Tire Repair With a Plug

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You Can Repair Tires Yourself!

Alicia Nijdam/Flickr

Plug or Patch? The debate on plugs vs patches vs both rages unending. We're here to talk about plugs. Experts have lots of opinions on tire repair. I've used plugs by themselves for years with great results and no safety issues, but others will tell you that a plug without a matching patch inside is dangerous. I can only tell you my experience. If you're not sure, take your tire to a professional for consultation.

The tire plug method of repairing tires is a mysterious thing. The first time you see one installed brings feelings of amazement and doubt. You're amazed that it held air but doubt it will last more than a day or two. The fact is that a proper tire repair will last forever. Why should you have to replace one of your tires with perfectly good tread just because a nail danced its way into your life?

For under $10 and 5 minutes of your life, you can give a dead tire a new lease on life by using a common tire plug. It's just too easy to pass up.

Never attempt to plug a sidewall! Your tire's sidewall is under different strains and pressures than the part that makes contact with the road. Plugging a sidewall can result in a blowout, so don't try it.

*Note: The NHTSA has stated that a plug is not a proper permanent tire repair.

*Update! For the past few years we've been testing out a different tire plugging system at the shop, and we are very pleased. Check out our review of this much easier system here!

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Finding the Offending Object

MCCAIG/Getty Images

Spin the tire until you find the evil little metal bit that made a certain hour of your life really unpleasant. If you're lucky, it will be a big, easy to remove nail or screw like this one. Don't pull it out just yet, though, because we want to be prepared for the next steps without making our lives any harder.

If you aren't so lucky and can't see the object that pierced your tire, you'll have to find the leak by other methods.

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Mark the Spot for the Tire Repair

Mark the location for the tire repair.
Use tape to mark the tire repair location. Matt Wright

Before you remove the nail or screw from your flat tire, take a piece of tape and put it just below the spot where it went in. With a pen, mark the exact spot that has the nail in it. This will allow you to find the hole again once the object is out of there. It's very hard to find again if you lose the spot.

Don't worry if you forget to mark it, or if your tape comes off. You can use this method to find the hole again.

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Remove the Nail or Screw to Begin the Tire Repair

Now you can repair tires!
Remove the nail or screw from the tire. Matt Wright

Now that you have a plan to reconnoiter with the hole later, you can go ahead and remove the nail or screw from the tire. You might have to grip the nail with pliers or Vise Grips if it proves hard to remove. If it's a screw, you can just unscrew it with a screwdriver.

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Ream Out the Hole in the Tire

Repair tires like a champ.
Tire repair tool #1, the reamer. mw

In your tire plug kit, you'll see a tool that looks like a round file with a handle. This is used to clean out and rough up the hole in your tire prior to plugging. Take this tool and ram it into the hole. Move it up and down a few times to roughen up the inside. You don't have to go nuts on it, a few solid pumps should do it. This is an important part of the tire repair.

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Thread the Tire Repair Plug Tool

Threading the worm for the tire repair.
The tire plug is ready to be installed. Matt Wright

Now you finally get to play with those cute little tar-worms (the not so clean way to repair tires, but it works). Peel one of them off and thread it through the tool that has an eye on one end, like a giant needle. You'll have to pinch the end of the worm to get it in there, but it can be done. Pull it through until it is centered in the plugging tool.

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Plug It to Repair the Tire For Good

Tire repair plug inserted.
Push the plug into the hole. Matt Wright

With the worm threaded onto the plugging tool, stick the end of the tool into the hole in your tire. Once it's in just a little, start to really push on it so that the tool and the plug sink into the hole. It will be pretty hard to push in, but you're looking for a tight fit to hold in all that air. Push the plug in until only about 1/2 inch is sticking out. Now pull the plugging tool straight out, leaving the plug where it's supposed to be, in the hole.

If you have something to cut the ends of the plug off with, go ahead and trim it close to the tire. If nothing's handy, you can trim it later.

Now fill your tire with air to the proper tire pressure and you are 100 percent back in action. Well done, you can now repair tires!