We’ve all been there: you’re cruising down the highway trying to keep a low profile while singing your heart out to “Carry on My Wayward Son” when all of a sudden, you feel the telltale rumble of a flat tire.
In this situation, all-in-one sealant and air solutions like Fix-a-Flat can be a lifesaver. These products are designed to reinflate a flat tire, seal up the source of the leak, and get you back on the road, all in under a minute.
If you’re thinking that sounds too good to be true, you’re not alone!
While there are loads of drivers who swear by Fix-a-Flat’s performance as a patch-over, many automotive specialists and discerning consumers remain skeptical. It’s a debate that bears closer investigation.
Just how long does Fix-a-Flat work? And how well does it do the job it claims to do?
How Long Does Fix-a-Flat Last?
According to the manufacturer’s official recommendation, Fix-a-Flat can last for three days or 100 miles, whichever comes first. That should be more than enough time or distance to get you to a mechanic for a proper repair.
Fix-a-Flat is meant to help you help yourself in commuting emergencies when you don’t have the luxury of waiting around for roadside assistance. It’s not meant to allow you to resume joyriding or give you a reason to put off having necessary repairs made.
Should you ever wind up with a flat and decide to use a two-in-one sealant to deal with it, the next item on your to-do list should be to high-tail it to the nearest open garage, pronto.
If you only get one takeaway from this article, let it be this: it’s best not to use aerosol sealants as a remedy for flat tires unless you absolutely have to, and when you have to, you want to drive on the sealed tire as little as possible before getting more lasting repairs made.
Is Fix-a-Flat a Permanent Fix?
Despite what the product’s name may lead you to believe, Fix-a-Flat is not a permanent fix. It’s not even a particularly long-term one!
100 miles is not altogether very far, and that’s the maximum possible distance that Fix-a-Flat and similar tire repair fluids are formulated to deliver you. It’s highly likely that you’ll only cover a portion of that distance before the sealant fails and the air starts to leak out of your tire again.
As someone who has tried these sorts of solutions for themselves and has personally witnessed their practical limitations, I cannot stress this point enough: Fix-a-Flat and other aerosol sealants only work as the most temporary of stopgap measures.
How to Use Fix-a-Flat (Properly)
If you’re stranded on the side of the road and happen to have a can of Fix-a-Flat handy, here’s how to put it to use and get moving.
- First, inch your vehicle forward or backward, circumstances permitting, so that the damaged site is at the bottom of the tire. This will make it much easier for the liquid polymer latex (the active ingredient in Fix-a-Flat and the substance that actually forms the seal) to seep down to where it needs to be.
- Grab your can of Fix-a-Flat and shake it vigorously for at least 30 seconds.
- Remove the cap from the can and attach the included hose to the stem on the front of the nozzle.
- Twist the other end of the hose onto the valve stem of the flat tire, making sure it’s securely connected before proceeding.
- With the can positioned upright, press and hold the big yellow button on the top to begin dispensing the contents.
- Keep spraying until the can is completely empty. This should take somewhere around 45 seconds to a minute.
- Lastly, get back in your car and drive 2-4 miles at a slow speed. This step is crucial, as it serves to distribute the sealant more evenly over the damaged site and gives the propellant (the stuff that does the inflating) time to expand and increase your tire pressure to an acceptable psi.
Remember, this sort of plug-and-play intervention will only buy you enough provisional miles to get your vehicle to a nearby automotive repair center.
Don’t dawdle after you get done unloading the can, and resist the temptation to make any unnecessary stops along the way, unless it’s at a gas station air pump to finish filling the tire up all the way.
Will Fix-a-Flat Fix a Completely Flat Tire?
Unfortunately, Fix-a-Flat cannot fix a completely flat tire. The can does not contain enough expanding propellant to fully inflate a tire that has lost all of its air.
In fact, there may not even be enough to fill one that’s only partially flat.
And, really, how could you expect there to be? That’s probably asking too much from an air-freshener-sized can that retails for 14 bucks.
To ensure that you have enough air in your tire to get where you’re going safely, I recommend keeping a portable air compressor in your vehicle. That way, you pick up where the Fix-a-Flat left off and inject as much additional air as you need before you set off for the service center.
Another thing Fix-a-Flat isn’t intended to do is repair oversized holes, gashes, tears, and other large-scale damage. It also won’t do a thing to shore up punctures that are too near to the sidewall.
If your tire is FUBAR, you’ll have no other choice than to get a tow or dial a mobile repair service!
Can Fix-a-Flat Permanently Fix a Slow Leak?
You bet. This is precisely the kind of damage that Fix-a-Flat was made to mend.
Let’s say you got your flat by picking up a nail or driving over a sharp piece of metal. In instances like these, the puncture will typically be quite small—small enough for an aerosol sealant to save the day without causing any major complications in the process.
When you drain the contents of the can of Fix-a-Flat into a slowly-deflating tire, the liquid polymer latex makes its way down to the opening, where it settles into any gaps where air may be escaping before solidifying into a dense yet flexible foam.
This foam is fairly resilient and works well for sealing small punctures like the kind produced by nails, screws, and other common road debris.
Chalk one up for Fix-a-Flat!
Can You Use Fix-a-Flat More Than Once?
Fix-a-Flat is a single-use product and is not reusable.
If you’re following the instructions to the letter, you’ll have dispensed the entire can by the time your tire is fully reinflated. This is strictly a one-can-per-repair proposition.
Under no circumstances should you attempt to use a single can on multiple tires. And if you’re entertaining the idea of trying to use Fix-a-Flat to plug up a tire with more than one puncture, don’t: there’s no way that such an experiment could end well.
Even if you ended up having some fluid leftover, Fix-a-Flat only has a shelf life of around 2 years from the date printed on the can. After this point, the chemical deterioration could prevent the product from working the way it’s supposed to or even do damage to your vehicle’s tires.
Aerosol sealants are risky enough as it is without having to worry about the kind of changes they go through—and what effect those changes might have on the structural integrity of your vehicle—when they’re past their prime.
Why Do Mechanics Hate Fix-a-Flat?
The main reason automotive experts are disdainful of tire repair products like Fix-a-Flat is that they give people a false sense of security. They may get you a hundred miles, but they may not.
In the meantime, your chances of running flat again or being involved in a blowout-related accident are sky-high. Driving on an unstable tire for too long makes you a fast-moving threat to both yourself and other motorists. In other words, there’s a road safety component, as well.
Your best bet, as always, is to have your tire looked at by a qualified repair specialist as soon as possible.
But that’s not all. Aerosol sealants often create quite a bit more work for the people who will eventually end up making actual repairs to your tire.
It may only take 45 seconds to apply the stuff, but it takes considerably longer to clean it off the inside of the tire, the rim, the wheel well, and any other part of the vehicle it’s found its way onto. This sort of mess can turn a simple patch job into a tedious chore and cause a lot of undue frustration for your friendly neighborhood grease monkey.
In the worst-case scenario, there’s a non-zero probability that the goopy remnants could even gum up or corrode your tire pressure monitoring sensor if it’s left to sit for too long.
If your TPMS becomes irreparably damaged, you’ll be forced to either shell out for a new one or drive around without knowing how much air that particular tire has in it. Neither option is ideal, to say the least.