It’s frustrating to find a leak in one of your vehicle’s tires, and often you don’t notice it until right when you need to leave! A quick fix to get you on your way is a tire plug. Let’s go over what a tire plug is, how it works, when to use it, and how long you can use it.
A standalone tire plug should only be used as a temporary repair solution and should only be used for as long as is needed to get the vehicle to a shop or other location to perform a proper repair. A plugged tire is not meant to be driven on for long distances.
With that quick answer in mind, let’s dive into the basics of tire plugging, so you understand when and why plugs should be used.
How Long Can a Tire Stay Plugged?
As previously mentioned, a tire plug is a temporary solution and one that is really only meant to get you to the shop to really fix the issue. However, this doesn’t mean that the tire needs to be replaced every time.
Depending on the location of the hole, a plug and patch might be enough to get you safely back on the road!
While only a plug is inappropriate as a long-term repair, a plug accompanied by a patch is considered a good option in many cases. In fact, it is the only option considered acceptable by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA)!
These are commonly known as plug-patch combos, with the plug attached to a patch. However, they are much more difficult to install than a plug alone!
In other words – not something that you’ll want to tackle on the side of the road.
To utilize a combo plug-patch kit, the tire has to come off the rim and be thoroughly inspected. When the puncture is located, the area is cleaned, and the patch is applied to the inside of the tire, with the plug being pushed up to be even with the tread. This is normally done at a shop by a trained technician.
When done properly, the use of the combo kit is rated to last from seven to ten years. However, this does not mean you shouldn’t regularly inspect the tire for normal signs of wear, as well as repeat or new punctures.
When to Plug Tires
A tire plug is a substance that expands and is lodged inside the puncture area. The expansion helps create a seal and ensure the plug does not pop out suddenly.
A tire can only be plugged when certain conditions are met, as outlined by the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association.
- The puncture must be on the tread area of the tire. If it occurs on the sidewall, a plug will not work.
- The diameter of the puncture must not be greater than ¼ inch, or 6 millimeters. If the puncture is larger, do not attempt to plug the tire.
Additionally, it is not a good idea to plug a tire that has been plugged before, as the quality of the tire itself has degraded with prior repairs.
A plug will work best when it meets the above conditions, and the puncture itself is relatively straight (those at an angle will be more difficult to plug).
Considerations Before Plugging
If you have a warranty on your tires, it’s important to review it prior to attempting a repair yourself, even just one to get you to the shop. Improper repairs might void your warranty.
If you don’t have your warranty handy, you can try calling the shop you bought them from to double-check.
Think about the overall quality of your tire. If you have multiple punctures or the tread is very worn, you shouldn’t plug the tire as they’re already in a poor state. The rule of thumb for replacing tires based on tread wear is that you should have more than 2/32 of an inch of tread remaining.
To test your tread level at home, try the penny test!
- Take a penny, flip it upside down (so that Abraham Lincoln’s head is facing downward toward the tire), and insert it into multiple spots on the tire’s tread.
- If Lincoln’s head is always covered by the tread, the tire has more than 2/32 tread left.
- If his head is exposed, it’s worn down and in need of replacement.
Remember that tires are your vehicle’s sole contact with the road, and worn tread will cause a multitude of problems that a plug won’t be able to fix.
Rules for Plugs and Patches
Even though the combo kits are accepted, a puncture must still meet the basic requirements of being on the tread and no larger than ¼ inch (6mm) in diameter to be eligible for such a repair. If the tire does not satisfy these requirements, it needs to be replaced.
Now that you know about repairs, you’re probably wondering if there are ways to prevent punctures from happening in the first place, and there are!
While a tire plug is a good way to get yourself out of a jam in a jiffy, you can also help prevent punctures by following the tips outlined below!
- Make sure your tires are inflated properly. Usually, the pressure rating for your vehicle’s tires is located inside the driver’s side door jamb.
- Try to avoid debris and rough conditions. If possible, change lanes when you see upcoming trash in the road (never perform an unsafe maneuver to avoid debris, as this can cause an accident), and make mental notes of potholes/imperfections on your usual routes so you can avoid them in the future.
- Inspect your tires. Make sure your tires are in good condition to begin with, as worn tires are more likely to sustain damage, as well as becoming more unsafe in general (remember the tread rule). Do not drive on excessively worn or damaged tires, as the likelihood of punctures/blowouts/serious accidents increases greatly.
Summing It Up
A tire plug alone should never be used as a long-term solution. A plug/patch combo kit is the only acceptable repair, and further should only be done when the puncture is relatively small (less than ¼ inch or 6mm diameter) and is on the tread (not shoulder or sidewall).
Although the combo kits are able to last a long time, these are not substitutes for replacing worn tires. If the tires are worn, it’s best and safest to replace rather than repair them. If the tire is repaired, it still needs to be maintained and inspected just like non-punctured tires. The repair does not remove maintenance requirements for tires.
Even though there’s no way to ensure you never get a puncture, there are ways to reduce the chances.
Inflate your tires to the proper pressure (as indicated by your vehicle manufacturer and often found inside the driver’s side door jamb).
Pay attention to the road’s conditions to avoid potential sources of damage (potholes, nails, garbage, etc., all pose threats to tires).
Be observant of your vehicle overall (regularly inspect your tires visually, pay attention if the tire pressure monitoring system, or TPMS, light appears on your dashboard, and address these issues as quickly as possible).