Got a Flat? Read These Nine Quick Fix Tips on How to Patch a Tire

Flat car tire

You’re having the worst day, stranding on the side of the road with a flat tire. Perhaps it’s downpouring, and you’ve no idea what to do next. Scenarios like this happen to everyone, which is why we’ll show you exactly what you to the next time you get a flat. Use these nine quick-fix tips on how to patch a tire and see how safe patching your tire is. 

How to Know if You Need a Tire Patch

Your car can get a flat tire for a wide range of different reasons, including: 

  • Metal or glass shards
  • Nails or screws on the road
  • Impacting with a curb
  • Hitting a pothole
  • Other automotive issues, such as a leaking valve system. 

Flats happen, and when they do, it’s important to know what cure is right for the type of puncture in your tire. Repairs vary, and the damage your tire shows will determine whether a patch, plug, or tire replacement is necessary. The first step is always to check out your tire if you think there may be an issue. 

Why You Need to Know How to Patch a Tire

person fixing flat tire

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You can’t drive on a flat tire. Otherwise, you face severe damage to your tire and could cause irreversible damage to your vehicle. Unless you want to buy a new car, completing simple repairs like a flat tire is the best solution. 

While tire prices vary based on the make and model of your vehicle, tire patches cost an average of around $20-$40. A tire patch is also much less expensive than purchasing a brand-new tire, no matter what type of vehicle you drive. High-quality worktops out around $40, which includes having a tire expert ensure your tire safety and extend the overall life of your tire. 

Nine Quick Tips on How to Patch a Tire

Learning how to patch a tire can involve first learning a few important things about the type of flat tire, repair options, and how long each option lasts. Even with a patch, you could need a new tire if the damage is bad enough. 

Be Prepared

No one can avoid a flat tire. It happens to everyone at one time or another. To be prepared for a flat tire, make sure you have a few things in your car, such as:

  • Tire gauge
  • Lug wrench
  • Jack
  • Spare tire or doughnut (fully inflated)
  • Vehicle owner’s manual
abandoned car with flat tire

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If any of these items have been misplaced or your vehicle didn’t come with them, it’s important that you purchase them for your safety. There are also some items typically not included with your vehicle that are nice to store in your trunk or glove box space just in case, including:

  • Flashlight
  • Gloves
  • Rain poncho
  • Wheel wedges
  • Portable air compressor (optional)

Without tire patches already on hand, you’ll need enough time to make it to your local automotive store to purchase a patch. Some people prefer to keep them on hand for the inevitable situation, which could be very helpful if you’re taking a long road trip and don’t want to spend tons of time on the side of the road waiting for help. 

Put on a Spare Tire

If you notice the tire is completely flat, you need to change to using the spare tire immediately. Never drive on a flat tire. Some cars come with what’s called a mini-spare or “doughnut.” These tires are slightly smaller than a traditional tire, but they get you around until you can fix the problem. Move to a safe location to change the tire slowly. A place with level ground, a parking lot, or straight stretch of roadway are ideal. Don’t attempt changing a tire on a narrow shoulder with oncoming traffic. 

Wonder How To has an excellent tutorial on how to put a spare time on your car that explains the steps if you’ve never dealt with a spare before. Because these tires often sit in your truck unused for years, you’ll also need to air up the spare. The recommended pressure is often displayed directly on the tire, or you can find the number in your vehicle owner’s manual. 

You can always take the damaged tire to a repair shop or service location when you have time, just make sure not to drive over the speed limit of your spare. Spare tires aren’t designed to withstand the same top speeds, so you may need to stay below 50 mph, or the tire may burst. 

Locate the Leak

Nail on tire

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If your tire isn’t completely flat but seems to be leaking out air, your car's low tire pressure sensor may come on, and you may hear the hiss of the air escaping. A nail in your tire often causes this type of hole, and you may be able to patch the tire or plug the hole, depending on its size. First, however, you must find the leak. 

When you have the vehicle on the jack, you can rotate the tire to locate the leak. If you don't hear or feel any air escaping, try this trick: Mix liquid soap and water, brush the mixture on the tire, and watch the mixture bubble up where your hole is located. Use white shoe polish or chalk to mark the spot, so you don't miss it again. 

Decide Between Plug or Patch

If your flat tire is caused by a nail or screw and the hole isn’t torn open, you can plug the tire. Larger holes require a patch. You can purchase a tire plug kit with two T handles, which helps you plug the tire up yourself at home, or head to a professional who can complete the work the right way in no time. Although you can plug or patch a tire yourself, the help of a professional at your local tire shop ensures your safety. 

If the tire is very large, a patch won’t work either. Huge holes or a split tire requires you to completely replace the tire. Attempting to put a patch on a hole that’s too large will result in a leak, and you can expect the tire to flatten again quickly. 

Remove the Tire from the Vehicle

man changing tire

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By taking the tire off your car, you can either put the spare tire on to provide more time for you to patch the tire. This is perfect if you’re on your way to work, for example, when the flat takes place. Either way, you’ll need to take the tire off the vehicle and the time from the rim before you can install the tire patch. The process can become complicated, which is where professionals come in. 

If you really want to do the work yourself, don’t drive on the vehicle as much as possible until you can fix the issue. Drive on a spare if you must but remove the damaged tire and install the spare. Any damage on your wheel may require further repairs as well.

Plugging the Tire on the Wheel

A tire service attendant may plug the tire puncture without first taking the tire from the car as well. Sometimes this is a better choice, especially if they’re not using a sealant to complete the work. However, the fix is still considered a temporary solution until you can fix the tire. 

The Tire Industry Association explains that when a tire puncture is sealed while the tire remains on the wheel, the fix is temporary. On the other hand, a correct repair involves removing the tire and lasts for the tire’s entire lifetime. 

How to Patch a Tire

Learning how to patch a tire is complicated for beginners, so the following instructions are quick how-to’s. You may need to follow further instructions on the patch kit your purchase, for example. 

After removing the rubber tire from the rim of your wheel, repair the tire one of three ways:

  • Buy a single repair kit that uses a combination of a plug and a patch in one
  • Buy a two-piece repair kit that uses a filler plug and covering the patch
  • Head to your local tire repair specialist. 

Next, completely deflate the tire if it’s not already. Take off the valve stem cap using the tool and be careful not to lose the cap so you can reuse it later. Separate the tire from the rim using a bead breaker bar and hammer, prying the rubber from the rim as you work along with the entire tire. 

vintage car tire

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Once the rubber is free, clean out the puncture hole by inserting your reamer into the hole no less than six times. Rough the edges of the hole using diamond-grit sandpaper and brush away the rubber pieces that could have accumulated. Use rubber cement over the area, applying it just larger than the patch and push the plug into the hole. 

Apply the patch and plug to the puncture in your tire, and make sure the patch rests on the inner tire liner only. It should fit tightly, and you can seat the patch in place using a roller. Cut away any extra material protruding from the plug to ensure the patch sits flush with the tire. Lastly, check out the tire’s overall condition to make sure replacement isn’t required and then reinstall the tire on the rim. 

Tighten Lug Nuts by Hand

When putting the spare tire or patched tire back on your vehicle, try tightening the lug nuts all the way by hand. It may seem like much more work; however, this allows you to check each lug nut one by one and ensure optimal safety. Tighten the lug nut as much as you can by hand, then use a wrench for a final tightening after you lower the vehicle completely to the ground. 

Prevent Future Flat Tires

You can prevent flat tires in your future by completing regular maintenance on your tires. Make sure you properly inflate all four of your tires regularly and keep an eye on the tread of your tires for tread wear over time. You can also rotate your vehicle's tires according to the manufacturer guidelines to keep your wheels in the best condition, extend the life of your tires, and reduce your likelihood of getting a spare. 

How Long Can You Drive on a Tire Patch?

man driving car

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According to RepairPal, tire experts project you can drive on a tire patch for an average of 7-10 years with no problems. That is, as long as the patch was properly applied and everything goes as planned. Many tire patches last the remainder of the tire’s lifetime. 

Keep in Mind

By deciding to put a patch on your flat tire, you’ve only come up with a quick fix. The results are only temporary, and you will need to take care of the flat tire still if you want to continue driving on the car for a long period of time. If you’re stranded on the side of the road, a quick fix is perfect. However, continuing to drive on a patched tire can cause issues later without further repairs.   

Featured Image: Flickr

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