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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tire Plugs

Last week, I mentioned using a condom as a make-shift tire plug, and that the subject of tire plugs was worthy of its own article. 

I have family with professional tire repair tools, so fixing a flat is not normally a big deal for me. In years past and at work, however, there have been several times where I needed to get a vehicle back on the road and AAA wasn't an option. We experience a major wind event (exceeding 65 mph) where I live about once every five years or so. This leads to a lot of roof repair, and the roofing companies tend to scatter nails along the roads leading to the dumpsite for old shingles. Picking up a nail or a drywall screw in a tire is normal, but it's still annoying. In SHTF situations, like relocating after a tornado or hurricane, similar debris may be found on the roads so it would be wise to know how to do your own repairs.

About Tire Plugs

  • Tire plugs are a “quick and dirty” way to repair a hole in the tread of a car/truck tire. 
  • Repairing holes in the sidewall of a tire is not considered safe, but in an emergency I would give it a try since it isn't going to make the situation any worse if it doesn't work.
  • Plugs will only work on tubeless tires, so if you're driving an older vehicle with tube-style tires, you're out of luck. 
  • Plugs work best on smaller holes, like those caused by nails and screws, but I have seen people using multiple plugs on holes caused by bone fragments from a suicidal deer. 
  • Tire plugs are sold as “temporary” or “emergency” repairs, but I have seen them last for years. They work, are cheap, and are easy to use.
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Here's a picture of a typical tire plug kit. The two T-handle tools are a rasp for roughing up the hole (left) and an insertion tool (right); the  strips are the plugs, and the green tube is full of rubber cement. Additional tools required are a pair of pliers for grabbing the offending nail and a way to get air back into the tire after it has been plugged.

Use of the Kit
  1. Remove the foreign object from the tire. You may need to take the tire off of the vehicle to access the hole, but not always.
  2. Use the rasp, the T-handled tool that looks like a round file, to roughen the hole. This will give the glue a better grip on the tire. Insert and remove the rasp a few times, giving a twist to the handle once or twice.
  3. Place one of the strips in the notch of the insertion tool. Aim for the middle of the strip so you have equal lengths on either side of the tool. If your insertion tool has a slotted hole instead of a notch, put the plug strip through the hole.
  4. Apply a liberal amount of the rubber cement (glue) to the strip. This will act as a lubricant until it dries and becomes part of the plug when it does.
  5. Insert the tip of the insertion tool into the hole in the tire and push firmly until about half of the plug is inside the tire. You don't need a bunch left sticking out, but you don't want the plug to go completely into the tire, either.
  6. Once you have inserted the plug, pull the insertion tool back out about a half-inch and turn it 90°, then pull it out the rest of the way. This should disengage the plug from the tool, and is something you'll be able to feel when you try to remove the tool. For the tools with a hole instead of a notch, simply pull straight back on the handle and the tool should open enough to release the plug inside the tire.
  7. If you want, trim the excess plug material sticking out of the tire close to the tread. This is not really needed, as it will wear off with normal travel.
  8. Re-install the tire if you took it off of the vehicle and re-inflate it to normal pressure. 
  9. You're ready to go if the tire holds air. The glue will harden in a few hours and driving on it won't hurt anything.
Tire plug kits are cheap. Amazon has them for sale from less than $10 for a simple kit to less than $50 for a kit that includes gloves, pliers and extra repair parts like valve stems (one of them even has its own compressor for inflating the tire after repair). The plug strips do have a shelf-life, normally around 5 years, and once they get dry and brittle they need to be replaced. Replacement strips are sold separately for around five dollars. If you don't want to use an online vendor, most auto parts stores will have similar kits on hand for about the same price.


This is a technique that I have used and have had good luck with, so I recommend it to anyone putting together a vehicle kit. Sometimes having a spare tire just isn't enough and you need to get back on the road ASAP.

The Fine Print


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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