If you walk outside and notice that your car is sitting at a weird angle, the first thing you do is look at the tires. You already know you are going to find a flat—the question is, which one? Then, you wonder what you are going to do about it. Depending on the size and location of the hole, you can plug or patch the tire. If you can use a plug and have the upper arm strength and an air compressor, you can plug it yourself. If not, you will have to take the tire off and bring it to a tire shop or have your vehicle towed to the tire shop.
Tire Plug vs. Tire Patch
A tire plug is a strip of rubber that melds with the rubber on the tire. You can only plug holes that are smaller than the plug. If you try to plug a hole that is too big, air leaks around it. In this case, you will need a patch. Even patches have their limits. If the tire has a large gouge in it, neither a plug nor a patch will work, and it certainly would not be safe.
If the problem is in the sidewall, you cannot use a plug—you have to use a patch or replace the tire. Plugs only work in the tread. Once you put a plug in and drive on it, the heat from the friction helps the plug meld into the rubber on the tire. After a couple of miles, you would not even find the plug.
Is Plugging a Tire Safe?
Plugging a tire is a perfectly safe method of repairing a tire, as long as you do it correctly. A tire plug kit comes with an awl-like tool to clean out the hole and a tool that holds the plug. Thread the plug through the tool until it is halfway through the tool’s eye. Pull both ends of the plug toward the handle.
Locate the foreign object in the tire. If you cannot find it, put some soapy water on the tire. It will bubble where the air leaks. Air the tire up—you will lose some air when you plug the tire, so put about five extra pounds in the tire.
Grip the foreign object with pliers and pull it out with a twisting motion. Be ready to jam the awl into the hole as soon as you pull the object out. Ream the awl in and out of the hole a few times without removing it.
Grab the loaded tire plug tool. As soon as you pull the awl out, push the tool holding the plug into the hole until the whole plug is in the tire. Pull the tool out of the hole. The plug will come off the tool and stick in the hole. Check the air pressure and adjust it accordingly.
How Long Does a Tire Plug Last?
A tire plug will usually last the life of the tire as long as you do not hit a nail in the same place. However, if your tires are older than six to ten years, you should replace them, even if they look new.
Finding Your Tire’s Birth Date
Just because you buy new tires, it does not mean they are brand new. They might have never been on a vehicle before, but they could be over a year old if they sat in storage. Each tire has a Department of Transportation mandated date code. The code is usually in an oval and consists of four numbers. The first two numbers are the week of the year, and the last two numbers are the year. Thus, if the four-digit code on your tire is 1021, your tires were made in the 10th week of 2021.
Why Tires Only Last Six to Ten Years
Tires are made from rubber, which dries out year after year. Depending on the manufacturer, you will start seeing dry rot—small cracks in the rubber—after six to ten years. The integrity of the tire becomes suspect after six years. Even if your tires look new because you do not drive frequently, you should replace them as soon as you see signs of dry rot or before they are 10 years old, whichever comes first.
Why Tires Separate
Most people have seen tire treads along the highway. They are from tires that separated. Normally, they are from truck tires. Big rig tires are expensive, so trucking companies often use recaps on the rear wheels and the trailers. However, recaps are prone to separating, and that is why you see so many truck tires on the highway.
Car tires can also separate but are less likely to do so, and most people notice it before the tire actually comes apart. If you notice a bubble in your tire, you have a separated tire and you should immediately replace it. In some cases, you will feel a separated tire in the steering wheel—it will shake at low speeds.
Tires are made of rubber, and steel bands pressed together with heat. The separation happens when one of the layers starts to come loose or comes completely loose.
The Danger of Separated Tires
A blowout and a separation are dangerous enough on passenger vehicles. Either could cause you to lose control of the vehicle, especially if it happens on a front tire. But when one of those huge truck tires separates and the tread peels off, it could hit your vehicle and cause an accident. Even if you hit a piece of separated tire long after the truck left, you could damage your vehicle, or it could cause a wreck.
If you suffered injuries because of a separated tire, whether the tire was on your vehicle or because a separated tire from another vehicle caused you to crash, contact a car accident attorney for a free case evaluation.