Nobody likes to get a flat tire, but the reality is that flats happen. When they do, there's no need to panic, though, because you have several options for fixing them.
Here's how to change a flat tire:
- What not to fix: Sometimes, such as when you have a blowout, the tire will go flat and it cannot be repaired. If the tire explodes, is lacerated, or has significant damage, no attempt should be made to repair it. It must be properly disposed of so that it can be recycled. Also, if the sidewall of the tire is damaged or cracked, don't bother trying to repair it. Get it replaced and have the tire company dispose of the old one. Finally, tires with less than 1/16th inch of tread should be replaced rather than repaired. (You can measure your tread depth with a gauge.)
If the tire deflated because something like a nail punctured through the tread (the part that contacts the pavement), then you have a couple of options for fixing the flat. It is difficult to assess the damage to your tire when it's still mounted on the car so you'll need to remove it before you can begin any automotive repair steps. Place a block or wedge under the tires to keep them from moving, set the emergency brake, and remove the flat from the vehicle. Be sure to loosen the lug nuts with a lug wrench before lifting the car with a jack. After the flat is off the ground, remove the lug nuts by hand, and pull the wheel and tire away from the car. If you have a decent spare, consider putting it on and moving the car to a safe location.
- Find the culprit: Sometimes it's very obvious why the tire deflated. You may see the head of a nail, screw, or some other metal object lodged in the tread. If so, circle it with anything that will mark it so that you can easily spot its location later. Don't remove the object until you're prepared to fix the hole.
Note: If you've picked up a nail or screw in the tire, it's possible that you've picked up more than one object. Even after you've found one, it's still a good idea to check the rest of the tire for leaks or embedded objects.
- Tips for finding small holes: You might be able to hear air escaping through holes in the tires. Sometimes, however, it's not that easy. Here's a trick to help you spot small holes in the car tire. Make a soapy solution in a large bowl. Inflate the tire as best you can. Pour the soapy water over it. The leak should be easily evident because the air escaping through a hole will create bubbles. Mark the hole with a paint pen so you can find it later.
- Ways to fix a tire: You may either get it patched or temporarily plug it yourself. Here are some repair tips:
- Patches: To get it patched, you're going to need to take it to a tire or auto repair shop. This is the preferred way to fix a flat tire, but it means you have to get it to a shop, and it usually costs about $15. The shop will have to remove the tire from the rim and apply an internal patch over the hole. These patches work very well, and they are a lot cheaper than buying a new tire.
- Plug a Tire: Plugs are excellent as temporary solutions, but the proper way to get a tire fixed is to have it patched. You can plug it in your driveway, or on the side of the road if need be. Tire plug kits are available at all auto repair stores and in most chains like Walmart, Kmart, and Target. You can plug a tire without removing it from the rim; therefore, it is ideal for the do-it-yourselfer. It should be one of the basic repair tools in your car at all times. Here's how to plug your tire:
- Open the repair kit that you keep in your car just in case this sort of thing happens.
- Remove the offending object - this usually requires pliers.
- Take the rasp tool included in the kit, quickly insert and remove it from the hole to roughen and clean the rubber.
- Take the plug and cover it in cement. Both the plug and cement are included in the kits. Use the included insertion tool to stick the plug into the hole. About 1/2" of it should remain outside the tire.
- Quickly, pull the insertion tool straight out. This should leave the plug in the hole.
- Cut the plug flush with surrounding tire treads.
- Remember that a plug is a temporary fix. You'll want to get the tire internally patched or replaced as soon as possible.