How to Fix a Flat Tire

March 29, 2012

Learn how to patch, plug, or change a flat tire-and how to avoid getting a flat in the future.

Getting a flat tire is never fun but it's something that happens now and again. There are a few ways to repair a tire but the easiest one to do at home is using a tire plug.

Tire Plug

If the car is in your driveway with a flat tire, a tire plug is the best way to temporarily get the car moving again. You need to remove the tire from the car and find a clean flat area to work. Tire plug repair kits are readily available at auto parts stores as well as big box discounters like Target.

  • Locate the leak. Examine the tire and look for obvious signs of the leak such as a nail or something sharp sticking out of the tire. It is important to mark the spot with tape, once you pull the nail out the hole will not be as obvious. If you cannot find the leak with a visible inspection, mix some water with dish soap and brush it on the tire. Look for new bubbles forming. That's where the leak is.
  • Clean the hole. Ream out the hole with the tool that came with your repair kit that looks like a round file. Poke it into the hole and push it in and out a few times until the hole is cleaned out
  • Thread the needle. Your kit includes a second tool that has an eye like a needle on one end. Thread one of the tire plugs thorough the needle eye until it is centered in the needle tool.
  • Patch the hole. Shove the needle tool into the hole. It may take some effort so push hard if necessary. Keep feeding it in until there is about ½" of the plug left. Pull the needle tool straight out at this point, leaving the plug in the tire. Use a scissors or knife to trim the excess plug, you want a smooth surface.
  • Re-inflate the tire. Fill the tire with air, and reinstall it on the car. A tire plug can last for quite a long time but it is a good idea to get the tire patched professionally as soon as possible.

Professional Patching

A tire plug should be used as a temporary fix until you can get the car to a tire shop. In order to properly patch a tire, the tire has to be broken down off the rim. For this kind of work it's best to take it to a tire shop where they have the proper equipment and know how to professionally fix your tire. The cost is reasonable compared to purchasing a new tire, and it is something that can be repaired quickly.

How to Change a Flat Tire

Changing a flat is something that everyone should know how to do. It is not that hard and requires only a bit of work and tools that are already in your car.

  • Park safely. One of the most important steps in changing a tire is to find a safe and stable place to work. The car should be on a flat and stable surface and if possible off the street or highway where you could possibly be in danger of being struck by a passing car. The surface must be stable so the jack does not sink or fall over. Don't forget to turn your vehicles hazard lights on. Put the car in park with an automatic, or reverse or first gear if the car is a manual. Engage the parking brake.
  • Take out the spare and jack. Remove the spare tire and jack from the trunk, or other location. Spare tires can be mounted under the vehicle on some SUV's and trucks. The car may have a full size spare or a mini spare. Place the jack under the frame of the car behind or in front of the wheel that is to be changed. It is important that the jack is under the metal part of the car and not the plastic molding that many cars have. If you are not sure of the jack placement, consult your owner's manual.
  • Loosen the lug nuts. Remove the hub cap if you have one and loosen the lug nuts by turning them counterclockwise. The lug wrench should fit over the nuts easily and not slip when you apply pressure. It may take a lot of effort to loosen the lug nuts, put your full body into it if necessary. At this point, only loosen the lug nuts, do not remove them.
  • Raise the car. Jack the car up. There are different types of jacks, so if you are unsure of how yours works, consult your owner's manual. The majority use the straight end of the lug wrench inserted in the jack which allows you to raise the jack. Verify that the car is lifting straight up and is the jack is not tilting, turning or sinking. If you notice any of these problems lower the car immediately and fix the problem. Raise the car until the tire is off the ground by a few inches. There needs to be enough room to put the spare tire on.
  • Remove the lugs. Remove the lug nuts completely at this point. Put them in safe place so they do not get lost or scattered.
  • Remove the tire.
  • Set the spare tire. Install the spare tire. Line up the rim with the wheel bolts and slide the spare on. Thread the lug nuts on the bolts and hand-tighten them. Use the lug wrench to snug them, but do not try to fully tighten them.
  • Lower car. Lower the vehicle to the ground until the tire is touching and does not spin freely. Use the lug wrench to tighten the lug nuts. Tighten them in a star pattern which will help keep the tire balanced.
  • Remove jack. Lower the car completely and remove the jack. Tighten the lug nuts one last time. Put the jack and flat tire back in the car.
  • Visit mechanic. If the car has a full size spare you can drive on the spare as long as you want, but it is best to get the flat tire patched or replaced. If the car has a mini spare tire it is important to get to a mechanic as soon as possible and have the flat fixed. Mini spare tires are only designed to be driven on for 100 miles or less.

A flat can happen at just about any time. Make sure all the necessary parts and tools are in your car and follow the above steps and changing your tire will be easy.

How to Avoid a Flat Tire

Sometimes getting a flat is unavoidable. However, there are ways to minimize the chances of it happening.

  • Check and maintain proper tire pressure. If you tires are over inflated, it causes unnecessary stress and can heighten the chances of a blowout. Too little pressure and you run the risk of the tire sagging off of the rim. In either case, too much or too little pressure, you run the risk of improper tire wear which can also increase your chances of a flat.
  • Rotate your tires. Follow the instructions in your car's manual for proper tire rotation. It is important to familiarize yourself with the specific rotation rules for your vehicle. Some cars require using the spare tire, some simply rotate from front to back. Rotating your tires will lessen the chance of uneven tire wear and will lengthen the life of your tires.
  • Watch where you drive. Avoiding areas that have construction debris and broken glass is a pretty obvious tip. Be careful on gravel and dirt roads as well. Sharp rocks and sticks can cause flat tires. If it is possible, avoid the unpaved short cut. Also, stay between the lines on highways. The sides of roads are often littered and can have sharp rocks and metal debris.
  • Check tread depth and tire wear regularly. Keeping an eye on the condition of your tires before hitting the road can undoubtedly save you from a flat tire. Turn the steering wheel all the way to the left and check for uneven tire wear on the insides and outsides of the tires. Turn to the right and repeat. Using a penny, check the tread depth as well. With Abe's head down, if Abe Lincoln's head isn't covered when you put the penny between treads, it's time for new tires. If you have any questions regarding wear or tread depth, go to a tire shop, they will surely assist you.
  • Keep your tires balanced and aligned. As a measure to protect against uneven wear and other tire issues, make sure that your tires are properly balanced on the rims and that your vehicle is aligned properly. This is something that should be checked regularly by a professional.