Last Updated on November 13, 2020
Don’t let a relatively minor puncture put you out of commission. Simply having a tire plug kit can get you back on the road and back to safety.
For years growing up, it was a simple fact of life that any card-carrying member of the “Mans club” had to be proficient at changing a flat tire. My father showed me how to change my first tire when I was much too young to drive, and this simple skill is something that fathers and mothers have instilled in their own children (girls too!) just the same for many decades. We do this because a flat tire is a relatively common, but easily remedied repair that anyone with the most limited knowledge can perform competently.
Changing a tire is one thing but how many of you have gone the extra mile and used a tire plug kit to fix that flat tire? Before this past summer I personally hadn’t. I would do just like many of you I assume and throw the spare on, chuck the flat in the back and drive to the local tire dealer or mechanic to get the repair done by someone with the skills and equipment to do it right.
But overland travel or bugging out situations present us with a different set of circumstances to consider. When you are 20 miles down a forest service road at night and push a sharp root or some piece of trail debris through your tire, it’s good to have options.
For those reasons and probably mostly looking at this from a preparedness standpoint, I bought my own tire plug kit. It has been safely stored away in the back of my rig since last summer just waiting for an opportunity to be used and finally, that happened.
Do you need a tire plug kit?
My wife and I were out the other day and I noticed my tire pressure indicator light had come on. When we stopped, I checked the tires and saw my rear passenger side was a little low, but I chalked this up to the cold snap we just received and drove home. In the morning the tire was much lower and after a closer inspection, I saw the offending object, a screw lodged right there for all the world to see. It was mocking me right there in the open.
Now, I could have easily driven to where I got my tires installed and they would have fixed this for free. I could have pulled out the can of fix a flat too, but I immediately thought that this was the perfect time to try out and actually use this tire plug kit I had purchased last year.
Bonus points – I also thought this would make a good article for others out there who might be wondering why, when I was safely home would I purposely go through the trouble of fixing my own tire with a plug kit when I could have an excellent repair shop do this for free.
Should you practice plugging a tire?
For me, doing something is the best way to learn a skill. I could read all the books and watch YouTube videos, but nothing is as good as actually getting my hands on a task to teach me a lot of lessons. Not only did I prove that I could fix a puncture if needed with my tire plug kit, but I learned a few other lessons that are much better taught in the safety and convenience of my driveway as opposed to being out in the wilderness at night.
I recommend anyone who wants to become more proficient in vehicle maintenance, assuming safety or time, or life isn’t dictating something otherwise, should do the same. Now, if you are on your way to a wedding, or the roads are crowded or a million other reasons, I would just throw the spare on and go. I had a unique opportunity though and didn’t want to waste it. Here is how I plugged my tire and the lessons I learned.
Learning how to plug a tire with a tire plug kit
My way anyway…
I could easily see the screw sticking out of my tire and it was firmly into the top tread. A sidewall puncture is a completely different beast. It can be field repaired, but that is likely something I wouldn’t have attempted. This garden variety foreign body in the tread surface was relatively simple and straight forward.
I wanted to try and accomplish the tire repair with the most basic tools I could which meant I brought out the factory tire changing kit and bottle jack. I have a 3″ inch lift on my bug out vehicle, but I quickly saw that without a big 4 x4 piece of lumber or similar, the factory bottle jack wasn’t going to lift my rig high enough. It just didn’t have the height, even fully extended to lift my wheels off the ground.
Lifting the vehicle
So, I took another opportunity to try out something new in the relative safety of my level driveway and that was to grab my Hi-Lift Jack and lift the vehicle. Before I did that though, I learned another valuable lesson.
My factory lug wrench in the car tire changing kit would not fit the lugs on my Fuel Boost Wheels. The socket wells were too narrow for the factory wrench so if I had been out in the middle of nowhere without additional tools I would have been screwed.
Identifying and removing the foreign object
As a side-note, the high lift worked flawlessly and the BudBuilt sliders bore the weight of the vehicle easily. This was my first experience actually using the hi-lift jack and I was glad it was on level ground. I took my time, stayed well away from the inside of the jack handle, and made sure the jack pin mechanism firmly clicked each time. I also used jack stands but didn’t really crawl under the vehicle anyway.
I also didn’t technically have to remove the tire to effectively use the tire plug kit, but it was much easier and again, I got to practice with my hi-lift jack.
With the tire off, I was able to get ready to extract the foreign object. In my case, it was an inch long screw. Before I removed it though, I got my reamer tool from the tire plug kit ready to shove into the hole left by the screw so as to reduce air loss.
Now I have seen the tire plugging procedure done two different ways. The tire plug kit I have comes with some lubricant that looks like Vaseline. I have heard that you should use a lubricant on the reamer to get that into and out of the tire more easily which makes sense in one way because that is the most physical part of this whole process.
I have also heard that you use the lubricant on the actual plug itself so that it slides in more easily. When I was at Overland Expo a couple of years ago, our instructor told me the latter and that seems to make the most sense so when I shoved the reamer in there it was without any lubrication. Use your own imagination on that.
I pulled the screw out with a pair of pliers, not the vice grips shown above, but I forgot to take another photo. Once the object was out, you take the reamer and shove it into the hole working it up and down and around in circles as much as possible. The reamer is used to clean the hole and remove rough edges somewhat. It also helps to separate the steel belts and free up room to insert the plug. This isn’t an easy task and takes a little muscle but anyone can do it.
While I was preparing the actual plug, I left the reamer in the hole. This keeps the hole easily marked and prevents any additional air from leaking out.
The tire plug material itself is incredibly sticky and the hardest part of the whole process might be extricating that sticky piece from the plastic that it comes in. Work the end of one side into a finer point with your fingers and insert it into the needle or insert tool until equal lengths are extending out both sides. Once finished, I coated the point of the tool with a little lubricant.
My insert tool has an attachment that prevents you from inserting the plug too far. Push the plug into the hole (not sure where the photo for this went) as far as you can, or until there is only about a 1/4 inch of the plug extending up outside of the tread surface, and then pull the insert tool back out. The plug will remain in the tire leaving a small amount exposed. Lastly all you need to do is remove the excess with a knife or razor tool and you’re back in business.
Once the tire was plugged, I just aired it back up and mounted the tire back on my vehicle.
What else should you include in a tire plug kit?
There are a few different kits out on the internet. The tire plug kit I used is from Amazon and it is called the Tooluxe 50002L Universal Tire Repair Kit – $14. This had the basics I needed to patch my tire, but nothing else. The tools are heavy duty and feel just as quality as some of the more expensive kits out there.
There are more equipped kits like the Boulder Tools – 56 Pc Heavy Duty Tire Repair Kit – $38 that has things like pliers and a razor knife as well as replacement valve stems. I opted for the cheaper kit, but go with whatever you feel more comfortable with. ARB makes a kit too that is even more expensive, but without too many more bells and whistles than the Boulder Tools kit.
Something else I learned is that my wheels are apparently the only wheels in the world (I’m joking here) that were designed not to work with normal air pressure gauges or inflators because the valve stem is pointed straight at the wheel instead of angled out. This does help somewhat with trail damage in that my valve stem is protected a little more from rocks that might brush against it, but it makes inflating unnecessarily more complicated.
Because of this, I had to buy some cheap adapters for my valve stems so I could get my air pump hose to connect. I purchased the ARB Digital Tire Inflator/Deflator at Overland Expo and was pretty frustrated to learn I couldn’t even connect it to my valve stems. If anyone knows of another solution, please let me know. For now, the adapter works OK, but I have to wiggle it a little every time I use it or else I don’t get a good seal.
Having a tire plug kit is only part of the solution. You also need a way to get air back in your tire. Yes you could use a can of fix flat or compressed air but I carry an air pump.
My air pump is not a fancy on-board unit but that may be in my future. For now, I just don’t use it enough and I don’t have air lockers, so I purchased this ViAir Pump and it works well enough. I had to purchase a spare hose, but this has more reach and works better with my inflator from ARB.
So that’s how I used the opportunity to plug my tire with a tire plug kit to learn a few things about my rig, the equipment I was depending on, and my process. Hopefully, that helps some of you, and please let me know what you think in the comments below.