Flat tires when driving never seem to happen in an opportune place or at a time when you’re not in a hurry to be somewhere. If you have a spare tire available in your vehicle and know how to replace a damaged tire with the spare, you can quickly be back on your way to your appointment with only some minor inconvenience. However, most subcompact cars as well as many compact cars no longer carry spares in favor of run flat tires as a space saving measure. While run flat tires have advantages, they also tend to be extremely harsh, promote road noise, degrade acceleration and braking performance due to the increase in unsprung mass thanks to their hefty weight, and generally cost quite a bit more than normal non-run flat tires. As such, many people decide to change their run flats out and take the risk of becoming stranded by running normal tires on cars that call for run flats, despite the fact that they don’t carry a spare.
Instead of a spare, many drivers carry tire repair kits. Many of the more common tire repair kits out there tend to contain some sort of sealant and a small compressor to re-inflate your tire once you have sealed it. These are designed for use on the road to get you back up and running, but they come with some major tradeoffs. The biggest tradeoffs are that the fix is usually temporary, so you will still need to take your car in to the shop pretty quickly to get the tire repaired properly. These kits really aren’t always that reliable either. Often times you can attempt a roadside repair only to find that your tire is still flat and you are still stranded on the side of the highway. The final challenge is that if you put sealant in your tire, it becomes more difficult and costly to repair due to all the extra cleaning required when you remove the tire from the rim. In fact, many shops will turn down the work if you bring them a tire with sealant in it. So ultimately, while these roadside tire sealant kits can get you up and running, they may or may not work as well as you’d hope and can end up costing you more money in the end.
The strategy that we employ ourselves is to keep a full size spare in your garage at home, and if you happen to get a flat tire, you can just tow yourself home and swap wheels instead of having to place yourself at the mercy of a shop. You can accomplish this at any time of day, so even if it is well after midnight, you don’t have to wait for a shop to open up in the morning. You can then repair your tire on your own time at your leisure. In this case, you also have much more variety when it comes to choosing a tire kit. We find that the best tire repair kits will permanently repair your tire without introducing any kind of sealant. Once repaired, you can then use a portable air compressor to re-inflate your tire and you’ll be on your way.
When it comes to tire repair kits with permanent fixes, there are two main types: plugs and patches. Patches offer the best quality repair and are what the pros will use at tire shops, but patches require removal of your tire to install. As most people don’t have a tire machine or wheel balancer in their garage, this makes patches off limits to some degree for the backyard mechanic unless you run or have access to a professional shop. As such, we advocate for plugs as these can be installed without removal of the tire. You will want to be sure the plug kit you buy is advertised as permanent as some are designed to be temporary and some are designed to be permanent.
Steps To Repairing A Tire Using A Plug
To repair a tire using a plug kit, you’ll need some basic tools on hand in addition to your tire repair kit. Specifically, these include small hand tools available such as a pair of channel locks to remove the offending item (most commonly a nail or screw but can sometimes be unexpected items) that punctured your tire, a few shop rags, and a pair of mechanics gloves to protect your hands. As always, you should follow the instructions outlined in the manual for the kit you are using, but to give you an idea, the six basic steps to repairing a tire quickly and efficiently using a plug kit are as follows:
1) With your wheel removed (you’ll need a floor jack, jack stands, and a lug wrench to accomplish wheel removal), you will first need to remove any remaining air from your tire and then remove the object that has punctured your tire. You’ll want to remove the object along the direction it punctured the tire so as to not cause more damage and widen the hole, which would make it more difficult to plug.
2) Once the item that punctured your tire has been removed, the second step is to grab a spiral probe (we find the T-handle versions easiest to use), lubricate it with the included lubricant (which is often also an adhesive which some kits require you use), and then insert the spiral probe fully into the puncture hole.
3) Next, you’ll want to cycle the spiral probe back and forth a couple of times within the puncture hole to remove any surface slag from the inner diameter of the hole. This will also prepare the surface for inserting the plug.
4) The fourth step requires loading the plug into the insertion tool. This is typically a T-handle tool with an open eye needle. You’ll typically size the plug to the puncture and insert the plug into the insertion tool. The plug will be centered in needle eye when inserted properly.
5) Next you’ll insert the plug into the tire using the tool, and then remove the tool, leaving only the plug in the tire. You’ll find that the plug typically protrudes into the inside of the tire slightly, as well as stands proud of the tire tread on the outside of the tire.
6) Finally, use a razor blade or other sharp tool cut the portion of the plug standing proud of the tire tread until it’s flush with the tread. If you don’t cut it perfectly, any minimal excess will quickly wear off once you start driving the car, but you’ll want to get it as close as you can. You will then re-inflate the tire to the appropriate pressure specification and reinstall your tire.
Note: We should take a moment to note that tire repair kits are only designed to repair damage to the treaded portion of your tire. Major blowouts, sidewall damage, or other non-standard damage warrant immediate tire replacement. Similarly, tires that are unsafe to drive, such as tires with tread that is worn past the wear indicator bars, should not have repairs attempted on them. If there is any doubt, you need to replace the tire for the sake of your own safety and others on the road. We will also reiterate that you should read your tire repair kit manual and follow the directions within, as some tire kits have differences from the steps we listed above.
The Best Tire Repair Kit
When it comes to choosing the best tire repair kit, there are many options. Our favorites are the Blackjack Tire Repair kits as they represents the best on the market for small portable kits that are ready to fix a variety of puncture types. The Blackjack KT-340 Tire Repair Kit is relatively compact and can be easily stowed anywhere in your garage. The 8-inch x 13-inch by 2-inch plastic storage container contains everything inside you need to plug a tire puncture and get your car back on the road quickly.
This includes a T-handle tool with a spiral probe, a T-handle tool with a 4-inch open eye needle, a spare 4-inch open eye needle in case you need a replacement, a small container of specially formulated lube, a razor blade for trimming the excess repair material, and 40 tire plugs (twenty large diameter and twenty small diameter) made out of butyl which are advertised as permanent contained within a custom form fitted case. Also included are a screwdriver with reversible shaft, a valve core removal tool, and a hex wrench to allow changing the interchangeable probes and needles in the T-handle tools easily.
The T-handle tools have a solid steel core with a rubber grip for a firm but comfortable feel during use. As you open the storage case you’ll see each tool has a separate compartment within the case that will keep your tools organized and ready for action when necessary. Overall the kit is high quality and comprehensive, meaning you won’t have to go searching for extra tools to complete your tire repair. The best part is that the kit costs about as much as the average tire repair at a shop, so if you are comfortable plugging your punctured tires when they occur, you will save a ton of money in repairs over the long term after just a couple flats.
As far as available purchasing options, Amazon’s free shipping makes it the best value in our book. Most of the time a flat tire is seen as a disastrous experience that can be relatively costly. However, if you know what you are doing and can repair them yourself, this doesn’t have to be the case and what would otherwise have been a major inconvenience becomes just a minor annoyance. Overall, the Blackjack KT-340 is the best tire repair kit around and it gets our strong recommendation. Happy wrenching!